My experience with the Wii console to date has been rather lukewarm. The system has such promise but so few titles that really take advantage of the realities of motion control. Nobody can deny that there are some fantastic games for the system, some of which use the Wiimote and nunchuk to great effect. But there seem to be many more games that are fun to play and have lacklustre controls tacked on.
Somehow, Kirby's Epic Yarn seems to be a mix of both.
Don't get me wrong, I love this game. I'm about to wax rhapsodic about it in a minute.
But I had hoped it would feature a greater use of motion control now that Microsoft and Sony are hot on Nintendo's tail with similar technologies, taking their one true edge away from them. Instead, they created a 2D side-scroller.
That aside, I have to say I really did love this game.
The story opens with a cutscene showing Kirby devouring a delicious but odd looking metamato. Little does he know, the metamato belongs to an evil knitting-needle wielding sorcerer named Yin-Yarn. Yin-Yarn is pissed and sucks Kirby into his magical sock and into Patch Land.
There, Kirby saves a blue fluff ball named Prince Fluff from being eaten. Fluff explains that the evil sorcerer has unstitched the world and only the Magic Yarns (conveniently found upon beating the bosses of each world) will sew the seven pieces back together again. Even worse, Yin-Yarn is transforming all of Kirby's land into a yarn-filled evil empire!
Because he has been drawn into Patch Land, Kirby is a rather different puffball than many will remember him as. Since he is now made of yarn, he cannot suck in and eat his enemies anymore...the air passes right through him. He also cannot fly or take on the powers of his enemies. Instead, he has gained the ability to transform himself and use yarn to his advantage.
He attacks primarily with a lasso made of yarn that unravels his enemies. He can also become an anvil to pound his enemies, a car when the player wants him to dash and a submarine when in water. There are also places where Kirby unravels himself down to a single thread of yarn to squeeze through tiny spaces.
The developers took this idea and ran with it, creating levels where Kirby transforms into something else for the duration of the level. He can morph into a variety of things, including a UFO complete with tractor beam, a wakeboarder, an offroad racer, a dolphin or a digging/fluff cutting machine that reminds me awfully of a mole.
The background of the game has a huge impact on the game play. Appropriately enough, Patch Land is made up of patches, zippers, buttons and other sewing-related paraphernalia. Kirby can use his yarn lasso to pull zippers or swing off of buttons, often allowing the player to reach secrets or progress further in the level. Patches are pulled off the background (like a sticker) to reveal doors or beads, which the player collects as currency.
The controls are extraordinarily simple and familiar to anyone who played NES. The Wiimote is held sideways with the directional pad used to control direction, button one for attacking and button two for jumping. The player holds one down to pull a zipper or to throw an enemy. During the transformation levels, some of the morphs have slightly different control schemes but have very few modifications.
For those gamers who love completing a game to 100%, this one is for you. Not only does it give each save file a percentage of completion (which I love), but each level has three collectables and requires the player to collect a certain amount of beads to earn a gold medal for that level. There is even an entire plaza dedicated to breaking down each category of collectables into types (wallpapers, fabrics, etc) and showing how many of each you have gotten.
The game isn't only about saving Patch Land. Before you enter the first world, you are stopped by a yarn-ball who tells you all about Prince Fluff's apartment. Suddenly, it becomes Kirby's apartment too and a great place for you to display all those collectables you're going to find along the way. You're also asked to furnish the apartment next door, in the hopes that someone will find it more attractive and move in. As the game progresses, the yarn-ball landlord will ask you to furnish more apartments and more people will move in. This is important, because these new yarn-ball tenants will offer various mini-games for the player, with more collectables as prizes.
Next to the apartment building are two stores that sell furniture and fabrics, allowing you to customize your apartment with even greater finesse.
This is one of only a few small parts of the game that really uses the Wiimote. To furnish your room, you point the Wiimote at the screen and use it to move items around or refinish them in one of the fabrics you've collected. It's very much like building a house in The Sims, except without the necessity of having to keep people alive afterwards. The room itself has no real use, so players that aren't budding interior decorators can simply leave it bare and lonely.
Speaking of lonely, the game allows for a second gamer to play Prince Fluff, helping Kirby fly through levels with ease. I never found a second player to be a hindrance, except in transformation levels. There, P2 is often relegated to part of a control that often screws up what P1 is trying to do. In a wakeboarding level, for instance, P1 controls jumping and spin attacking while P2 is level waggling the Wiimote to hover. This would be fine, except that P1 is trying to execute carefully timed jumps to reach beads and collectables and hovering only throws off what would have otherwise been a successful run. Some of the transformations take a more logical approach and simply duplicate what Kirby is morphing into allowing each player to do whatever they want without interfering with the other.
I need to stop here and rant a little bit about one of the transformations in particular.
I had no problem with the offroader or the UFO. The dolphin was adorable and the digger/cutter thing was fun. The train, however, made me want to tear my eyes out of their sockets.
There is one level in particular where Kirby is a train throughout. To control the train, the player points the Wiimote at the screen and holds A to draw a train track on the screen. Pushing B makes TrainKirby do a U-turn. You can make Kirby to loops, swirls or even go upsidedown for a while. The problem is getting Kirby ON the track. For some reason, Kirby has a really hard time getting his wheels on the track unless you start it below the actual ground. As well, the player has a limited amount of track they can lay down at one time and a limited amount of screen they can see, often forcing the poor conductor to hastily draw a new track upon an old track once it becomes clear they need to be going down instead of up like they assumed. This is further complicated by the need for speed boosts (represented by shiny circles) to break through walls. Miss the circle and you can't progress through the level, forcing you to try and get TrainKirby and his perilous track in the air again. Don't even get me started on the two player version of this. Both players are the same train and are forced to alternate turns when drawing the track. It was enough to force me and my P2 to turn off the game and do something else for an hour.
The game is adorable, in terms of both graphics and sound. I never found myself muting the volume to escape an annoying and repetitive jingle and the scenery is made up of colourful, cuddly, patched-together cuteness.
Truth be told, Kirby's Epic Yarn was the highlight of my Giftmas morning. It's not a marvel of motion control engineering, but it was fun, colourful and great to relax with on a Saturday morning.