Game Review: Kirby's Epic Yarn

It feels like pants...

Written by ritabuuk and dubiousdisc
Posted on April 21st 2019
Kirby's Epic Yarn boxart
So soft, so cute!

This game is so adorable. It's almost a tautology when talking about a Kirby game, but Kirby's Epic Yarn manages to be even cuter than the average Kirby game. It doesn't matter how bad of a day we're having, if we play this game, we feel better. The entire world is made of fabric, and Kirby and Prince Fluff go about squishing their way through this fabric world. We've played this game several times, and we're sure we'll play it several times more. Of particular interest to us is that this game has an excellent co-op mode, so we can play this game together and help each other navigate its cuteness.

We're not writing this article because of the newly-released 3DS port - we just happened to play this game for the umpteenth time recently, and we jotted our notes for an article, and when we looked something up for reference, we learned that the re-release was happening. We're starting to think that companies are spying on us to know when it's the time to unexpectedly re-release or reboot something, like Mary Poppins or whatever. Not that this changes anything. This is Staircase Spirit, where we have our comebacks ten years later, and only incidentally become timely with the nostalgia-exploiting reboots. We disavow all attempts to be timely.

But back on Kirby's Epic Yarn, we suppose we need to start by talking about the title. Kirby's Epic Yarn... There is no part of this name that is right. Except maybe "yarn".

Kirby with a slice of cake
Kirby hasn't heard...

The most glaring atrocity is "epic". This game came out in 2009. If you weren't there, let us explain, and if you were, let us give you war flashbacks. In 2008, "epic" was the top meme trending troll word of the internet. Everything was epic. Today, partly as a form of protest and resistance against attempted commercialization, memes now last roughly five seconds before morphing into something else entirely (thereby no longer making these "memes" fit the original definition of the concept of "meme", but regardless...). But, back in 2008, the easily accessible meme humor was to merely repeat a word or phrase related to the meme, not even when it was relevant, and the anonymous goons would harharhar. For example, merely shouting the words "The Cake is a Lie" in the halls of Katsucon 2008 was apparently peak humor. Even if some goon was saying it roughly every fifteen minutes. Harharhar.

Before you get the wrong idea, there was debate at the time that this was definitely doing it wrong and completely unfunny. The point of referential humor is to make a relevant reference at an unexpected time. And not just shouting a phrase at random. But, that didn't stop the internet masses.

So, at the time, anything remotely bad was a "fail". Anything remotely interesting was "epic". And anything remotely bad in a remotely interesting way was an "epic fail". For example, someone doing a face-plant would be an "epic fail" (also an example of a "self-pwn" for more 2008-era meme vocabulary).

And so, everything was given the increasingly meaningless intensifier of "epic". The epic trolls trolled the epic noobs in epic ways, and the epic noobs had epic fails. Given the rate at which the word was overused, by 2009, the word was totally, utterly dead.

Epic Mickey
Mickey is over 9000!

Enter two games that belatedly tried to capitalize on the hip "epic" word. Epic Mickey, and Kirby's Epic Yarn. Kirby's Epic Yarn gets slightly more points because it is indeed attempting to make a pun: a yarn being a winding story, and epic being a long story, the game is about woolen yarn, okay. Epic Mickey, on the other hand, is just a dark and gritty game about Mickey Mouse, with the word "epic" shamelessly slapped on, and it didn't manage to get released until 2010, so it might as well have referenced "Badger Badger Badger" for how timely that was.

For the record, we are blaming the localizers here. The Japanese name of Kirby's Epic Yarn is just, Yarn Kirby. How nice and simple and non-memey.

Prince Fluff
Prince Fluff makes the cover, but barely...

The less obvious part of the title that's wrong is "Kirby's". This game was originally pitched as having nothing to do with Kirby. The main character would be Prince Fluff going on an adventure in his yarn kingdom of Patch Land. When the Nintendo people saw that Prince Fluff was round, they decided to re-brand the game as a Kirby game.

It seems that the original creators had to struggle to get Prince Fluff included in the game as the optional co-op player-two character. Poor Prince Fluff, and poor creators. Imagine, you make up your whole game, this is your beloved main character, but it is decided that it would be better if you make an established character into yarn instead. Nevermind making a new game from zero that could potentially become a franchise in its own right; it's better to cut your beloved main character and just make it be another Kirby game.

Yarn Kirby as a fish
Kirby reshapes into a yarn-fish with a snorkel to swim

Even though it actually plays nothing like a standard Kirby game. Rather than inhaling enemies and copying their abilities, in this game, Kirby and Prince Fluff have set abilities of whipping, stomping, and dashing by twisting their yarn bodies into different shapes at different times. If this had been Prince Fluff's game, these presumably would have been Prince Fluff's own powers, which makes sense, given that he is a being made from yarn. You're making this game with your yarn protagonist, these are the powers you give them. But then, deep in development, you have to somehow involve Kirby too. You're not going to remake the whole game to function around Kirby's pre-established powers, so how are you going to address that this game plays so differently? In Kirby's Epic Yarn, the narrator explains that, now that Kirby has been magically turned into yarn, without an interior at all, it is not possible to inhale enemies to copy abilities.

So, all Epic Yarn has in common with a Kirby game, beyond the shoe-horned presence of Kirby, is that it's a sidescroller with levels. At that rate, is Super Mario Bros. a Kirby game? How would the creator of Kirby have felt if he pitched Kirby's Dream Land back in 1992, and needed to re-work the game to have the protagonist be the established character of Mario instead? What bullshit.

Not that we want to piss on Kirby. Far from that, we love Kirby. Just, this game should have had a chance to be its own thing. We're here mourning what could this game have been if Kirby characters and concepts hadn't been forced into it.

Yarn Waddle Dee
Too cute!

The game we got is really good, despite the title, and poor Prince Fluff. But we would say that the weakest aspect is how shoehorned Dream Land is into it. The core characters of Kirby all reprise their usual roles, even if it doesn't make much sense. There are Waddle Dees made out of yarn that are stated to not be real Waddle Dees, but rather impostor Waddle Dees created by the evil villain Yin-Yarn, modeled after the creatures he saw in Dream Land. But now there are all these yarn Waddle Dees wandering around in Patch Land... but why? Why couldn't we be seeing the native creatures of Patch Land? Where are they? Why isn't it addressed that there is suddenly this invasive species in Patch Land? Even though they are stated to be not real Waddle Dees, we're not supposed to be thinking about why are we encountering them in Patch Land, because we are only encountering them because this is a Kirby game, and the basic creatures you see around are of course Waddle Dees.

While we mourn this, the yarn Waddle Dees are super cute. In this game, they are more harmless than ever. In other Kirby games, the basic Waddle Dees don't have any special power, and they are barely able to attack -- just by bonking into Kirby. But in Kirby's Epic Yarn, if they aren't holding a weapon, they are absolutely harmless. They can't even bonk you. You can walk into them and make them fall down. You can stand on their head. Even if they are holding a weapon, they might even put the weapon down and take a nap instead. You can knock the weapon out of their hands, and then they revert to being absolutely harmless. We find ourselves knocking the bow and arrows out of their hands all, "That's dangerous, you shouldn't have that." And then we make a point of not attacking them at all, since, they are harmless and cute, why should we bother them. Carry on, carry on. :)

A yarn Waddle Dee bopping about harmlessly
Oh my god
Yin Yarn
Yin-Yarn

As part of Yin-Yarn's plot to conquer Dream Land, he makes King Dedede into his puppet and uses him to attack Kirby, filling the usual Kirby trope of needing to fight King Dedede but it ultimately being some sort of misunderstanding. Meta Knight is also yarn-possessed and made to fight Kirby, but in the end he's on our side and gives Kirby the tools to beat the final boss, which is what usually happens. But why is this happening now? Because that's what happens in a Kirby game. Yin-Yarn even says so himself that he doesn't even know why he wants to conquer Dream Land, but that's what he's doing and he's sure he'll figure it out as he goes. We never learn what he wanted, and neither did he, we guess.

Thinking about it some more, we would have loved to know more about the overall worldbuilding of this entire situation. Was Yin-Yarn originally the antagonist of Prince Fluff's own game, or was he added when it was reshaped into a Kirby game? If Yin-Yarn was the villain of Prince Fluff's game, was his goal simply to conquer Patch Land? What are the magical knitting needles that Yin-Yarn has? Yin-Yarn can use these knitting needles to create new beings, and to reshape the very fabric of his world. Are they like almighty holy artifacts that he has stolen? Did they always belong to Yin-Yarn, meaning he was in some sort of creator role? Who made the knitting needles? Do they come from another dimension where knitting is just how you make a scarf and not used to bend reality?

Prince Fluff

And what is the deal with Prince Fluff anyway? We wondered about how he notably is the Prince, which usually implies the presence of a King and Queen. Why do we never see them? Where are they? Or is Patch Land like Monaco, and the Prince is actually the top cat? No, that's not it. Composer Tomoya Tomita revealed in an interview that the original plot of the game was that "the timid Prince Fluff would go on a journey to find his lost mother," so there was indeed a Queen of Patchland in the developers' minds in the original story.

We don't know what the developers actually were planning, but we can kinda see what the plot of this game might have been. Something like, the sacred knitting needles have been stolen from the castle, the Queen is missing, and now strange abominations are roaming the land as Yin-Yarn is knitting his own army to take over Patch Land. It's up to the little Prince Fluff to save everyone and his kingdom! Simple, but cute, and most importantly, this plot would make some sense, rather than never having an actual explanation or motivation.

So, the weakest aspects of this game is that it feels the need to do the Kirby game things and repeat the tropes of Dream Land, when it really could have been a Prince Fluff game and explored a new story and the new world of Patch Land unhindered.

They didn't think it would be compelling enough to play a cute low-stakes game of exploring the world of yarn, so they made it be a Kirby game to make it be compelling. But we're not playing this game because of Kirby, even as Kirby fans. We're playing this game because it's cute and it makes us happy, and it didn't need to be a Kirby game to achieve that. The role of Kirby in this game is more like, "featuring Dante from Devil May Cry". The well-known established protagonist inserted just to sell the game.

Featuring Kirby from the Kirby series
(& Knuckles)
Angie the Angel
Angie the Angel carries Kirby

This game is wonderful though. It is one of the best co-op games to play. It has no pressure, though it can also be quite challenging if you want to go the extra mile. The majority of the "enemies" are the yarn Waddle Dees which are completely harmless. There are beads to collect through the level, but they don't really do much, so you only need to collect them if you want. If you get hurt, the only penalty is dropping some beads. You cannot die, at all. When playing co-op, you can stand on each other's heads or throw each other as alternate ways of getting past certain obstacles, rather than needing to do tricky platforming or getting something else to throw. And at any point, one player can summon Angie the angel to carry them to the location of the other player, so if one player succeeds while the other has trouble getting past a certain part, they can just choose to warp to where their friend is. You can even use this power to save yourself while falling down, to avoid even the minor penalty of losing some beads. There is no penalty for calling the angel to carry you.

Prince Fluff on Kirby's Head
Prince Fluff and Kirby

Just, the joy of Kirby's Epic Yarn is simply going through the game and melting at everything that happens. It is full of cute fabric environments full of cute yarn critters doing cute yarn things. You traverse through the level in satisfying ways, sliding down an icy mountain, or squiggling through a narrow passageway as a string of yarn, or surfing through the level, or dolphining through hoops, or hitting every musical instrument to get extra beads along the way, or burrowing your own passageways through the fluffy dirt.

We don't trust anyone who doesn't enjoy playing this game. It is heartwarming and wonderful.

The actual reward of the game is being able to play more game. That's how a game should be: you like this game, you play it, and if you play well, you get to play more of it. Yay! In this game, if you obtain enough beads during the boss fights, you will unlock two bonus stages per world. Beyond that, there's little reason to get the beads except for the personal goal of doing the best you can, and marking the levels with gold medals.

Though, when you do, the landlord and shopkeepers from the town in Patch Land will appear to cheer you on. "Yay! You got more money to spend in my store! You can now afford higher rent! Mwhahaha!" Imagine if this happened in real life. You got your paycheck and your landlord goes "Yay!!".

Patch Land Apartments
Where do the tenants even come from anyway?

That's because another thing you can do with the beads is to fund the landlord's additions to the apartment complex so that there will be more rooms for the landlord to rent out. We also decorate the rooms with furniture that we get through playing the game or by spending more beads. After we decorate the rooms, a new tenant moves in... and presumably pays the landlord rent. For what? We're the one paying for all the rooms and the furniture and doing the interior design. What part is the landlord even playing in all of this? He's scamming Kirby and Prince Fluff so hard here...

But yes, the goal is to have these tenants arrive, which unlocks a set of mini-games. These mini-games are led by each associated tenant, who all seem to have issues.

Beadrix Zeke Carrie Buster Mara
The tenants with issues

Beadrix wants you to get beads. She follows you through the level to watch you collect the beads for her. If you don't quite get enough of the beads for her within the arbitrary time limit, she cries. What, we're doing all the work for you, for free! And you dare complain!

Zeke splits into five, and then you need to find the five... Zekes hidden throughout the level. You find them by whipping them. You can't just bonk into them. You must whip them. Then the game declares, "You found all your friends!". With friends like these...

You carry Carrie to the throne. "Wasn't that fun?", she says. Carrie yourself!

Mara wants to run a marathon against you. Or actually a sprint. Whatever, a race.

Buster wants to watch you murder the cute harmless little Waddle Dees. Some of them are even asleep. There are two particular Waddle Dees that are having a nap snuggling under a tree. Buster wants you to kill them.

Two Yarn Waddle Dees sleeping under a tree with red gems in a heart-shape over their heads
Buster is a monster.

These mini games are all completely optional, and that's a good thing. We don't want to murder the Waddle Dees, and none of the mini-games are interesting or compelling. We find the actual game itself much more rewarding.

We do have a couple critiques for the co-op mode, though. Some parts were definitely made with the single-player mode in mind, and not quite perfectly adapted for two players, since we would unavoidably mess each other up. For example, if one player is successfully going fast down the hill, and the other player didn't get going yet, the game might warp them to be back together, and the player who did it right loses their progress. Or, if one player is going left and the other player is going right, one or both of them might hit the side of the screen which will refuse to scroll until the other player changes direction - and suddenly hitting this invisible boundary can mess you up. The two of you might run into each other, which will cause you to bounce back and mess you up. If you are both trying to jump up in the same place, you might end up jumping into the other player, which knocks you down and the other player up, disrupting both of your jumps. You might need to grab a projectile in mid-air to throw back at the boss, but if you are both trying to do that in the limited space of the screen, chances are, you'll grab your friend and throw them at the boss by mistake, which doesn't work and makes you lose your beads.

If you play this game in co-op and find any level strangely difficult, we would recommend trying it in single player instead. You can freely switch between one player and two player. Any time that is unreasonably difficult is mostly due to these co-op problems. But the rest of the time, the co-op is great.

Kirby and Prince Fluff dance after the Wheel of Fortune spin
Celebratory dance of teamwork! ...Or not.

Another peculiarity of the co-op mode of Kirby's Epic Yarn is that, as the designated player-two character, Prince Fluff only really gets to exist if you are playing the game in two-player mode. If you are playing co-op, nothing will appear amiss about the overarching plot of the game and relationship between Kirby and Prince Fluff. You play the game as both of them, they are in the loading screens together, they dance at the end of the levels, and their teamwork and friendship are an important note to the cut-scenes that play after each boss fight.

If you are playing the game single player, you are Kirby. At the end of each level, Prince Fluff will appear from off-screen to survey the results of your wheel-of-fortune spin and then dance with Kirby. He'll be in the loading screens, following after Kirby for no apparent reason. After Kirby does all the hard work of fighting the boss, Prince Fluff walks in having not helped at all, and then says in the cut scene, "We did it! We got the magic yarn!" We? How dare you! Where were you when the evil pumpkin magician Squashini had tied Kirby up to a bomb? Off-screen, watching Kirby squirm. Nice. Thanks, Prince Asshole.

We suspect you can use someone's high or low opinion of Prince Fluff as an indicator of whether they played this game single player or co-op. The co-op mode is beautiful and one of the best co-op games we know of. The single player game presents Prince Fluff as some random jerk taking credit for what you do and not being helpful at all. Wow.

And yet, the single-player game is the only version available in the 3DS port, Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn.

Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn
Although Prince Fluff is more prominently featured in the promotional material of Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn, he's less featured in the game itself.

By eliminating the co-op mode, Prince Fluff has been demoted to essentially a cameo who appears in non-controllable cut-scenes to claim credit for your progress. This also means that Prince Fluff, who was intended to be a protagonist in his own right in his own game, was first demoted to be the second-player co-op character in a game wedged into the Kirby franchise, and then demoted again to a storyline-only cameo that isn't even an NPC present in the world and has no impact on gameplay. Poor Prince Fluff.

We also don't understand the decision to port this game on the 3DS rather than on the Switch. All the art that was intended for a television screen is now on a tiny, tiny handheld screen. Considering that Kirby is made of yarn and does not have a solid body color, Kirby gets very difficult to see at a small size. The game isn't even stereoscopic, so Kirby doesn't pop from the background or anything. Why not re-release this game on the Switch with a co-op mode, considering the Switch can be played on the TV and is made for co-op games and is Nintendo's current product that they pushing...? While in general we're glad that this game was rescued out of Wii Hell, why did they make a halved version of the game on a dying system? It's out of the frying pan and into the fire.

This enhanced re-release also emphasized making the game more challenging. If we want to play something in "Devilish Mode", we'd just fire up Doom and fight the demons there. If we wanted to play a hard game, we would. When we want to play a soft game, we play Kirby's Epic Yarn. Our love for this game comes from the feel-good relaxing co-op of two friends going at their own pace through a soft world where they can't die. The developers specifically avoided making the game harsh the first time because they wanted it to be as soft of a game as it looks to be. So, yeah, let's make this game about wool and fuzzy pants be HARD for the HARDCORE GAMERZ who wouldn't touch a Kirby game with a stick and wouldn't feel comfortable playing a cute game as a fluffy pink protagonist of unclear gender unless it has angry eyes. The entire treatment of this re-release is in the same spirit as Angry American Kirby.

Kirby Air Ride Boxart Comparison
Localizers seem to think Kirby needs angry eyes to appeal to the properly-manly American boys. Also Kirby is not pink but light red, get it right.

In conclusion

We love this game, even though Nintendo has trashed on it so much. Highly recommended, but play it on the Wii, in co-op mode, with Prince Fluff. Bring your friend over and play it on the couch and go daww. Nevermind the 3DS version. You can't even see it!

References

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