Can a game be innovative, charming, impeccably designed, and have loads of replay value while at the same time being (mostly) pretty boring? Why yes, yes it can.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is the newest entry in Nintendo and Hal Laboratory’s popular franchise, and like the best Kirby games, it changes up the standard platforming formula a bit: Rather than appearing as his usual amorphous, blobby pink form, Epic Yarn sees Kirby transformed into a piece of living yarn. The transformation means he can no longer suck in and absorb the abilities of enemies, but to compensate he’s been given the ability to lasso enemies with a loose thread, as well as the ability to transform into a variety of different forms, ranging from cars and parachutes to even flying saucers and giant mecha.
The sheer variety of different forms Kirby can take is the best aspects of Epic Yarn, as almost every level introduces a new form, and thus, a new style of gameplay, for Kirby to take on: ranging from Excitebike-esque races through obstacle courses to even a few SHMUP style shooting segments, Epic Yarn makes it clear early on that it’s not your standard platformer, and it isn’t afraid to switch gameplay genres. The incredible amount of variation between each level certainly justifies the “Epic” moniker in the game’s title, and making it even more impressive is the fact that the game’s myriad, seemingly dissonant styles of gameplay are all equally well designed and polished. Looking back on the time I spent with the game now, all I can think of is how Kirby’s Epic Yarn could’ve been one of the best games ever.
I say “could’ve,” because despite all the things that Epic Yarn gets right, it manages to forget one key element: challenge. Sure, the game is obviously targeted for a younger demographic than I fall into, but other platformers (and Nintendo games especially) have always managed to find the sweet spot of being accessible to newcomers while at the same time providing enough of a challenge for a veteran gamers (for examples, see recent Wii hits like Mario Galaxy or Donkey Kong Country Returns, or even Sega’s surprisingly good Sonic Colors,) and that careful balance, that finely tuned difficulty curve, is the one attribute that Epic Yarn is sorely lacking. The game starts off easy and never really ramps up the difficulty until the last few levels, and even then, it never feels challenging. It’s a shame too, because the levels are all well designed and make clever use of Kirby’s abilities, and you get the sense that if Epic Yarn’s gameplay mechanics were retrofitted onto a game that wasn’t afraid to challenge players it would create an amazing experience, but as it stands now, Epic Yarn is easy to the point of being patronizing and, to put it as bluntly as possible, boring.
Now, I’m not the type that feels as though every game should be a Demon’s Souls-esque exercise in masochism, but I don’t enjoy being treated like a baby, either, and that’s exactly what Epic Yarn does. It’s literally impossible to die, and the only penalty for getting hit by an enemy or falling into a pit is that Kirby will lose a handful of beads (the in-game currency, used for buying items to decorate Kirby’s room in a mostly pointless Animal Crossing inspired side area,) which are usually easily recovered or replaced. You could walk into every enemy and fall into every trap in the game and still make it to the end of the game with absolutely no effort… It’s literally impossible to ever lose at Epic Yarn.
It’s a shame too, because the lack of difficulty makes it hard to appreciate the game’s other interesting qualities. Like I stated earlier, the game is creative, clever, and original, but the lack of difficulty turns the overall experience into something akin to playing Tic-Tac-Toe against yourself: regardless of what you do, you’ll always win, and after awhile you’ll soon want to play something a little more taxing. Younger or more inexperienced gamers might be won over by Epic Yarn’s charm, but, ironically enough, long time fans of Kirby games or platformers in general would be better off with one of Nintendo’s other offerings in the genre. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is charming game filled with all sorts of unfulfilled potential, and here’s hoping Nintendo choses to revisit some of the ideas from Epic Yarn in a game that isn’t handicapped by a kindergarten level of challenge.
Final score: 6/10