Wednesday, December 1, 2010
REVIEW - Kirby's Epic Yarn.
Kirby's Epic Yarn, developed by independent studio Good-Feel, has a lot going for it. It's got classic mechanics, a very unique visual style, a popular intellectual property, a healthy sense of whimsy and a sharp eye for design that constantly keeps the player moving in the right direction. So why do I feel so indifferent about it?
There's something... soulless about this game. As you look at its adorable screenshots, this may not seem possible - but it is, at all ends, designed to be so totally wholesome, so accessible and acceptable to all comers that it feels a bit empty. As if you could peel away the layer of denim jean that serves as the backdrop to a level, and behind it you would find nothing at all.
There's a lot to like about it. This is the definitive easygoing platformer - gentle and never expecting too much of the player - and though it is quite literally impossible to die, it's always possible to fail - so while the game is easy to the degree that it never frustrates, it rarely feels too easy. Just a bit pointless, and boring.
The art style is, as you can see, totally unique. Kirby runs through a world of cloth and wool and chunky stitching, unraveling enemies with a yank of his yarn-whip, pulling loose threads of the world tight, slipping between layers of fabric and swinging from buttons. It's very different, and immediately delights as such - the player wants to look around and explore this strange, beautiful world - but pushing forward to see what's next is never as rewarding as you'd hope.
While the game often rewards this desire with regular clever uses of its textured world and characters, throwing out some new creative way to riff on its theme every level or two, it somehow manages to get old very fast. Once you've seen a boss or two made of yarn, the yarn phoenix or yarn dinosaur up next becomes a bit ho-hum. Yes, it's a dragon with button eyes. Yawn.
Still, you've got to hand it to Good-Feel - they didn't just come up with the concept and coast on it. Once or twice in each of Yarn-Land's world segments, there will be a 'wow moment' that puts a broad smile on your face, and you'll happily forge ahead to see what creativity is up next. Oh-hohoho, spinning like a top to wind up a string attached to a dinosaur's head to make them raise their neck! Clever.
Pacing is tempered with switch-ups that see Kirby transforming into various animals and autos made of string - and these are hit or miss. They're often a successful up-shift, contrasting the easy rhythm of the platforming with a twitchy sequence as a dune buggy or tank or (most enjoyably) dolphin. When they fail, though, they fail pretty hard - the train transformation in particular is just frustrating to no end.
The music is one clear aspect that stands out as a negative. I understand that this is a gentle world, a gentle game and so a gentle soundtrack is quite in keeping with the overall tone, but nearly every track in the game could be put to effective use as a lullaby.
So if what we have here is a beautiful game that's (mostly) well designed, easygoing and creative, gentle and often delighting, why is its lasting impression so uneven?
There's something... cynical about this game, likely due to its resolve to be utterly devoid of challenge to the point that it stops being a game, and becomes merely a pastime. It's saccharine-sweet - and I'm known for having quite the sweet tooth, when it comes to media and gaming - but Kirby's real failure, I think, is that it's only trying to appeal to children.
I'm not asking for guns and swears, here. There's nothing wrong with being a game that is, ostensibly, designed for kids - many of the best games and movies and even books are - but the best aren't just hollow, wholly two-dimensional rugrat fodder. The best examples manage to be fun for the whole family, and Kirby falls short. Like its world it is a hollow creature, lacking any real depth.
Epic Yarn is a Stepford wife. Beautiful, poised, manufactured to the highest standards by its austere designers, and eerily soulless beneath its striking, charming exterior.
-great art style
-constantly creative use of its setting across the board
-a smooth, easygoing platformer
-most of the gameplay switch ups are fun
-transforming instantly into a car to dash, leaping into the air and popping into parachute form before slamming down as a weight is cool
-kids will love it
-the soundtrack iszzzzzz...
-relatively few levels for a platfomer
-the total inability to die removes all tension from boss encounters
-so easy, it's a bit boring
-the train transformation sucks!
-ends up feeling like a very empty experience
A solid rental, worth taste-testing but ultimately dissatisfying.