Side-scrolling platformers have been around for such a long time that it can be difficult for even the best entries in the genre to stand out from the crowd. Kirby's Epic Yarn avoids this pitfall by presenting an irresistible visual style that pushes you to see what delight awaits beyond the next fold. But Kirby's latest adventure doesn't let its fabric-themed world do the heavy lifting while the gameplay unravels under the pressure. Expansive levels and a wealth of diverse mechanics inject variety into this quest, making it as much fun to jump and swing your way to the ending bell as it is to marvel at the striking aesthetics. A few control issues sometimes get in the way of your carefree fun, and the overall ease with which you can tear through the story levels strips away the pulse-racing satisfaction of a hard-fought victory, but Kirby overcomes these missteps with sheer imagination and a plethora of enticing content. With loads of minigames, hidden levels, and even an aggravation-free cooperative mode, Kirby's foray into the land of yarn is bursting with joy.
Who would have ever thought that yarn could be this cute? The whimsical story in Epic Yarn is told as if it were a children's storybook, but the plot elements don't matter one bit. The only thing you need to know is that Kirby has been whisked away from his happy home in Dream Land to a mysterious world called Patch Land, where creatures are composed of threads of yarn and the backgrounds look like finely detailed pieces of cloth. Charming touches abound in this unique world, giving the amorphous protagonist oodles of personality. Kirby doesn't let his overwhelming cuteness get in the way of his heroic pursuits, but that's not from lack of trying. From the way he wiggles his little arm to keep balance to the little scowl that adorns his face when confronting a mean ol' boss, Kirby doesn't shy away from being himself. The world is just as appealing and makes full use of its fabric construction. Scenery folds together when you yank a loose thread, electrical dangers turn into benign platforms by pulling them taut, and enemies unravel into nothing when you give them a sharp tug. It's a pleasure just to stare at this adorable game.
But don't worry that Kirby is all looks. The gameplay and visuals mesh seamlessly together, taking full advantage of this storybook world to create interesting scenarios. There are 50 levels in Epic Yarn, which includes a few boss fights and secret worlds, and a good variety of situations ensures you're always experiencing something new. You may have to leap across springy mushrooms in one level, ride aquatic dinosaurs in the next, and swing across treacherous pits in a third. Kirby makes good use of his limited move set to keep you invested. Your core abilities include performing modest leaps and rolling foes into tight balls of yarn before tossing them, but you also have transformative powers that you can take advantage of at any time. You can change into a parachute to glide to a far away platform or morph into a submarine, complete with a tiny propeller, when you dive underwater. Double tapping in either direction lets Kirby take the form of a car, which is much faster than his usual plodding self, but the controls are not always reliable here. There are times when Kirby changes unexpectedly or stays in his pink blob form even when you're trying to dash. Other control issues crop up when trying to grab onto enemies in crowded situations, but these are both small blemishes. The usually spot-on controls rarely get in the way of your enjoyment.
Although Kirby's quick transformations help add to the game's charm and make navigation much easier, there are large sections of levels that are played in an entirely different form. Unlike previous Kirby games where you could inhale your enemies and steal their powers at any time, the big transformations in Epic Yarn occur in predestinated areas, but that doesn't limit their thrill one bit. Some of them, such as the UFO and fire truck, let you interact with the environment in unique ways. The UFO can use its tractor beam at any time to suck up blocks and enemies, and being able to hover opens up the level design in creative ways. The fire truck may be stationed on the ground, but you can spray water on fire dangers and enemies alike, which is a good change from the core action. The most exhilarating of all transformations occurs when you become a space ship. This changes Epic Yarn into a fast-paced shoot-'em-up, and winding your way through an enemy's bullets while retaliating in kind is tons of fun. The one dud is when you become a train. This is a call back to Kirby Canvas Curse on the DS but isn't nearly as interesting. You paint tracks by pointing at the screen with the Wii Remote, but the train doesn't always ride on what you put down, and you can drop unceremoniously to the ground just by nudging a corner. But even with one missed opportunity, the transformations are a great complement to the core action.
The only downside to all this fun is the difficulty, which skews way a bit far on the easy side. With no way to die and no clock urging you forward, there isn't much satisfaction gained for successfully making your way to the end of a level. This is mitigated by a medal system that ranks how well you performed. There are beads to collect in each level, and depending on how many you finish with, you get a bronze, silver, or gold rating. Each time you fall in a pit or get hit by an enemy, you lose beads, so it's imperative to avoid dangers if you want a good score. But even with this system in place, it's still easy to breeze through most levels with a gold rating your very first time. Three hidden objects in each level also give you something to search for in addition to trying to hoard beads, but these are usually hidden in plain view so even they don't provide an adequate reason to replay levels. Being easy is not an inherently bad thing, and Kirby is so fun and imaginative that it's able to thrive anyway, but a little more challenge in the story levels could have added to the replay value and made it more exhilarating to come out on top.
This lack of difficulty is most apparent in boss fights. Giant beings fill the screen, but it's hard to be scared of their wrath when it's impossible to die. Although these fights lack the excitement that a challenging duel could have provided, they're full of the same fabulous charm that exudes from the rest of the adventure. A fierce dragon beats his wings to blow you away and then shoots out his pointed tongue to spear you in place. But if you avoid his attacks for a bit, he gets tired, and you get to yank his lolling tongue. As in the main stages, reaching the end with enough beads to get a high score is where the real challenge lies, but the bosses are so easy that it's once again a cinch to come out on top with the highest ranking possible. There is one major bonus for scoring a high mark against these beasts: secret levels. Each of the seven worlds has optional levels that must be unlocked, and these are some of the best in the entire adventure. It's well worth replaying these battles if you falter because of the excellent prizes that await.
It can take quite a few hours to play through all 50 levels in the main quest, but even when you reach the end, your journey is not yet done. There are close to 100 minigames to take part in as well,and these are much more entertaining than their shallow counterparts in other games. There are five different minigame types to choose from, and all of them are fun. Hide and seek, bash the baddie, carry your friend, collect the beads, and race all pit you against the clock, and they offer the only real challenge in the game. Trying to nab the last bead while the clock ticks down forces you to move with an exactness that is never demanded during your main adventure. The prizes for coming out on top are not very impressive. You earn fabric and furniture to decorate your apartment, but because that's the only thing you can do in your home, it's not very engaging. But that hardly matters. The real reward comes from conquering these tricky stages, and they deliver that in spades.
On top of the charming visuals and diverse gameplay is an ability to play the entire game cooperatively. Although the stages seem to be designed with a single player in mind, taking a friend along for the ride gives you new ways to pass levels and forces you to work in tandem if you want to hold on to your precious beads. The second player controls Prince Fluff, who looks like a blue Kirby with the same move set, and teaming up is a pain-free experience. Unlike in New Super Mario Bros. Wii where it was way too easy to get on your friends' bad sides, co-op in Epic Yarn is much easier to handle. You can bump into each other, and you can even toss your friend against his will, but as long as you try not to be a jerk, getting through levels unscathed is just as breezy as playing alone. The different ways you can pass certain obstacles allows player to be creative. For instance, you may have to hunt for an enemy to toss through a barrier in single-player, but in co-op, you can just throw your friend through and collect whatever goodie appears. Co-op does make things slightly harder if you're trying to nab every bead because one misstep from either player could cause you to go bankrupt, but experiencing this delightful journey with a friend by your side is just great.
Kirby's Epic Yarn makes it clear from the get-go that it is an adorable game that will put a smile on your face through its outstanding visual design, but the delights go much deeper than the delectable aesthetics. Clever levels with varied objectives make it a blast to play, and though the main story is way too easy, there are at least challenging minigames to unlock for those who want to test their reflexes. A few control issues and lack of punishment shouldn't keep you away from this great platformer. It takes quite a few hours to pass every stage and find every secret, and every moment you spend in this world is an utter delight. Kirby's Epic Yarn is a great platformer that goes far beyond its eye-catching visuals to deliver an irresistible adventure that's difficult to put down.