Wednesday, December 1, 2010

REVIEW - Kirby's Epic Yarn.


I'm conflicted.

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.


THE GOOD
-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 BAD
-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


THE VERDICT
A solid rental, worth taste-testing but ultimately dissatisfying.

8 comments:

  1. My 12 year old kid wants this game and I too have been a fan of the series. But this seems almost disappointing for a full retail price.

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  2. I'll agree with this review, Chance. I've played it exclusively with my gf, and I play it with her because it's easy and fun in co-op, but I never find myself wanting to play it when she isn't around. I love the art style, and I hope that they continue to work with this series (Epic Yarn, not just Kirby)... but I hope for some more depth from a future release. That being said, I have to disagree SOMEWHAT with your criticism of the music. While some of it is just too sweet and simple, a lot of the jazzier stuff is really enjoyable. I don't remember which, but some levels feature some great solo piano that bounces around really nicely... I'm a big fan of the instrumentation in general. But yeah, your review is spot-on - it's fun platforming that doesn't really capture your attention, because there's no risk and no reward, and it's very safe in its design. That being said, I do love the little room that you can go to in order to track your %complete progress in each facet (characters met, fabrics collected, levels completed).

    And I have to plug Donkey Kong Country Returns, another excellent co-op platformer (so much fun, but so much more difficult, with two players!) that is basically the antithesis of Epic Yarn.

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  3. Comments on a review! I should say games kinda' suck more often.

    @Blake: It is disappointing for a full retail price. It's a game that seems to have a lot of content (see: extra little stuff to do) but very little substance.

    @Giovanni: The only time I ever noticed the music was when it way too sedate for the game.

    And yeah, I keep hearing awesome shit about DKCR. I was going to give it a miss 'cause I hear they mapped a bunch of moves to the waggle, but after talking to the fellow at my local Blockbuster and having him explain the use to me, it sounds like it could still be pretty bloody great.

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  4. Well, I'd give it a rental if you REALLY loathe waggle, but I don't even notice it, personally. You waggle to roll, which takes about one minute to get used to, and then you won't even have to think about it. Kinda like Mario's spin in Galaxy, although I know you didn't like that design choice. But the level design is great, as is the artwork, and some of the crazy transformations and neat shit they do in level after level after level - just awesome.

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  5. Yeah that's what I hear. You're holding the Wiimote sideways a'la NSMBWii or Kirby, the 'waggle' is just a little two-handed flick of the controller with the d-pad as a modifier for which move you want. It sounds very un-intrusive.

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  6. (Thinks...) unobtrusive? Yes.

    Damnit, I used the wrong word.

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  7. Haha, that's okay. No one will notice. I personally go Wiimote+Nunchuk, more Galaxy than Kirby, but you could do it either way. I find it even less of a hassle to flick one wrist while playing than to shake the controller between both hands. Anyway, maybe give it a look after the glut of games that you're working through during the holiday season. It'll still be around.

    I'm sort of regretting not picking up a PSP Go (Pearl White) during Amazon's sale this past weekend... $149.99 would have been a steal. Now it's back up to $199, or whatever it is, so I'm less tempted. In my estimation, the Go catches a lot of flak simply because it's an easy target - I personally was (and am) very excited about an all-digital platform, so I'm really upset to so much hate -- and to see Sony respond by saying, "Okay, yeah, we effed up! Everyone ignore this, and let's move on!" It makes me feel like it was a huge blow against the prospect of a digital future for games. Then again, the near future is probably more like what we have now... physical copies of the biggest games, with some of them going digital, and lots of smaller, indie or bite-sized games for download. I can live with that.

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  8. At this point in the lifespan - unless you reckon you can't wait - I'd wait out for a PSP2. It's likely all the downloadable PSP games on the PSN will be available for it (not guaranteed, of course).

    As for future support of the Go on the PSN, I doubt that will be an issue. I'm pretty sure every PSP title that's come out since its release (with the notable exception of Kingdom Hearts, because apparently Disney has a bug up its ass about digital distribution) has been available on the PSN.

    All things considered, I do like my Go better than my 3000. The screen is better, the placement of the controls is better, I don't have to fuck around with UMD discs and it does, frankly, look cooler.

    On the downside, it has an internal battery you can't access - and one day, in the future, the battery will no longer be able to accept a reasonable charge and the Go will be useless without some sort of maintenance from Sony.

    For the PSP2 to beat the Go, in my opinion, it needs two things: 2 analog sticks (check!) and a replaceable battery.

    Oh, and if the analog sticks are where they are on that blurry photo we saw? Epic fail.

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