Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn Review: Patchwork Brilliance
Almost 10 years ago, near the tail-end of the Wii's life-cycle, developer Good-Feel games released an unlikely game starring one of Nintendo's legendary mascots. That game was Kirby's Epic Yarn, a unique experience that stripped away everything that made a Kirby game, well, a Kirby game.
Players were treated to worlds themed around crafts, with felt, stitches, and yarn as far as the eye could see. It was an example of successful experimentation with a franchise, and it spawned additional, equally solid releases from Good-Feel later down the line.
Now, at the tail-end of the 3DS' life-cycle, Feel-Good brought Epic Yarn back for the 3DS family of systems in the form of Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn. The "Extra" in the title refers to some new mini-games and modes, but the core of the game remains largely the same.
That certainly isn't a bad thing, though. Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is a high-quality port of an already great game, bringing Kirby and platformer fans the ability to play one of the pink puff's most unique games on the go.
Most Kirby games don’t revolve around deep plots with twists and turns, and Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn continues in that tradition, which is to its benefit.
One day while trying to grab a luscious Metamato he spied in the distance, Kirby falls foul of the evil yarn magician, Yin-Yarn. The wizard sucks Kirby into his magic sock (it’s true), which transports the pink powerhouse to a new world: Patch Land.
As befits a world by that name, Patch Land is made entirely out of crafty-type things. Yarn, naturally, comprises a good deal of the material, but felt, needles, bobbins, and other sewing and knitting equipment make their appearance quite regularly as well.
What could possibly go wrong in such an adorable land? Yin-Yarn broke it into pieces, and the magic yarn that ties everything together is guarded by a variety of terrifying yarn monsters. What’s more, the dastardly sorcerer created yarn copies of traditional Kirby enemies that are now running about, wreaking havoc in Patch Land, and even making their way back to Dream Land.
Now, Kirby must travel through Patch Land’s six fragmented regions and help Prince Fluff, his blue counterpart, restore order to the world.
The story is as utterly adorable and charming as you’d expect from a Kirby game and a Good-Feel game. That it has no great depth doesn’t matter, especially when it provides the backdrop for such creative graphics and gameplay mechanics.
The only detraction here is some slightly sketchy narration in each major story sequence. It isn’t terrible by any means, but the voice doesn’t quite match the content.
Held Together with Pins (In a Good Way)
Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn doesn’t play like your usual Kirby game. For one thing, there are no copy abilities (since Kirby doesn’t have a stomach anymore). Instead, he uses a bit of yarn to pull things around, unraveling enemies and opening hidden passages in the process.
Our hero also loses the ability to inflate, since he loses, well, an actual body to inflate. Instead, when he jumps, Kirby turns into a cute little yarn parachute if you hold "A," which slows his descent some and requires a better sense of timing and landing judgement than most Kirby games.
These two factors also completely necessary for the game’s platforming, which relies entirely on the yarn mechanic in one form or another.
To get to high or distant platforms, Kirby can sometimes take advantage of a nearby pull-string with a strand of yarn to bunch up the environment and pull platforms closer. Or he can use a nodule on a dandelion puff to swing over to where he needs to go. There might also be times when Kirby has to unravel himself to squeeze through a small gap, outrunning yarn snakes at the same time.
The possibilities are almost endless, and Good-Feel created levels in such a way that these basic, core mechanics never get boring.
For example, obstacles like erupting volcanoes would normally be impassible or require a precise feat of platforming. But when they’re made out of felt and resemble drawstring bags, all Kirby has to do is pull the string tight and (quickly) pass over unhindered.
In place of Kirby’s copy abilities, he gets ravel abilities, such as Wire (sword), Marking Pins, Nylon, and Knitting Needles.
Each ability has its own strengths, and some are used to solve simple puzzles. Nylon (aka the whirlwind), for instance, is useful for helping Kirby go just a little farther and higher, making it easier to reach certain platforms.
The Marking Pins let Kirby chuck three sharp pins (with cute star-shaped heads) in a chosen direction, which is useful for taking on incoming enemies before they get too close.
For the most part, though, they act the same as copy abilities — helping Kirby clear through a horde of enemies or overcome a particularly tough spot without being absolutely necessary to finish levels. They do sometimes help reach secret areas or hidden collectibles, though, and are just plain fun to play around with.
If you’ve played Yoshi’s Woolly World or its 3DS version Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World, you’ll know Good-Feel makes collectibles an integral part of its games. Extra Epic Yarn is no different.
Each stage has three different collectible items to gather as you progress — two pieces of furniture (more on that later) and that stage’s soundtrack you can play back in the hub area. There are also secret Stars you can gather.
The primary collectible to gather, though, is beads. Beads are the currency of Patch Land and also act like Rings in Sonic games — get hit, and they all go flying. Kirby has no health meter in Extra Epic Yarn’s primary gameplay mode, so he can’t really die.
However, beads are necessary for purchasing goods from vendors in the hub town, plus gathering enough in each stage to earn a gold medal means you unlock extra stages after clearing that region’s boss battles.
Keeping hold of the beads you find becomes more challenging later in the game. Beneath Patch Land’s cuddly looks and deceptively calm first world lies a cleverly designed platformer with hard-to-find secrets, devious enemies, and areas that force you to think on your toes or risk losing everything you collected in that level.
Extra Epic Yarn (and the original Wii version) borrows the vehicle mechanic from Yoshi’s Island from time to time as well, varying the gameplay and offering some additional challenge. It’s actually incorporated more often and more smoothly than in many Yoshi games, as you tend to find at least a short vehicle segment in every or every other level.
The vehicles range from a massive Kirby tank complete with yarn missiles to a UFO that sends out an electric shock after absorbing objects, and even a fire engine. You’ll transform into some more than others, though, especially the mole digger, which is delightfully reminiscent of Drill Dozer’s mechanics.
Many of these segments are more challenging than the regular gameplay. One example involves the UFO, where you must maneuver it around bumpers to avoid hitting enemies or obstacles, yet move quickly enough to avoid getting squashed by the moving screen.
Fortunately, the challenge is purely in the gameplay and not in the controls. Each vehicle controls smoothly and easily. That’s a good thing, since completing most of these segments is required to finish the level.
The difficulty in the base game varies. With Kirby being essentially immortal, you’d think the game would be a complete cakewalk. However, if you go into it expecting a game where you can surf the ‘net or watch something while you play, you’ll be surprised the further you get into Patch Land.
The drive to preserve your bead collection will vary from person to person, but this writer found trying to keep every bead Kirby picked up more compelling than keeping a health meter full.
Stop, Look, and Listen
Epic Yarn was a lovely looking game when it debuted on the Wii, and Extra Epic Yarn is no different on the 3DS family. In fact, Extra Epic Yarn looks markedly better than its forebear. Colors are brighter and more vibrant, which goes a long way in making Patch Land stand out.
Extra Epic Yarn's soundtrack is quite a feat in itself, and like the game, it hides depth beneath simplicity. The soundtrack utilizes the piano almost exclusively and manages to create a unique and fitting atmosphere for every stage.
There will be a sort of overall theme in whatever world Kirby is in at the time, with each stage taking it and turning variations of all or parts of it into something completely new. If you're the type of gamer who does go back and re-listen to a game's tracks, then it's definitely worth the effort to find each stage's track.
Basically, it's a Good-Feel game. The studio isn't named Good-Feel for nothing. Like its older Yoshi siblings, Extra Epic Yarn has the power to make you smile or give the warm fuzzies just by powering it on.
When Woolly World first came out, some looked back at Epic Yarn and criticized its less dynamic designs and visuals. With Yoshi's Crafted World coming out later this month, similar comparisons will doubtlessly be made.
However, it's not a fair comparison. Apart from being based on an older game on less powerful hardware, Extra Epic Yarn's charms are more visual than tactile. True, you can't just about feel the feltiness of the felt like you can with Woolly World, but it's a delight to witness anyway.
So What's New?
If you've played Epic Yarn, then you likely know almost all of this already. But Extra Epic Yarn does include a few new gameplay features to set itself apart. Chief among those is Devilish Mode. This challenge mode adds a 5-hit health meter (shaped like a felt star) to include an element of risk, and there will also be a yarn devil pop out from behind the scenes periodically to chuck things at Kirby.
The thing is, it's not a necessary addition. As mentioned already, the base game presents its own take on challenging gameplay, and the same spots that would cause you to lose your beads are the ones that'll most likely take a chunk out of your star meter too, so it doesn't really add anything. The devils don't do much either and are easily dispatched.
More importantly, the soundtrack change when the devils appear is incredibly abrupt and jarring. Since it happens regularly, it ends up just making each stage annoying.
There's a time attack mode included as well, where you can try to beat your fastest times in each stage. On top of that are two rather fun new mini-games: Dedede Gogogo and Meta Knight's Slash and Bead.
The former is an endless runner in the vein of the Poochy stages in Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World, while the latter is akin to an arcade game, where Meta Knight must destroy as many enemies as possible in each stage.
Both are nice ways to take a break from the main game, and performing well earns you mats and beads you can use to make decorative items just for fun.
Then there's Kirby's new pad. Remember those collectible items you gather from each stage? They serve as furniture for Kirby's apartment in the hub area. There's a wide variety of furniture to find, with each piece being themed around the world it's hidden in. The apartment is admittedly small, but like pretty much everything else in Extra Epic Yarn, it and the furnishings you can fill it with are absolutely adorable.
You get three different layouts you can decorate to your liking as well, which is good since the apartment's size means you have to choose carefully what you want to place in it.
Two vendors set up shop in Quilty Square shortly after the game begins as well, and you can buy new furniture and fabrics (used for creating wallpapers and the like) with your beads. They change their stock each time you unlock a new world, so it's worth checking back if you really want to dive into the crafting and furnishing side of the game.
One thing Extra Epic Yarn didn't keep is multiplayer. Unlike the Wii version, it's single-player only; Prince Fluff just offers moral support and some items in each stage.
- Clever level design and gameplay mechanics
- Exemplary soundtrack
- Plenty of content beyond the main story
- Not much new content in the main game itself
- The primary new mode is more annoying than anything
The lack of new content makes Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn difficult to recommend to those well acquainted with the Wii original. However, newcomers, hardccore Kirby fans, and fans of clever level design and visuals could do far worse than spend their time with the pink puffball in Patch Land.
[Note: A copy of Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn was provided by Nintendo of America for the purpose of this review.]