Sometimes I get the feeling Nintendo's gamesmiths just like to show off.
Take Kirby's Epic Yarn. I know a lot of younger players dig this pink puffball, but realistically he's part of Nintendo's B-team roster, a mid-tier icon whose previous adventures have been fun but certainly not of the same calibre as, say, a Mario game. Point being, he's not the sort of character upon which most publishers would lavish one of their best and brightest design ideas.
However, in Kirby's Epic Yarn Nintendo has made him the hero of one of the most original, memorable, and just plain beautiful platformers in years.
If the title didn't give it away, here's the lowdown: Kirby has been transformed into a string of yarn by an evil magician and transported to a world made almost entirely of colorful textiles. He meets a new pal, Prince Fluff (who can be controlled by a second player in cooperative play), and the two head off to save the land.
The story is inconsequential, serving merely as an entry point for this fascinating cloth world. Virtually everything-buildings, characters, trees, water-is made of sheets of fabric or strings of yarn. It looks so real that I wanted to reach into the screen and feel the texture of hills that almost imperceptibly sank under Kirby's meagre weight and grab the yarn-y outlines of water that splashed up whenever he dove into a pool.
And it's not just an aesthetic thing. The textiles take on a key role in how the game plays.
For example, Kirby can use a yarn whip to snag a button and pull back an entire sheet of the background, revealing new platforms or beads to collect. He can also lasso zippers, pull down little pockets to access the collectibles they hide, and step inside sheets of fabric and move behind them, with players tracking his progress via the little bulge he makes. I was particularly tickled to disciver that I was able to pull a drawstring to make the mouth of a volcano close, sealing it so I could pass safely over without being burned by the stringy magma it spewed.
The quilty motif has even impacted Kirby's classic ability to inhale enemies and take on their characteristics. Since his body is now merely an outline of his former self composed of a string of yarn, inhaling bad guys is no longer possible; they just pass through him. Instead, Kirby can transform his yarn-self into various useful shapes. He can turn into a parachute to fall slowly or a weight shape to drop more quickly. At certain points in each level he automatically changes into shapes suitable for dealing with specific obstacles, like, say, a submarine when he enters water, a firetruck with a working hose so players can extinguish path-obstructing blazes, or a little buggy so he can race other vehicles.
This is not like any other Kirby game that has come before. This is a full-on, Nintendo's-game-design-genius-working-overtime masterpiece of a platformer that players young and old-I played through the whole thing with my kindergarten-aged daughter as a playing partner, and I'm pretty sure we were both equally entertained-will remember for years to come.
That's not to say it's without flaws. A side activity that has players outfitting Kirby's home with yarn furniture and wallpaper they've found or purchased hasn't any real purpose and ends up being unsatisfying. And when playing cooperatively there are times when one may find himself off-screen or even locked into an area because the screen's edges have become artificial environmental borders-a problem that could have been fixed had the designers simply allowed the camera to pull back a bit.
But overall, it's one of the most original, gorgeous, and just plain fun games to hit Nintendo's console this year. Between this and next month's Disney Epic Mickey, Wii-owning fans of all-ages platformers will have plenty of top-tier entertainment filling their plates this fall.
Kirby's Epic Yarn