But even though I seem to be well beyond the age range of this game, I was thoroughly charmed by Kirby's Epic Yarn, and I absolutely delighted in the sight of every stage. Developer Good-Feel, quite honestly, put more thought into the presentation of this game than it needed to. This was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved, and that love comes through in the final experience. Here's the premise: Kirby is sucked into a magical sock by the evil Yin-Yarn, depositing him in Patch Land. He teams up with his new friend Prince Fluff, in order to collect the magical yarn needed to mend the splintered Patch Land, and then to prevent Yin-Yarn from invading Dream Land with his army of yarn Waddle Dees. (Did I mention it's aimed at kids?) Kirby can't use his "Copy" ability because, as an insubstantial loop of yarn, he has no belly into which to suck up enemies. Instead, he and Prince Fluff have loose strings of yarn that they can use to grab and unravel enemies, rolling them up into balls of yarn that can then be used as projectiles.
This design choice leads not just to aesthetic cleverness, but lends itself to interesting gameplay as well. Kirby can pull on a loose thread to cinch up part of a level, bringing a platform closer. Volcanoes are represented as pouches, whose drawstrings can be closed to ensure safe passage. Zippers in some stages will even cause new areas to appear. The game is full of cute little interactive details that make the felt-and-yarn levels enjoyable to explore. Exploration is important: in addition to simply clearing the level, you can find three hidden items in each level, along with as many "beads" (the game's currency/score item) as you can find. These affect your rank in each level, open access to bonus stages in boss levels and allow you to buy furniture and wallpapers for an adorable apartment-building minigame -- which unlocks access to even more minigames like hide-and-seek and racing.
Bead collecting is the only source of tension or challenge, as you'll drop a bunch of beads like Sonic and his rings if you fall or are hit. Of course, you can pick them right back up if you didn't drop them down a bottomless pit, and you aren't penalized in any way for taking a hit without any beads. You actually cannot die. If you fall into a pit, you'll be picked up and placed on the last platform (the same mechanism used when one player gets too far away from the other). You have to figure out the bosses' patterns -- like the squid boss whose knit cap you have to unravel, an example I'm using entirely because it was so cute -- in order to hang onto your beads and unlock the bonus stages, not because you fear you won't be able to succeed.
We don't have to be challenged every single time we play a video game. Occasionally, it's enough to be happy.
Honestly, the lack of difficulty didn't bother me. I spent around 10 lovely hours exploring the intricately detailed, painfully cute Patch Land in co-op, and came away feeling, well, lovely. Kirby's Epic Yarn makes a convincing case for the idea that we don't have to be challenged every single time we play a video game. Occasionally, it's enough to be happy.
This review is based on the retail version of Kirby's Epic Yarn provided by Nintendo.