It’s always a pleasure seeing familiar characters and landscapes transformed entirely to fit new themes or design choices in video games. Whether it’s Mario’s world becoming papercraft or Hyrule seeing a vibrant, cel-shaded ocean, being able to see things from a new perspective can help enrich the experience of what might otherwise be “just” another fun game. When it was released (in the US) in early 2011, Kirby’s Epic Yarn immediately became one of (if not the) best example of how attention to an overall aesthetic can really make your game come to life in new and exciting ways. While the 3DS version, Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, isn’t quite as extra as you would like, it’s still an amazing and original platformer.
Let’s get one thing out of the way real quick: Given the original’s incredible co-op experience, this 100% should have been a Switch port instead of a 3DS port. Being added to the 3DS took away the cooperative element that the original enjoyed. It doesn’t use the 3DS’s 3D feature, and it takes a hit to the graphical fidelity as well. Also, just throwing this out there, but how cute would a Kirby and Prince Fluff themed set of Joycons been? It should be said that there is no reason we can’t see that Switch port down the road, but for now let’s talk about what we have in front of us: Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn… for the 3DS.
Nintendo of America graciously provided us with a review copy for Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn.
The game spins a good yarn
In case you are in no way familiar with the original release, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a platforming game set in a patchwork world taken over by the evil sorcerer Yin-Yarn. The wizard uses a sinister sock to turn Kirby into a collection of yarn and to transport him to a new world. This renders our vacuous hero incapable of using his main suction power! Now, with the help of Patch Land’s local aristocrat Prince Fluff, Kirby must venture to put the world together so he can get back to Dream Land and defeat Yin-Yarn. The narrative of this game is exactly aware of how silly it is and is presented as if a kindly, velvet-voiced grandfather is reading a young person’s book laced with fabric puns.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. Kirby’s new yarn form gives him the ability to manipulate his form and lash out a whip to interact with the world. He gets a few new abilities as well; he can turn into a car to run, a parachute to glide down to safety, and a weight to crash onto enemies and obstacles below. But the real key tool is the yarn whip; it can unravel foes, pull loose strings apart, and catch points for Kirby to swing on. Thanks in no small part to the beautifully realized aesthetic of the world, Kirby’s interactions feel incredibly satisfying. Throwing out your whip to grab a zipper, and then slowly pulling it open is every bit as satisfying as you can imagine. There’s a real sense of tactile functionality here that makes your interactions with this world seem dynamic, even when they’re clearly scripted.
With this new whip, you run around worlds with adorable themes, collecting colorful beads, and hunting down hidden furniture. It’s a fairly strict gameplay loop in that regard, but the treat is how each level holds a new way for you to enjoy interacting with the world. Many of the levels have a sequence where you turn into some kind of vehicle that allows you to enjoy a mix-up in the usual whip-and-go gameplay, and each one feels unique. Once you’re done collecting furniture from a level, you can take it back to your apartment by the Prince’s castle and decorate your home however you’d like! These can also unlock other apartment tenants who will give you challenges to complete with levels, such as finding hiding friends and collecting a certain number of beads in within a time limit.
Accompanying you on each of these stages is a magnificent soundtrack composed by Tomoya Tomita. From tunes that frolic in the meadows to piano chords that build into a beautiful medley, every track is positively swelling. Almost every level has its own theme which helps accent each stage being its own little adventure. Almost nine years later, this remains one of my favorite soundtracks for any game, and fortunately it’s kept intact with the 3DS port.
Despite being transferred to the 3DS from the Wii, the charm in Kirby’s Epic Yarn remains intact. However, some of the texture and finer detail has been smoothed over. Kirby looks less immediately recognizable as a piece of yarn and kind of looks more like a pink crayon scribble. The original game was on the Wii, so it’s not as if the original’s graphics were super high-resolution to begin with, so maybe you could say that there’s not actually a whole lot that was lost in the conversion. That said, the game runs more smoothly than any 3DS game I can immediately think of. It’s ridiculously crisp. There’s the occasional bit of stutter when things get crazy, but, for the most part, it moves gracefully and effortlessly. This appears to have come at the cost of the 3D effect, which has been missing from most 3DS games as of late in order to give more recent games that extra performance boost.
The devil (mode) is in the details
One of the largest criticisms of the original game is that when you take a hit you don’t lose health. In fact, there is no health or life counter, and you can’t get a game over screen. Instead, taking damage or falling into a pit causes you to lose a wholly embarrassing number of beads that you have to scramble to reclaim. Of course in your panic, you’ll probably start taking more hits and losing more beads. From that perspective, it’s better to think of this game more like a “score attack” type of game and less like a traditional can-you-beat-it with-X-number-of-lives game like you’d find in Mario or traditional Kirby games. It’s no secret that the pink puff’s franchise isn’t the most difficult in the world, making it a great entry level for new players of all ages. Epic Yarn changes the idea from being able to beat a level into being able to beat it well, which can account for some replayability as you work to get better at each obstacle without having to start over from the start. But if that still sounds too soft and fluffy for you, the “Extra” in Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn adds a new Devilish Mode to make things more difficult.
Every level has the option to play in Devilish Mode from the start, upping the difficulty while giving you something new to do. Each level plays the same as its normal mode variation; however, the limitless hits suddenly become strictly limited to just five. This makes it feel a lot more like a standard Kirby game, so if that’s what you felt may have been missing from the original, I encourage you to try this mode out in the demo available on the eShop. Completing levels reward you points on a punch card for each health you retained, and every so often you can unlock more furniture. That means clearing every stage with a full health bar is required to collect absolutely everything. The other part of Devilish Mode is the titular devilish monsters that will occasionally tear through the fabric of reality to assault Kirby. They can be defeated, but they’ll always come back soon, so you need to hustle through the stage.
Besides Devlish Mode, the other extras include amiibo support, a couple of mini-games, and abilities for Kirby to utilize. The abilities act as a sort of enhancement for your general whip attack. Typically, that doesn’t get replaced. Instead, if you have the Bomb Hat on, you’ll form a bomb if your whip doesn’t connect to anything. Similarly, you’ll get the ability to make mega yarn balls by whipping up enemies, which are twice as destructive. These abilities are neat, but they do tend to break an already fairly easy game. The Nylon hat turns your whip into a tornado that sucks up all nearby beads, destroys any enemies or obstacles, and gives you a little lift off the ground. It’s admittedly satisfying to hoover up a bunch of beads or tear through an enemy, but if you’re looking for that traditional challenge you may want to steer clear of these.
Small little extras are laced throughout
The amiibo support is hardly worth mentioning, but if you have any Kirby characters you can scan them for a cute hat and related power up. Meta Knight’s is probably best as it gives you the very satisfying Sword power up, but King Dedede will get you a bomb, and the other two give you the ability to throw those mega yarn balls.
The other attraction would be two mini-games based on King Dedede and Meta Knight. Meta Knight’s games are scrolling stages where you use your sword to tear into baddies while effortlessly gliding around. Dedede’s is an auto-runner where you swing your hammer to break obstacles while avoiding bombs. In both games, you’re trying to collect beads for the best rank to collect Fuse Bead templates. Take the beads you collect and add them to the templates to get little pixel-like items. However, they don’t do anything other than look pretty. You would be fine to skip over these momentary diversions altogether.
The main attraction to this game is simple: feel good by immersing yourself in a world of felt and yarn. The game may not be difficult, but what it lacks in difficulty it makes up for with super pleasing visuals, an absolutely stellar soundtrack, and some of the most joyful, tactile interactions with a world I’ve ever seen. The studio behind the original Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Good Feel, has more than earned their name. They have a history of making games that reach into your brain, shake out all the bad vibes, and leave you feeling nice and fuzzy.