Thursday, 10 November 2011

Summer Backlog: Kirby's Epic Yarn

Woah, I'm behind on keeping this updated. This article can also be found at the Yorker.

Kirby's Epic Yarn was something of an experimental title, letting Nintendo take some different steps in how they designed their platforming titles. The entire game revolves around the player character and the surroundings made from yarn, fabric and buttons - and it resulted in some interesting and visually-striking levels.
You might have remembered that I've covered this game before - and also that I mentioned that it was a title that took well to being completed 100%. After saying such I... moved on to other games before I'd reached total completion. Absolutely shameful.

With its 'no death, no failure' approach to gameplay, what made me put off finishing it was that it appeared too easy to be worth doing. Even for those who aren't the greatest at video games (and this would include myself), an element of danger and challenge is a good motivator. That challenge is present in Epic Yarn, but it's hidden under layers of fabric and fluff. The collectable items of the game are all items of furniture (or fabric patterns to decorate the walls and floor) to go in a virtual flat of your design. Furnishing your flat does nothing to affect the main platforming aspects of the game - and as such wasn't something I was prepared to bother with.

However, the interior design is actually a set up for bonus Challenge Stages. In addition to Kirby's hovel, there are five other apartments that each require a combination of furniture found in the main stages of the game - and even though I'd found the majority of them by besting the storyline, a few remained elusive. It was at this point that Epic Yarn had started to become a little more compelling. I was no longer just tasked with completing stages - something impossible to fail at - but a treasure hunt was added to the mix. It wasn't anything earth-shaking, but it made me look at some of the stages in a new way; taking time to explore the nooks and crannies.

With the requested furniture obtained, the challenge stages were open to me. These tasks take sections of the main stages and introduces alternate goals and restrictions. Find all the hidden characters in the stage. Destroy all enemies. Escort an item to the finish without losing it. Succeeding at these tasks unlocked additional wallpaper designs (joy), but they also added the factor of failure that the main stages lacked.
All of the challenges adhere to a time limit, sometimes a rather unforgiving one. Only a fraction of the challenges can easily be completed on the first try; and I found myself noticing just how slow Kirby moves. His relaxed gait was a direct conflict to the warning chime signifying I had less than 10 seconds to reach the finish line. Kirby's Epic Yarn had finally manage to become daunting!

However, while I was making steady progress with the challenge content - there was another factor that meant the play experience of Epic Yarn wasn't quite as excellent as when I had first played. When I made my first foray into the game, I was playing in 2 Player Co-Op. Having a partner deepened the experience considerably; not just in terms of gameplay - your ally doubles up as someone to help you get to hard-to reach areas, and handy ammunition to help you circumvent some puzzles - but also in having another human by your side, also experiencing and enjoying a game that may be short on spectacle, but abundant in whimsy and charm. Even in instances where your co-operation is less than stellar, the 'no failure' stance means relationships remain unsoured.

Taking on these bonus tasks solo was a smoother experience than playing with a friend, it was a lot less involved. While doing challenges, I was instinctively noticing how, if I were playing in Co-Op, I could circumvent a trap, or collect items twice as fast. Even with my successes, it felt a little hollow when the Player 2 character would show up on screen to do a happy little jig, but there was no equivalent sitting on my sofa.

Kirby's Epic Yarn may be a straightforward, and mostly unchallenging game, but it's taught me some interesting things about game design, stylistic direction, and most of all friendship. How appropriately saccharine.

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