Review by Ashley Winchester
Reviewed: 10/14/10 | Updated: 10/15/10
Shoestring Kirby's Story: An Epically Epic Epoch
Some days ago, a friend asked me why I planned to "waste" money on Keito no Kirby (Kirby's Epic Yarn), owing to its childlike visuals, its pinkish purveyor, and it being a videogame which, by default, is "for kids". To be quite honest, I knew very little about the game (heck until earlier this month I had believed it was an upcoming 3DS release) but mustered a bold "Because it's going to be good." And indeed I was, and am, correct. Kirby's Epic Yarn is a radiant gem that can only be described as a living encapsulation of everything brilliant about the 16-Bit era.
The first Decade of Kirby (i.e. the 90's) was quite a high flying run for the modest marshmallow. The original Gameboy installment came out of nowhere and ushered in a new type of Nintendo game wherein you had to eat enemies to destroy them. The followed a fantastic Famicom foray in which Kirby's pallet was changed from white to pink, and he learned to absorb enemy powers upon digesting them. The next game-returning to the GB-introduced Pupuland's (Dreamland's) animal inhabitants which served as rides for Kirby and brought with them additional powers and combination abilities. The 16-Bit era saw two Super Famicom installments-including a Super Deluxe mega cart-and then followed a 64-Bit romp. And who can forget the smattering of off-shoots that peppered the period, showcasing Kirby's golfing abilities, his Anakroid angst, Star Stacking surprises, and other variations.
The second Decade of Kirby (i.e. the 00's) saw the hero turn from Maxim Tomato to flat Pep Brew...a single Gamecube installment released, which was a disappointing racing game. Fans were thus stuck clinging to the portable platforms wherein Kirby had 2 GBA adventures (one a remake of the aforementioned Famicom foray) and 3 DS adventures (though only one being a "true, new" game).
Fortunately, 2010 and beyond looks to be much brighter for everyone, as Kirby's Epic Yarn is quite possibly the best Kirby game yet, brought to us by a relatively unknown developer, Good-Feel.
One might be forgiven for asking how Kirby ended up as a silhouette of yarn, after all it's a bit less plausible than Pac-Man's limb-loosing time warp. The answer is simple: hunger. Well, in a sense. You see Kirby saw a Maxim Tomato sitting in a tree and decided to eat it, but in doing so managed to anger the evil yarn wizard sleeping under it. Said wizard then zapped our hero into his magic yarn bag and the next thing he knew it, Kirby was in another world...an unraveling other world. You see this world was tied together by pieces of Magic Yarn but the heartless villain decided to wreak havoc and took out the threads. Kirby, along with his new friend Prince Fluff (think a blue-colored marshmallow with different eyes)
must piece the world together one area at a time...and that is meant literally.
Yoshi's Storybook Secrets
If one could liken Kirby's Epic Yarn to any prior Nintendo game, it would have to be Yoshi's Story: The visual approach is so whimsical and (at times) out there, that chances are you'll end up having flashbacks. While the hub areas have a central theme, the individual stages have all sorts of odds-and-ends wrapped around them. Patches of this and that, bounties of beans, plumes of smoke...it's all fun and games and this one is a right romp.
After the game explains the exposition, you will go about each area's hub acquiring pieces to transform the land, thus opening up more levels. In each level (more or less) you will find a key item at the end, such as a seed, that is somehow connected to another stage. After completing the level, Kirby will be carrying the priceless piece and, upon throwing it, a new level will appear. For example with the seed, it will embed itself in the ground thus causing a plant to grow which in turn will sprout leaves, one of which will serve as a ledge in which you can enter the door to the next stage. The sheer creativity and brilliance of this evolving ecosystem is just plain astonishing. The creators have gone through such trouble to make a game that is always providing new surprises and secrets, and given how wonderful everything looks, it's ever more fun to find out. I'm partial to 2-D which may be a large part of my enjoyment, but after playing this game for even a few minutes, all qualms about the "archaic" visual perspective should be forgotten...
...because it's not just the hubs that transform and evolve, it's the individual levels themselves. Much like a storybook, there are oodles of pull-tabs and doors and buttons to swing on and anything else under the sun (or moon) that you can imagine. Say that you need to cross a chasm but there is a large gap in-between. Then you astutely ascertain there being a knob nearby. By using Kirby's string sling (it's basically a whip), you can lasso the latch which in turn, will bring the cliff closer allowing you to jump across. There are tons and tons of creative little bits scattered throughout each stage and it ensures you're constantly yarning for more-something traditional side scrollers (the Kirby series being no exception) aren't always able to lay claim to.
String Swings and Wire Wagons
In light of the dramatic change of scenery, Nintendo intelligently decided to forgo Kirby's vacuous vacuum. Then again considering he is little more than a string wire-frame, there is nowhere for storage. To this end, Kirby has all new powers. His main attack is a lashing lasso, wherein he throws part of his yarn body to snag obstacles, blocks, or enemies. If he connects with an enemy he will either unravel it or curl it up into a yarn ball which can be launched at other foes.
Additionally, Kirby can instantly transform himself via different actions. Pushing left (or right) twice makes him transform into a Kirby Kar that lets him dash. Jumping and holding down the button turns him into an Umbrella for smooth sailing (or rather, gliding). Jumping and pushing down turns him into a paperweight which will flatten anything underneath. And then we have the major transformations, a la Yoshi's Island. In many stages (usually towards the end of the level) the game will suddenly change it's play condition as Kirby transforms into an entirely different creation. For example, in the first World he changes into a UFO that, when enough enemies are absorbed, will allow him to discharge shock voltage destroying nearby enemies and blocks. There is also a tank transformation wherein Kirby metamorphoses into a giant string stronghold and the stage essentially becomes a side-scrolling shooter. Many, many other transformations await and each one of them makes more magic.
It's also worth pointing out that two people can play the game, with the first taking control of Kirby and the second, Fluff. This adds a friendly dynamic to the game that is often missing from series' adventures. Co-operative play can go along way, though personally I played through the entire game single player.
A Gem of a Gem
As if reaching the goal was not enough of a goal, each stage has 3 main tasks that determine the stage score:
A. Gem Pieces: Scattered throughout each stage are gems of various shapes and sizes. As you collect more and more, a large string will fill across the top of the screen. Collect enough and a Bronze Medal will appear, collect some more and a Silver Medal will materialize; collect even more and a Gold Metal will glorify the gauge. The key is to collect enough medals to earn a Gold Prize in each stage. Be aware, however, that coming into contact with enemy projectiles or other such traps will scatter a large portion of Kirby's kollection (similar to the Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay staple).
B. Combo Meter: As Kirby collects gems, a circular combo meter begins to fill. After reaching 360-degrees, it will turn another color and begin to fill again. Like the gems, coming into contact will set back the combo collection. The higher the counter, the more gems you will earn at the end of the stage.
C. Prizes: Each stage has 3 prizes; 2 being furniture pieces and 1 being a CD (more on these later). Collect all 3 for additional bonus gems in the stage clear screen.
The aforementioned furniture pieces are used to decorate an empty room in the game's first hub area, with Nintendo giving the player dozens of collectibles to adorn their room any way they wish. Some furniture fixtures are used to fill a separate, adjacent room, which houses an odd peg-shaped creature. Upon giving this friendly face the house-wares he wants, you can attempt a special stage wherein you visit a previously completed level and attempt to find five of his friends within a set time limit. Achieving this task can reward you with various things, including a piece needed to trigger a stage evolution in the current main-game world.
The point of collecting all these pieces is actually to purchase new and exciting furniture-esque items for Kirby's Room. There is a truly epic number of items that can be decorated, detached, and deployed inside the spacious section of the game's first hub. Best yet, you can take pictures at any point in the game (up to 10 can be saved) which you can thus use to show off your haute house to all your friends. Granted it's nothing thatexciting, but at the very least it's something extra to do should you choose.
Kirby games are usually spiced up with up-beat, fast-tempo music that is as memorable as it is magnificent. This installment, however, has taken a more laid back, serene approach. The best way to describe the tunes heard in Epic Yarn would be to compare it to a children's program. It actually goes quite well with the decor and setting and indeed there are familiar music box tunes to be heard that will perhaps bring a smile to the eyes of an older gamer who no doubt heard them so many years ago. Of course there are many new tunes as well, and thankfully by collecting the hidden CD in each level, you can listen to these tracks at your leisure later.
The sound effects are typical Kirby fare and go nicely with the rambunctious romp through the whimsical world. It should be noted, however, that Nintendo basically "borrowed" most everything heard from Namco's cat-like creation, Klonoa. In fact it's actually difficult to listen to Kirby's various huffs and puffs and not think of the Pac Man-loving friendly feline.
Unraveling a Treasure
Kirby's Epic Yarn is not for everyone. It is, at it's core, a rather childish side scrolling action platformer. If this turns you off, then no amount of praise in the book will be likely to change your mind. On the other hand, if you are someone who has been eagerly anticipating a true Kirby adventure with bated breath, you have finally found your fantasy, with no strings attached. It is both a pleasure and a privileged to be able to play a game as brilliant and beautiful as this; an awesome adventure that will not soon be forgotten.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Keito no Kirby (JP, 10/14/10)
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