Before I tell you why you simply must play Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii), let’s get something out of the way: This game is cute. Industrial strength endearing. The kind of adorable that even makes chubby puppies say “Awwwww.” Kirby’s Epic Yarn makes grown men giggle like babies being tickled. If you are that kind of gamer who would rather die than risk being seen playing a game lacking headshots, your inclination will be to give Kirby a wide berth, but don’t. As kid-friendly as it might look, Epic Yarn is one of the most delightfully fun gaming experiences you can have this year and a must-have for anyone with a Wii. Yes, even you, tough guy. Especially you.

An evil wizard named Yin Yarn, who’s turning everyone into yarn, runs into Kirby one day when the pink puffball tries to eat Yin Yarn’s magicmato. Kirby gets sucked into Yin Yarn’s sock, turns into yarn, and finds himself dumped in Patch Land, a world made of fabric and craft supplies. It’s a pretty ridiculous premise, even by videogame standards, but it gives Kirby an excuse to meet Prince Fluff and set out on a quest to find the magic yarn necessary to stitch Patch Land back together again.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is set up in familiar platformer fashion, with many levels in different theme worlds accessed from a central hub. Now that Kirby’s made of yarn, he can’t suck in enemies the way he used to (no body, y’see), but his flexible nature lets him turn into all sorts of things, like a car, parachute, submarine, weight, digging machine, UFO, and firetruck to name just a few. He can also whip his yarn to unravel enemies, roll them up, or grab objects and characters. The abilities are many, but the controls are few; Epic Yarn is played by flipping the Wii Remote on its side, so you’ll just have to master the d-pad and two buttons in order to play. No waggling, no aiming, no C button on the Nunchuk getting in between you and the fun.

The fabric nature of Patch Land could easily have been just a gimmicky aesthetic, but instead it’s used to enrich the gameplay in much the same way that Paper Mario took advantage of its star material. The entire game environment looks like it was assembled in a particularly gifted session of arts and crafts, festooned with collectible beads and held together with colorful closures. Pull on a zipper to reveal a new area. Hang on to a pterodactyl with an actual belly button to soar to new heights – or at least reach some valuable beads. Wind thread on a bobbin, unravel a button, check out the bulge when Kirby ducks behind the cloth scenery to take a shortcut. The fabricness of everything is positively enchanting but more importantly, it makes the gameplay intriguing and unexpected.

You can use the treasures you discover in your adventures – like dinosaur-shaped sliding boards, frog umbrella stands, and giant teddy bears – to decorate the apartment you’re given at the start of the game, or use them to attract new tenants to the building. Once new folks move in, you can play minigames with them, like Zeke’s hide and seek, or Beadtrix’s bead-gathering game. The challenges earn you extra beads and more swag for your apartment, and while the interior decorating won’t appeal to everyone, completing the minigames is a nice break from the platforming.

Unlike fellow Wii exclusive Super Mario Galaxy, in which Player 2 takes a major back seat to Player 1, the co-op in Kirby’s Epic Yarn is very evenhanded. Kirby and Prince Fluff have the same freedom and abilities, so nobody’s left feeling shortchanged. The game can be played quite handily solo, but the hilarity of playing together – and inevitably rolling each other’s characters up in yarn and throwing them across the screen – is undeniable. At certain locations, Prince Fluff and Kirby combine to form a completely new object, like a surfer or a tank, with controls split between players. These sequences are brief and you’ll spend about half your time just figuring out who’s supposed to be doing what, but they’re a nice bonus for choosing to play with a pal.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn isn’t hard enough to be aimed squarely at the hardcore crowd, but is more challenging than its super-cute appearance might suggest, landing it in a well-balanced middle ground where just about everyone should find it entertaining. The ingenious manipulation of its world-as-fabric gimmick provides constant surprises as the gameplay evolves and builds on itself, slowly combining elements to create more and more complex levels. Epic Yarn is also a testament to the belief that a game can be childlike without being childish – evoking pure joy without being overly simplistic or immature.

Bottom Line: Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of those games that you’ll play simply because it makes you feel so good. It’s also challenging and clever, with well done co-operative play and even a great soundtrack. There’s no downside to this game.

Recommendation: Say you’re buying it for your little cousin if you can’t bear to be seen in public with something so adorable, but play this game. You get to play an entire level as a firetruck. A firetruck.

[rating=5]

The bird boss from Lava Land is named “Hot Wings”. Susan Arendt finds this hilarious.

Game: Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Hal Laboratory/Good-Feel
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 17th, 2010
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Available from: Amazon

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