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Unraveling Kirby's Epic Yarn

Nintendo's heroic pink powder puff is cross-stitching his way back into our hearts with this homespun side-scrolling adventure.

Of all the games that Nintendo revealed at its E3 2010 press conference--which there were legion--none captured, for me, the essential playfulness and creativity that Nintendo embodies when it's at its best like Kirby's Epic Yarn. After playing through a couple of levels and a boss encounter in Epic Yarn at Nintendo's booth, I'm pleased to say that the arts-and-craftsy visual motif seems to hold up, and lends some fun twists to the simple, forgiving gameplay.

 It's like, spinning a yarn, like you're telling a big story, but also literally yarn. Wordplay!
 It's like, spinning a yarn, like you're telling a big story, but also literally yarn. Wordplay!
Part of what helped Epic Yarn make such a strong first impression on me was the art style. There are certainly shades of Paper Mario and LittleBigPlanet in the cut-and-paste presentation here, but Epic Yarn seems to carve out its own unique niche with a specific focus on tactile textiles. Everything in the game--environments, enemies, and Kirby himself--appear to be fabricated from simple craft supplies like felt, buttons, zippers, and, of course, yarn. It's a striking look, and little touches in the background, like the way one piece of the environment is stitched into another, really drive that handcrafted feeling home. 

It's not all just for show, though, and the gameplay implications were apparent pretty quickly during my time with Epic Yarn. Though the game is played from a strictly 2D perspective, there's a lot of layering of materials going on, and I found myself undoing zippers to reveal new paths or tugging on buttons sewn into the background to literally pull parts of the environment closer to me, bunching up the very fabric of Kirby's reality in the process.  
== TEASER == 
While the art style represents the obvious departure for Kirby, the sections of the game being shown eschewed some of the fundamentals about Kirby, such as his ability to suck up enemies and steal their abilities, or his knack for simply floating through levels. The controls, which have you holding the Wii Remote sideways, still have an airy feel to them, though Kirby's primary means of interaction with the world around him is a bit of the yarn he's made out of, which he can lash out at enemies or objects. Kirby's got decent ups, and a double-tap on the jump button turns him into a parachute that slowly floats to the ground. Similarly, double-tapping a direction on the d-pad turns Kirby into a car that speedily dashes across the screen.

      And when I finished the demo, I got this sweet Kirby patch. Yay!
      And when I finished the demo, I got this sweet Kirby patch. Yay!
My time with Epic Yarn was actually as a cooperative two-player game, with the lovely Nintendo assistant playing as princely counterpart to Kirby. The interplay between the two characters was pretty mellow for the most part, though at one point the two merged into a giant crazy tank, with one character controlling movement while the other controlled the giant boxing glove that was attached to it.

The stakes seem very low in Epic Yarn, and there doesn't seem to be a way to really lose--it's just a matter of how good your score is once you cross the finish line. There's something to be said for some easy-going platforming action, though to be completely honest, I'm more enamored with the game's look than anything else. As Reggie mentioned during the press conference, it's been seven long years since Kirby--an oft-neglected member of Nintendo's stable of mascots--had a full console game he could call his own, and this is looking like a more than suitable homecoming.