Somehow, Nintendo has managed to prevent Kirby from growing up. Even Mario has had its serious installments, and Metroid's gotten deep, but Kirby hasn't changed a bit. Ever since I spent hours of my childhood with the little spheroid and his never-ending appetite in his first-ever adventure, Kirby's Dream Land, the franchise has steered clear of character development, continuity, and narrative urgency. Gamers don't play Kirby for the challenge (non-existent) or the narrative (also non-existent). We play because he's just so gosh-darned adorable.
Thus, the title Kirby's Epic Yarn must be a tongue-in-cheek joke; there's nothing epic here. The story begins with a hungry Kirby inhaling a tomato, despite protests from the fruit's owner, who turns out to be a wizard named Yin Yarn. As punishment, Yin Yarn sucks Kirby into an interdimensional portal to Patch Land. Prince Fluff, ruler of Patch Land, explains to Kirby that the place has been overrun with monsters and torn to pieces by Yin Yarn's magic meddling. The two heroes decide to work together to piece together Fluff's kingdom.
Everyone and everything in Patch Land is made out of yarn — including Kirby and Fluff. The colorful patchwork levels include images delightful enough to rival Kirby himself, from fluffy cotton cakes to torn teddy bears to googly-eyed, felt-winged pterodactyls. In previous games, Kirby used his enormous vacuum mouth to swallow monsters, but now that he's made of yarn, he and Fluff use yarn whips to unravel enemies or wind them into projectile yarn balls.
As yarn, Kirby is malleable: you can wind yourself into a parachute, a rock, or a car as needed. You'll also stumble across special portals that transform Kirby and Fluff into dolphins, spaceships, a two-seater tank, and other shapes. If you choose to play the game with two players, you'll be able to jump on each other's heads, throw each other at enemies or high platforms, and solve already-easy puzzles even faster.
Gamers often complain about exposition-heavy cutscenes, unintuitive button layouts, bosses that offer no clue as to how one might defeat them, and save points that seem all too far apart. Epic Yarn includes none of the above; yet some will still find it unsatisfying. You can't even die here — you lose points, but that's it. Even the last stage — a nostalgic retread through Dream Land, done up patchwork style — seems stupidly simple, and the final fight with Yin Yarn is an anti-climax. But if you're the sort to wonder why there aren't difficulty settings in Epic Yarn, you're probably also rolling your eyes at the cutesy cutscenes and the narrator's sugar-coated voice. One scene finds Kirby and Fluff in a cake-eating competition. Is it plot relevant? No, but it's absolutely adorable, and that seems to be the only rule for inclusion in this game.
Will Kirby's one-note cuteness shtick keep him popular forever? There will always be new generations to pick up controllers and discover him for the first time. Elementary-aged youngsters will likely delight in playing and replaying Epic Yarn, just as I loved Dream Land in my day. Their parents, however, will be bored after playing it with them once.