Version tested: Wii
Plenty of games promise to tell you a story, but Kirby's Epic Yarn is one of the few that literally does so. The game opens with an avuncular man narrating the tale of Kirby's descent into Patch World. There's no voice-acting cast. Instead, like story hour at the local library, the narrator just changes his voice as he reads the lines of each character: a bit squeakier for Kirby and a bit more serious for Kirby's new friend, Prince Fluff. It's a perfectly analogue intro to an analogue game.
Nearly everything in Patch World is made of stuff you'd expect to find in your grandmother's sewing bag: buttons, beads, felt, patches, and countless threads of yarn. Yes, deep down, it's all pixels. Epic Yarn makes it easy to forget that, though, because the fabric of the game is so tactile. Plush parts of the ground give way a little when Kirby walks across them, and yanking on a loose thread makes the attached landscape scrunch up, accordion-style. My favourite effect is when Kirby jumps behind the background, and his figure pokes out as a moving lump in the felt scenery, like a cat scurrying around under the bed covers.
An early cut-scene breaks the news that Kirby's trademark ability – aggressive inhalation of his foes – won't work in Epic Yarn. Because he's just a loop of fibre while he's in Patch World, any gulps of air pass right through him. What may strike long-time Kirby fans as a fundamental change turns out to be inconsequential. Kirby's shtick was always more about transformation, anyway – sucking air was a means to that end – and the little pink dude can still reincarnate himself in new forms, like an acrobatic dolphin or a spaceship complete with tractor beam.
The structure of the game is nothing extraordinary. It's a platformer, and an easygoing one at that. When you fall into a trap or get hit by an enemy, you lose some of the beads (i.e. currency) you've collected on that level, the same way that Sonic's rings fly everywhere when he takes a knock on the head. Except, even if you run out of beads, there's no way to die. You just dust yourself off and keep going. The truth is that most players will be able to breeze through, as Epic Yarn is rather easy.
Challenge doesn't enter into the appeal here; the fun part is exploring the visual and kinetic surprises invented by the developers (which include an outfit by the ridiculously appropriate name of Good-Feel). Practically every stage has a "wow!" moment in which some new bit of crafting kit appears and adds an unexpected dimension to the patchwork tapestry.
Whether it's a zipper that Kirby can pull back to reveal a hidden passageway or a towering "cake" made from fluffy polyester stuffing, Patch World perpetually endears itself to the player with adorable new details. Every time I was delighted anew, I thought that surely this time, the game had exhausted its bag of tricks. I wasn't prepared for such a virtuoso show of creativity.