The strangest thing happened when I sat down to play Kirby’s Epic Yarn
for the first time. I was already pretty pumped up from DK Country Returns, but my retro frenzy quickly turned to a calm, rapturous happiness after just a few seconds with the new Kirby. “I can’t believe I’m this happy. I mean, I’m 24, this is actually kind of embarrassing!” I said, turning to Jeremy who was playing next to me. “Don’t sweat it,” he said, “I’m 30 and it's having the same effect.”
I think the answer to yarn Kirby’s intoxicating effect is that it taps into the “grandma effect,” an innate human instinct of nostalgia that takes you right back to your grandparents’ house, a plate of warm cookies on the table and dear old granny reading you a storybook. That or the Wii remotes Nintendo handed us had secretly injected me with Ecstasy or something.
In all seriousness the game looks like something your grandma quilted up during a lazy Sunday afternoon, but in motion. Somewhat reminiscent of the claymation style of Yoshi’s Story, everything in Kirby’s new world is made of craft materials, and everything acts and responds appropriately too. Because he’s made of yarn, Kirby can no longer swallow enemies and gain their powers—hold off on the pitchforks, fans—but he can turn his arm into a long whip-lasso and unravel enemies, which promptly burst into clouds of yarn and thread. Killing bad guys has never been so adorable. Kirby also floats a little differently too, turning into a pink parachute instead of inhaling air and puffing up.
Kirby can also interact with the environments in a number of ways, and this is where the game’s cuteness and creativity reach fanboy-squee levels. As it is basically one big patchwork quilt, the world can be scrunched sideways, diagonally or up and down; if a platform is just out of Kirby’s reach he just has to lasso a button and pull the platform closer. He can also tear off patches to reveal hidden items, snag zippers and literally unzip large swathes of the level, swing from whipable craft fixtures and disappear into the background behind large structures made of felt. Even the ground has a slight give to it, as if Kirby is landing on a big fluffy bedspread.
Apparently this is the holiday of awesome cooperative games, as Kirby can team up with Prince Fluff to adventure through the yarny universe together. Not only can they grab and throw each other to new platforms, but they can also control vehicles, either separately or as one big juggernaut of cuteness. In the vehicle segment Jeremy and I played, Kirby drove a giant spherical robot with Price Fluff manning the rockets and Kirby swinging the robot’s arms to break down obstacles.
A new Kirby platformer has been promised in one form or another at least since the last days of the GameCube. Originally we were supposed to get something more traditional, along the lines of Crystal Shards on the N64, but this new idea from Kirby custodians HAL Lab and their partner Good Feel studios is better than anything I could’ve hoped for. While it isn’t challenging in the traditional sense, there are still plenty of secrets to find and items to collect. Kirby has needed a creative new direction for a while, and taking this art style and gleefully running with it is the best thing Nintendo could’ve done for the pink puffball.