Kirby's Epic Yarn

Kirby your enthusiasm?

After the best part of a decade, Nintendo's weirdest mascot - the one who inhales his enemies and plods through bright cartoon worlds looking like a squishy little tumour - is back on home consoles in a game that looks, for all this world, as if my grandmother made it to sleep in.

After toiling for years on Smash Bros, Masahiro Sakurai switches from fan-service to needlecraft, with a platformer constructed from felt, cross-stitching, and buttons - and guess what? It's shaping up to be an absolute delight.

Kirby's return sees the oddball hero transformed into a piece of pink wool, and while the game's basic controls couldn't be simpler - played with the remote held sideways, your main options are jump or attack - there's a lot of fun to be had with transformations.

If Kirby's in the air, you can change him into either a parachute, to waft down to earth more slowly, or a cartoon weight to bust open underground chambers. If he's on the ground, you can spin him into the shape of a car to zip around at double speed.

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There's something of Paper Mario in the colour scheme and level design.

When he hits the water, he turns into a handy submarine, and a key point in the E3 demo sees him transforming into a huge tank, which, if you're playing in the brilliant two-player local co-op, sees both players joining forces, one handling the steering and aiming the rockets by tilting the remote, while the second controls a detachable boxing glove that can pound through the scenery and take to the skies on a little jet of flame.

This time, though, Kirby's world is every bit as unpredictable as he is. The designers have taken the handicraft look seriously, whether it's in the little touches, like the way that the soft ground sags beneath Kirby's feet, or the big ones, such as buildings you can enter by pulling on zippers, and chasms you can shorten by tugging at a stitch, making the background material bunch together.

As this is the console generation in which Nintendo has rediscovered its love of - and brilliance with - the old school 2D platformer, you can expect plenty of devious touches to the levels throughout, but there's also so much quirky variety, too, and everything's delivered with real humour.

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Physics plays a surprisingly important role seeing as you can pick up and throw almost every object you come across.

Enter a building, and Kirby will disappear from view and you'll be left controlling a cute little lump that moves under the fabric, while stitched-on patches can be torn away to reveal hidden stockpiles of the game's collectable beads, and enemies can either be tugged apart with Kirby's whip-like attack, or gathered into balls of yarn you can then use to bowl into other foes.

Like Mario Galaxy, it's game design that rewards experimentation, and while the handful of levels on display at Nintendo's E3 booth tends to be fairly simple, they're filled with the very best kind of twitchy platforming, too, as Kirby jumps from one spurt of woollen water to the next, swings from clothes hooks, or works his way through checker-cloth castles, tearing down crocheted doors as he goes.

Co-op leads to a little bit of New Super Mario Bros-style griefing once you realise you can pick up your woolly colleague and carry them around, but it also leaves it up to you to decide if you want to add a little competition in terms of racing for the collectables sprinkled through every level.

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Who would win in a fight? Paper Mario or Wool Kirby?

Finally, a boss fight against a woolly dragon with buttons for eyes is both self-conscious whimsy of the highest quality and beautiful multi-stage attack design at the same time, as you jump over hand-stitched flames and avoid a lashing tongue and regular dive attacks before, finally, pulling the beast to pieces in a flurry of thread. It would be disgusting if it wasn't so genteel.

It's enough, along with Kirby's brilliant DS outing Canvas Curse, to remind you why a character that closely resembles an excised internal organ manages to inspire such lasting devotion in Nintendo fans. Like Wario, Kirby fills an important space in the publisher's catalogue, as a place for endless experimentation in amidst the Zeldas and Animal Crossings that are never, really, allowed to change all that much.

Kirby's always changing, and he's always finding strange new forms and bizarro new mechanics. His latest incarnation, happily, could be a classic. This is a gentle children's game that all adults should try out, then - an adventure built from quiet, but persistent, imagination.

Kirby's Epic Yarn is due out for Wii this autumn.

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