It’s time for a Nintendo Life Soapbox confession. Ready? While the majority of the gaming world takes Masahiro Sakurai’s most cherished child heartily to their collective bosom (squeezing his squidgy body in their embrace, no doubt), I’ve always found Kirby a bit… what’s the word? Oh yes: rubbish.
I’m not talking about how he looks. I admire the purity of his design — there’s a Hello Kitty-style classicness to him, and that simple round form feeds (geddit) nicely into his ability to inhale objects of all shapes and sizes. I enjoy the idea of ingesting enemies and absorbing their abilities, too, and his bouncy worlds and Dream Lands look like a thoroughly good time from the outside. I love a jaunty soundtrack, me.
Every Kirby game I’ve played, though, feels stodgy and cumbersome. To be fair, I haven’t devoted countless hours to ‘get into them’ — there’s too much else to be playing for that — but whenever I fire up 3D Classics: Kirby’s Adventure or dive into the Super NES catalogue via Nintendo Switch Online, I just can’t find what everyone else sees in them. They’re floaty and frustrating and I end up returning to stalwart favourites like Super Mario Bros. 3 instead.
There is an exception to the rule, though: Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a game which released precisely ten years ago in Japan, and on 17th October in North America (Europe would have to wait until February the following year). It was, and remains, one of my favourite Wii games. No, scratch that; Epic Yarn would make my Top 10 Video Games Ever.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of the finest exercises in pure, unapologetic joy you’re likely to find in all of video games. Developer Good-Feel originally had Prince Fluff (your main ally against the evil Yin-Yarn and the player 2 character) as the main protagonist before Nintendo pulled a Dinosaur Planet and instructed the studio to make it a Kirby game. Fortunately, the pink blob fit in very well to the textile terrain Good-Feel had stitched together and, ironically, the game’s threadbare setting necessitated stripping Kirby of the one element which had always frustrated me in his games.
You see, once transported into Patch Land, Kirby loses his ability to inhale and therefore cannot float about or ‘fly’ after gulping down a mighty breath. That mechanic always felt gloopy and imprecise to me where something like Mario’s Cape in Super Mario World feels super challenging to master but also tight and satisfying when you do.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of the finest exercises in pure, unapologetic joy you’re likely to find in all of video games
With Kirby’s world transformed into a patchwork paradise and that personal bugbear removed entirely, something just clicked for me. His ‘whip’ attack, which unravels enemies into a throwable yarn ball, channels Yoshi’s egg-throwing ability (another mechanic I’ve always found more frustrating than fun) and Good-Feel would explore that more directly in the Wii U spiritual sequel, Yoshi’s Woolly World.
With the floaty frustration removed, I was able to curl up in this blanket of a game — a super soft blanket a day or two out of the wash which has acquired a comforting, familiar scent — and have level after gem-filled level rub its charm in my face for the fifteen-to-twenty hours it took me to find absolutely everything.
Epic Yarn is not a difficult game. In fact, it’s probably the most non-threatening, approachable game you’ll ever play, but the tiny details make even the simplest interactions a joy. Pulling cords weaved through rolls of background fabric draws platforms closer to you. Patches rip off to reveal passages under the quilted façade, and the background bulges when Kirby jumps between the sheets. Underfoot paths bounce and give under his weight as he lands on them. A double-tap in either direction causes him to lurch and transform into a fast-moving car, or he’ll begin skating on ice, pirouetting when you change direction. Kirby might have lost a part of his moveset — a pretty significant one — but gone were the frustrations, too, with only delight and novelty left in their place.
Everything about the game feels fresh despite its only real innovation hanging on a single thread: its aesthetic
Tomoya Tomita’s soundtrack adds the finishing touches to the experience; a rich and varied suite, equal parts lullaby and jaunty road trip. Plaintive pianos, simple acoustic guitars, lush wind and strings, and more help knit all the familiar pieces and typical elemental levels — lava, snow, beach, and so on — together to create something quite unique and beautiful. Everything about the game feels fresh despite its only real innovation hanging on a single thread: its aesthetic. It’s the way that art style permeates into the gameplay, though, that makes Epic Yarn feel special.
News that an enhanced port would arrive in 2019 was dampened by the fact Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn was released on 3DS, presumably to target the younger demographic still playing that system. The majority of players had moved on to Switch by then, though. Much like the late-arriving 3DS port of Bowser’s Inside Story, sales were predictably disappointing. You’d assume that Nintendo might have brought the game to Switch instead had the company realised how quickly its hybrid console would take off and put its handheld forebear out to pasture.
Although spiritual sequels have come and gone in the years since, Good-Feel arguably never hit the heights of Epic Yarn again. Yoshi’s Woolly World was very good, and Yoshi’s Crafted World retained enough material charm to be well worth investigating, but neither felt as fresh as Kirby’s outing. The sheer invention woven into the original makes it tough to imagine what a straight sequel could offer, but were an HD update to drop on Switch tomorrow (hey, stranger things have happened), there’d be a new winner on my Game of the Year list.
The game is adorable, and I defy anyone to resist its charms. In fact, its unabashed cuteness might have been a factor if it passed you by the first time round. Young kids would have loved it, as would anyone well beyond the insecure teenage phase, but if you happened to be ten-to-sixteen at the time, we’d understand if you wouldn’t have been caught dead playing this ‘baby-game’.
If you did happen to be in that awkward period a decade ago, or overlooked Kirby’s Epic Yarn for any other reason at all, no matter. In fact, I’m a little jealous — you get to go back now and experience this huge, warm hug of a game. We could all do with one of them right now, that’s for sure, and Kirby is always happy to oblige.
‘Familiar scent’, eh? Yes, just a nice, non-artificial, wholesome human smell — a clean one! Long, long before any funkiness sets in. Yep…
Feel free to further wax lyrical over Epic Yarn in the comments. We’re off to play it while sniffing our blankeys and recharging the ol’ batteries to see if we can make it through to the end of 2020.