Kirby has always been one of those secondary Nintendo characters, playing the lead role behind the likes of Mario, Link and Samus Aran. But he’s also always been the more unique fellow of the bunch, and individuality as they say will get you far. So far in fact that after nearly twenty years and as many games he’s still going strong, and still playing second fiddle to other Nintendo heroes.
Some things never change, though with Kirby that should be re-written to some things always change, given the character’s unique shape-shifting abilities and power to use these multiple forms in the most unlikeliest of ways. The culmination then is with Kirby’s Epic yarn, a highly stylised platform adventure that is perhaps on first impressions almost as magical as the wondrous Super Mario Galaxy.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. This is still a Kirby game, and in many ways closely follows the blueprint laid down for the series way back in Kirby’s Adventure on the NES. However Epic Yarn also looks like becoming one of the most imaginative straight up platform titles to date, which is something that is undeniably represented by the game’s unique art style and all round bubbly, happy feel.
Everything from Kirby himself, to the various foes he meets, the colourful vistas in the background, and the whole environment is covered in a fabric-like look. This look is initially somewhat similar to the paintbrush effect found in Okami, or the hand-sketched appearance of the world found in Yoshi’s Story on the N64. However, rather than being soaked in a lavishly painted or pencil drawn style everything looks like its been created from various types of fabric; a blend of cotton, wool, and other various textiles from cross stitch patterns to knitted designs all make up every single piece of the game’s unique visual appearance.
But this isn’t just an artsy graphical effect, instead this is something that is completely interwoven with the foundations of the gameplay and make up of Kirby’s world. As our squishy little friend bounces around the environment, platforms contract and expand, just like when you sit down on your sofa, or rest on a cushion in real life. This gives the game a kind of floaty feel to it - something that connects the art style to what we experience in reality, and in turn sucks us deeper into the experience.
Another nice touch is the how the use of zips, when pulled, reveals pathways to new areas throughout the stage, or how tugging on a thread dislodged from a piece of the background scenery opens up a door allowing Kirby to teleport into other parts of the level. You can also find openings which seem to take you behind the scenery itself, leading to concealed loot and other stuff to collect. It’s pure genius and just what you’d expect from the minds at Nintendo.
These elements shown off so quaintly in the gameplay footage I’ve witnessed so far really adds to the tangibility of a world made from various fabrics, with everything reacting as you’d expect, but also creating a real vibrancy and magical touch to things. Seeing Kirby transforming into a car for example, and watching him bounce across the screen in a completely un-realistic fashion but in a way so inexplicably natural in the context of the game world that it immediately takes hold of you, makes you almost fall in love with the concept on offer here, even if some of it isn’t particularly original.
Outside of the bouncy environment and beautifully realised fabric-inspired world, Kirby himself also has some neat little textile touches of his own, such as when he attacks enemies by whipping them with an arm made from what appears to be a woollen thread, or how instead he latches onto them before rolling them up into a little ball ready for throwing.
These little abilities make Kirby feel like he is part of the fabric nature of the world itself, and also allows the developers to try out new things in unexpected ways making the your time spent with him equally refreshing. It’s undeniably cool, and is just one of the many inspiring elements the game has to offer.
Like in previous titles Kirby can also once again transform into various objects, changing both shape and size gaining new abilities as he does so. However, unlike before he does this without needing to gobble up the various enemies he encounters instead having these abilities from the get go.
In Epic Yarn these powers are activated with either a single touch of the attack button when in certain areas - such as when Kirby is immersed in water thus immediately turning into a pink submarine - or in others by simply tapping a combination of the d-pad plus the attack button on the Wii Remote when in the air or on the ground. Doing this I’ve seen Kirby change into a car and a helicopter, each providing our pink friend with the means to complete his quest and unlock new areas and secret passages.
Simplicity is the key here, and according to Nintendo all the main actions can be performed by using just the d-pad plus the 1 and 2 buttons on the Wii Remote, with motion control being used just for specific abilities and not as the main way of doing things.
What’s cool about the way this is done is that you now have far more choice as to how you approach certain situations, and how you avoid potentially fatal encounters. Of course, some of Kirby’s abilities are restricted to when he is in certain areas of the environment; for example he can only change into a submarine when immersed in water, or turn into a parachute when falling in the air from a ledge rather than when jumping up off the ground.
Also to make things easier still (though hopefully not too easy) Kirby’s Epic Yarn is said to take a more relaxed approach to difficulty, being more of a smoothly calm challenge than a mountainous struggle for survival. I guess you could say that it is rather soft like its fabric-inspired exterior, which is both pleasing to hear but also faithful to what fans of the series myself might expect.
However, for those looking for something extra to keep yourselves occupied whilst playing through the game – just in case you find it a bit too pedestrian – there should be plenty of hidden areas and secret pathways to find throughout many of the colourful stages, along with lots of cool stuff to collect on the way.
So far it certainly seems like Nintendo, and the guys and gals over at the appropriately named Good Feel Inc are ticking all the right boxes with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, especially with regards to all the subtle touches being added throughout every facet of the game world and all of its characters. It definitely looks like quickly becoming one of the most exciting, and charming titles on Nintendo’s release calendar, whilst also being a fitting follow up to the character’s last home console excursion, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, which debuted nearly ten years ago.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is due for release on the Nintendo Wii early next year, and as already stated, looks set to be another superb adventure featuring our favourite squishy pink blob. We look forward to hopefully get our first hands-on with the game in the near future, and certainly can’t wait for the final copy to arrive for us to review. In the meantime take a look at the inspiringly cute and rather lovely trailer for the game.