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Kirby's Epic Yarn provides an fun and varied platformer with some addictive bit-sized gameplay despite a fabric-based premise which may put off more serious gamers.
I always find my partner is a great person from whom to gain a pure reaction to a game. As a pretty regularly gamer I sometimes see many titles in a week, but she only really sees a few games here and there. Her own unfamiliarity with gaming means that rather than being sucked in to believing that a minor innovative feature makes a game unique, she tends to see past all that and judge a game for what it truly is.
Her reaction on seeing Kirby's Epic Yarn on the Wii was "oh it looks like LittleBigPlanet." This was an interesting comparison that I hadn't actually appreciated, but aside from the user-content angle, it's a pretty fair comment.
Kirby's Epic Yarn has succumbed to the current vogue of designing game environments to look as though they have been made out of brick-a-brac, basic materiel, or even - as in this case - haberdashery.
Stylistically, the game borrows further from LittleBigPlanet, even going so far as to add on-screen co-op (limited to 2 players in this case) and a cut-scene voice over from a well-spoken and avuncular narrator (in the British version at least).
I personally found myself drawn to Kirby's Epic Yarn's style and even with LittleBigPlanet's shadow looming over it, it still manages to be distinctive. The narrated cut-scenes took me back to the animated children's programmes of the 1970's and 1980's with a atmosphere that reminded me of King Rollo, Bagpuss or even The Clangers. I found it a very comforting game to play on a relaxed Sunday afternoon.
Kirby's Epic Yarn tries to exploit the fabric nature of the game-world.
The game of which it most reminded was Super Paper Mario. The design of the chief villain is even pretty similar to Super Paper Mario's own nemesis. In fact I would go so far as to say that Kirby's Epic Yarn does for the wool motif what Mario did for paper.
Where Paper Mario exploited the flat nature of objects in the world, Kirby's Epic Yarn tries to exploit the fabric nature of the game-world, allowing sections of the level to be truncated by pulling on a loose thread, swinging from a button, or hidden items revealed by tearing away a patch of fabric from the scenery. Ultimately there isn't as much content to be developed from this simple idea and Kirby's Epic Yarn relies on solid and entertaining platforming to provide the bulk of the thrills.
Where it breaks this up, is with some novel vehicle sections, in which Kirby transforms into a Fire Engine, UFO, off-roader or various other objects to provide a different slant. These are the only sections with use the Wii-mote's motion control and it uses them to great effect, mainly for tasks such as aiming the water yet from the Fire Engine or the rockets from a giant robot suit made from threads.
The emphasis on collecting hidden items and added time-trial sub-games adds replay value.
Two player co-op is provided on the same shared screen. However, in spite of my own passion for any kind of co-op, I found that the singleplayer was actually more enjoyable. The co-op was hampered by a camera that doesn't provide enough space between the characters for either player to navigate comfortably, and the vehicle sections sometimes provide a shared vehicle between both players, turning it into a variation on Siamese Racing (a curious motor sport in which two cars are welded one on top of the other - the top driver steers while the bottom driver manages the throttle and brake). While in single player I found the vehicles to be exhilarating and empowering set-pieces, in co-op they provided a frustrating feeling of under-performance.
Kirby's Epic Yarn is a rollicking single-player platformer. It really is an excellent game and will appeal to anyone who likes platform games. The emphasis on collecting hidden items and added time-trial sub-games adds replay value, although the difficulty level does seem to be aimed at younger players rather than the more experienced gamer. Which is a pity, as while the subtle distinctions that set Kirby's Epic Yarn apart from other games may not be apparent to the eyes of a casual player, regular gamers may well find a fascinating pattern hidden amongst the dropped stitches.
[Chris Jarvis writes the Novel Gamer column where you can read his Kirby's Epic Yarn fiction.]
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