Kirby's Epic Yarn is so adorable it might be illegal

Nintendo really pulled the wool over our eyes with this one. The announcement of a new Kirby title isn’t normally the sort of business that gets us rocking, but what followed during Nintendo’s E3 presentation were three of the most inventive and charming minutes of gaming we’ve seen since, ooh, Mario Galaxy 2.

Having previously lost his limbs at the hand of Drawcia in Canvas Curse (or Power Paintbrush in the UK)– Kirby’s other good game – our windy chum now finds himself in the form of a ball of yarn, crudely shaped into his usual round self. How he’s ended up like this, we can’t say at this time – with games as wonderfully abstract as this, you just have to accept that he is. Whoever’s behind it has also taken their art and craft scissors to the world in which Kirby lives.

Giving a whole new meaning to ‘in-game textures’, the 2D levels are now rich collages of felt, sugar paper and assorted fabrics, but despite being made exclusively from scrapbooking materials it’s all so impossibly alive. Imagine Kirby sauntering his way through the high-end section of Hallmark’s Mother’s Day cards, with folded-over tulips and tailored grassy knolls sagging and wilting under the weight of Kirb’s stringy frame, and you’ve got it. We wouldn’t be surprised if the world’s suicide rate saw a microscopic drop upon Epic Yarn’s release. To see its tapestry in action is to love it.

If the idea behind making a woolen Kirby was to strip him of his powers, it’s been an epic failure. Kirby’s never been more powerful now that he’s a freeform ball of twine. His main offensive outlet is his ability to crack out a woolen whip. The use Kirbs makes of one single strand of yarn would make Indiana Jones blush. Enemies? Twocked. Objects? Picked up from distances that would have eluded even Kirby’s industrial-strength sucko-o-lungs.

Gaps? He’ll be swinging over those like he just doesn’t care, so long as there’s something above it for him to hook onto. Dandelions? He’ll give them a quick yank to strip them of their seeds, then hitch a lift on one as they float off on a pollination mission. The huge dragon boss at the end? Well, with his massive tongue, it’d be rude not to latch onto it and leave him literally tongue-tied, wouldn’t it? The list goes on and on…

…And on and on. Kirby’s whip powers can also be used to manipulate the paper environments. If you see a zipper, you can tug at it, revealing hidden secrets beneath. On occasion, you can reach far away platforms by bringing them to you, by snagging part of the scenery and crumpling up the very fabric of the level itself. All this, and you get the feeling we haven’t even peeled off the first layer of Epic Yarn’s ideas.

It wouldn’t be a Kirby game without transformations, and Epic Yarn sees Lil Puffer in fine form. With a single button press (the remote’s held in its ‘old-school’ horizontal configuration, while we have your attention), Kirby can rearrange his shape into that of a parachute, gliding gracefully over even the longest chasms. When a heavier touch is needed, Kirby can also morph into a comedy weight that lets him bust through any breakable blocks unfortunate enough to be positioned underneath him. We’re not sure how simply adopting the shape of a weight makes Kirby’s body that much heavier, but again, it’s probably best to just accept everything Epic Yarn throws at you without question.

He does vehicles, too. Submerge him in water and he becomes a heartbreakingly sweet approximation of a submarine, with one of his limbs (such as they are) trailing behind as a propeller, desperately trying to keep him afloat. He can also give being a car a whirl, allowing him to burn across obstacles such as – random example! – a diplodocus’ spine at high speed. Then we go from the sublime to the ridiculous – check out that absurd-o-bot tank-style contraption for one example.

This being the Wii generation and everything, it stands to reason that there’s a fully fledged co-op mode. It will enable you and a friend to endure months of not talking to each other (like those caused by New Super Mario Bros Wii) by letting you pull each other out of thin air and hurl your opponent down a gap.

It’s a fascinating body of work that seems to have come out of nowhere, and is light years ahead of the pedestrian 3D offering we were promised for the GameCube years ago that never materialized. Our only worry is that it doesn’t address the Kirby series’ main flaw – that Kirby is too overpowered. But in a world as lucidly fiendish as this, we’re more than happy to be strung along.

Au 13, 2010