Kirby likes eating. Especially tomatoes - those are his favourite. So you can imagine how excited everyone's favourite pink puffball was when he saw a massive one, just resting on top of a bush, while he was out walking one day - without hesitation, the Kirbster quickly swallowed it up, without pausing to savour the taste. But little did he know that the tomato wasn't just any old tomato - instead, the Metamato belonged to the evil wizard Yin-Yarn, who, in his anger, promptly sucked Kirby into the sock he wore around his neck (they're all the rage, don't you know).
However, in something of a continuation of the theme, this sock, too, was far from simply being an ordinary sock, as it was actually the gateway to a whole new world. Inside the sock lived the entire world of Patch Land, which the evil Yin-Yarn has pulled apart at its seams. Ever the hero, no sooner had Kirby landed in the world, than he'd befriended Prince Fluff (who looks strangely like a blue version of Kirby), and decided to put things right, by locating the seven magical threads to stitch the land back to it's former glory. And so the story begins...
As you may have guessed from the name (and the setting), as Patch Land takes its residence inside a magical sock, everything you come across in the game - including Kirby - is made out of wool, fabric and buttons. There's certainly a crafty feel to each level, as each and every stage is packed with bits of scenery you can interact with in a variety of ways, pulling on zips and bits of stray thread by pressing the 2 button, which open up new areas, or reveal previously hidden items.
As an example, on one of the levels mid-way through the game, you'll find yourself coming across a rather sad looking teddy bear. As his tear burns a hole through your heart, and you start to feel genuinely rather bad for him, you begin to wonder what's got him so down. To find out, all you have to do is pull back the piece of fabric covering him up, to find that his paw has become unstitched. A simple yank on the stray thread of his paw turns his frown upside down, and rewards you with a load of beads for your effort - as if seeing the bear smiling again wasn't reward enough!
For those who've played Kirby games before, you may be familiar with how Kirb-dawg can swallow his enemies, and steal their abilities, changing an otherwise harmless puffball into a fire breathing dragon, or letting him shoot fire from his eyes. The only problem is, in order to steal an enemy's abilities, he has to swallow them first - and that's something of a challenge when you're made out of wool, as the air goes right through you. Instead, for Kirby's Epic Yarn, Kirby can now transform into all manner of things - from a train, to a UFO, to a dolphin and many more inbetween - thanks to the power of the magical Metamato. Each of these transformations comes with it's own ability, which is useful for solving the various puzzles in the game - and finding all the collectable items scattered throughout the levels. Even better, when you're playing in co-op, several of the transformations let the two of you work together, with the tank letting one player drive, while the other fires its giant fluffy fist at things.
I tend to get rather OCD about collecting all the stuff, and unlocking everything in games - and Kirby's Epic Yarn plays up to this weakness. Each level has two items of furniture and a music track to find - some are in obvious you-couldn't-miss-this-if-you-tried places, and some are well-hidden, requiring strategic use of the various transformations or a massive detour to get them. On top of that, you can get one of three medals at the end of each level - bronze, silver and gold - depending on how many beads you managed to amass in the level. Which is often easier said than done...
While it's impossible to get a game over in Kirby's Epic Yarn, because there are no lives, running head-first into an an enemy or falling off a platform into the abyss below does still have a penalty. In a similar way to the LEGO games, if you come a cropper, you'll end up with some of your hard-earned beads being scattered on the floor, as you scramble to pick them all up again... Either way, it does mean that you should definitely be able to finish each of the levels, even if you don't get a very good bead score.
There's more to the game than the four levels and a boss fight in each world, though - each world also has two secret levels you can unlock by getting loads of beads in the boss fight. The furniture you get in the levels also serves several purposes, too, as you can choose to either use it to decorate Kirby's flat, as a nice little distraction from the main game, or to flesh out the other flats in the apartment block you use as your temporary residence in Patch Land, in an attempt to attract other characters to move in. Place the right items in the right place (and it's obvious which you should use, seeing as all you really have to do is place the right item on top of its silhouette), and you'll be rewarded with a new character moving in - each of which has their own bonus levels. For example, Zeke likes to play hide and seek, giving you a set amount of time to find him and his friends in a level; Beadrix tasks you with finding a certain amount of beads in a time limit; and - perhaps the most evil one so far - Carrie, who's a lazy so-and-so, who wants you to carry her through the levels to a throne before the timer runs out, working out how to get her past obstacles such as ladders, because Kirby can't climb them while holding her...
In a final twist of brilliance, Kirby's Epic Yarn also comes with full two player support, letting you rope a friend in for the fun (do you see what we did there?), with one playing as Lord Kirby and the other as Prince Fluff, with his serious eyebrows. It's great for parents playing with children, too, as if you ever come up to a tricky bit, you can press 1 to grab onto the other player with your extendo-thread arms, and bundle them up into a ball you can carry above your head, making the tricky sections a whole lot easier, as you can simply carry them past it (or, if you're feeling particularly angry, you can always use the other player as a weapon, chucking them at the enemies to unravel them). If you're feeling particularly lazy, you can even hitch a ride on your friends head by simply jumping on top of them using the 2 button - maybe that's why Kirby's a bit of a blob? Pressing the A button does the equivalent of putting you in a bubble on New Super Mario Bros. Wii - which summons an angel to carry you across to your friend (and hopefully safety), potentially avoiding losing a whole load of beads.
Offering a challenge for players of all ages, with it's appealing mix of co-op and crafty artwork, Kirby's Epic Yarn really is an Epic game. We've laughed a lot at my uselessness when it comes to holding onto beads, been puzzled over how to get a gold medal on a boss fight, and cheated by riding on the other's head in a Carrie mission. If you have any soul, you'll buy this now, before it disappears of the shelves completely like the DS games did. Oh, and if you think the early transformations are good, wait until you see the train - the amount of time we spent in tears laughing at that, and how useless I was at drawing the track across the screen for it to attempt to follow is worth the asking price alone.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii