For many gamers, the enjoyment in video games comes from the sense of challenge they present. Overcoming the trials and tribulations of the game’s campaign or being the top dog in the multiplayer modes can give the victors a rush that makes them feel on top of the world. Some games, however, forgo challenge and make simply playing the game its own reward. This sense of unpressured joy was the goal that the appropriately-named developer Good-Feel had in mind with their latest game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a new adventure starring Nintendo’s iconic pink protagonist. As it turns out, Epic Yarn is a treat that’s just as sweet on the inside as it is on the outside.
Kirby’s newest adventure starts off with him running into Yin-Yarn, an evil sorcerer made entirely out of yarn. This sorcerer sucks our pink hero into the magic sock around his neck and transports him to Patch Land, a world where the grass feels like pants and the inhabitants are made of yarn. While getting acquainted with his new fabric form and the surroundings, Kirby comes to the aid of Prince Fluff, ruler of Patch Land, who tells him that the kingdom has been broken into seven different pieces. Kirby agrees to help find the magic yarn in each world and put Patch Land together, as well as find a way back to Dream Land before Yin-Yarn completely transforms it into his kingdom.
If the story sounded cutesy, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Kirby’s universe was already sweet on its own, but Epic Yarn turns the cuteness up to cavity-inducing levels. Each character, world, and object is made out of arts-and-crafts fabrics like yarn, cotton, and denim, making the whole game look as if it was pulled entirely out of a children’s book. Speaking of children, each cutscene is voiced by a narrator who does impressions of each character in the vein of classic kid’s shows like Thomas the Train Engine. The music is also filled with bright and cutesy tracks, ranging from soft and soothing piano pieces to cheery instrumental songs that sound like they would fit right in at a Broadway musical production. There’s also a good amount of small details, like grass sinking slightly when Kirby walks on it or fabric bulging outwards when he walks inside buildings, that bring delight in their own little way. If there’s one word that describes Epic Yarn’s presentation that isn’t “cute”, it’s “happy”. This game is out to make the player feel good with its unabashedly warm and fuzzy charm, and is guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of anyone but the most cynical curmudgeons.
The presentation is more than just a cute aesthetic choice, however, as it also becomes somewhat integral to the actual gameplay. Although Epic Yarn may be as straightforward as previous Kirby games – you just simply have to get from one end of the level to the other while collecting beads and a few hidden goodies along the way – the actual progression is quite different. Since air goes right through Kirby’s new form, he can’t use any of his regular abilities. Be that as it may, he (along with Prince Fluff in the game’s co-op mode) can use his flexible form to unravel enemies, pull on buttons and patches to reveal new platforms and collectibles, and transform into a myriad of different forms, such as a parachute for him to gently float to the ground, a car for fast travel, or a tank-robot to blow away enemies and obstacles.
Perhaps the strongest point of Epic Yarn’s gameplay is how relaxing it is. The combination of the gameplay’s gentle pacing and the sickeningly-cute level design creates a game that creates a calming feeling over the player. There is a thin line between relaxing and boring, but Kirby’s Epic Yarn never crosses it thanks to some clever variety in the mechanics and level design. Each level has a distinct motif all of its own, such as hot lava-filled caverns, a dark and creepy mansion, deep blue outer space stations, and even a level filled with musical instruments, and there’s almost always some new trick or ability to discover in every new stage. You could be ferrying across strong rivers on the head of a patchwork dinosaur in one level and then be swimming deep into the ocean in the form of a dolphin in the next. The polish in the gameplay design is quite high, with one possible exception: Kirby’s train form, in which you draw tracks with the Wii Remote’s IR pointer for Kirby to move along, is frustrating to control and leads to a lot of redrawing and retracing steps. Fortunately, it’s an infrequent form and the game is very forgiving in these sections.
In fact, the game is very forgiving just about everywhere. The flip side of Kirby’s Epic Yarn being so relaxing to play is that it’s also very easy. It’s literally impossible for Kirby to die; getting hit only causes him to drop a large amount of beads he’s picked up, and falling off the stage or getting squished is immediately undone by a helper angel carrying him to safety, again at the expense of a lot of beads. This makes completing certain linear sections and boss battles into a matter of time instead of skill. The challenge comes from finding all the hidden collectibles you can, like furniture to decorate Kirby’s apartment or CDs of songs from the game’s high-quality soundtrack, as well as finishing the level with as many beads as you can to earn medals and patches that unlock bonus stages. The game also offers some optional challenges to complete, like defeating a set amount of enemies, finding all of Kirby’s friends, or racing against another Patch Land inhabitant to the end of the level. These extra challenges sometimes have strict time limits and may require a few retries, but they don’t pose too much trouble overall.
And that’s really the most important thing to know when it comes to figuring out if Kirby’s Epic Yarn is worth trying out. This game is not about testing the player’s gaming skills or offering endless amounts of content to find, and as such, anyone looking for those things won’t see the game’s appeal. That said, Epic Yarn’s soothing gameplay and adorably upbeat visuals make it an excellent choice for any gamer looking to unwind from the more bleak and challenging offerings in gaming or to just have a silly childlike grin on their face for the next few hours. Just be warned that prolonged playing sessions of Epic Yarn may result in a fatal cute-iac arrest.