The Backlog: Kirby's Epic Yarn

It's a new year and time to revamp the features that we do on Darkstation. In the past we've done feature like The Backlog in stretches of time. To keep things lively, we will now have a new feature every week of the month. To kick things off we have our first Backlog entry. The Backlog is space where we talk about games from our piles of shame: those game we've had for some time and are just now playing. This week, it's 

Kirby's Epic Yarn

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If you're the kind of person who can't allow themselves to enjoy a game unless it has ultraviolence, guns, and a preposterous amount of testosterone, it's time to learn to FEEL again, because you're missing out on some absolute magic. And Epic Yarn's magic is strong. It makes grown men squeal like children. It can make the most cynical of men coo with happiness. It can bring the planets into alignment and lead humanity towards world peace and the age of light without heat.

Hyperbolic? Impossible. To accuse me of such a thing merely shows you haven't experienced Epic Yarn yourself. Developed by the appropriately named Good Feel Inc., Epic Yarn is designed top to bottom as a thing that just makes you feel warm and wonderful the whole time you're playing it.

Just behold its magic working on these two jaded game journalists.

Animal Crossing? Cute, but not like this. LittleBigPlanet? Child's play in comparison. Yoshi's Island? A sad attempt in comparison with the patchwork, yarn masterpiece that is Kirby's Epic Yarn.

This is a game that's a masterful example of what can go right when artistic direction is married perfectly with game design that is at once simple and challenging. It's the videogame equivalent of being wrapped in a blanket straight from the dryer. And it all starts out with how it looks.

It is, simply, one of the best looking games I've ever seen, beginning when evil magician Yin Yarn turns Kirby from small pink blob to small pink yarn outline ("everything felt like pants!" the narration announces). Made of an impossibly fluffy looking string, you navigate worlds made of patchwork, pulling strings to change the world, swinging on buttons, and defeating similarly yarny foes.

The animation as well is of the highest quality. The walking or transformation animations of the two main characters is incredibly smooth, and small things like the way your body deforms a bit when you're accelerating as a car or the little yarn splashes and puffs of smoke that come out when you land in water or on a surface add a lot of character to the world. It's the attention to detail by the developers that made sure they could include something as small as that and still bring the same motif to everything, no matter how small the situation is.

It's a game that's deceptively simple. After all, being hit by enemies doesn't kill you, just makes you lose your beads. In fact, there is no death, and in co-op, both characters are able to look out for each other and keep each other alive in a way that can even be used to cover multiple paths and help find secrets. You can even use your partner as a projectile and take out enemies and obstacles. It's like a game for babies!

Where the game really gets you, though, is in a quest for perfection. If you don't meet a certain standard of excellence, you just won't be seeing the entire game. It requires a certain amount of self-control to not just waste enemies but instead keep them for when they're necessary to clear paths, or using them as platforms to get to one of the many secret areas. It's a game that makes you consider restarting a level on being hit and losing your beads, lest you miss something. It requires technical skill and an understanding of the design to uncover the collectibles. Even bosses require you to think outside their attack patterns and find new ways to use their own attacks against them, allowing you to find more beads to gain access to new levels.

Beyond that, it's a game for anyone because it's a ton of fun, super imaginative and incredibly well-balanced. As with the best Nintendo games, there are whole levels devoted to single mechanics that are then never revisited, such as a whole area that takes place in patchwork darkness. It exists around your characters, but it's still clearly made of the same cloth that the rest of the game is made of. Since you never truly die, it's easy to dismiss the game as simplistic and not hardcore, but you can't deny the creativity on display in every spot.

And I dare you to try and keep a smile off your face as Kirby and Prince Fluff turn into UFOs or trains or tanks to get through special parts of levels.

Later levels also work very well for Kirby fans, as you eventually find your way to a yarned-out Dreamland and go head-to-head with some of Kirby's classic foes, including Dedede, Meta Knight and Whispy Woods. All of the boss fights are rather unique, but it's returning to enemies you’ve seen before but must fight in a new way that makes these areas especially fun.

Kirby's Epic Yarn is a unique game. It's nothing but good feelings and smart design wrapped in a fluffy package that belies the rich experience it houses. As games get more dour and our best-selling games are M-rated and mean-spirited, sometimes you just need a break. Epic Yarn is the perfect game for this, one so enjoyable and beautiful it can undo the grittiness of even the most grim game to come out. As an antidote to an industry deeply mired in violence, there is no game better, and you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Well, that does it for the first edition of The Backlog in 2014. Join us next week for a returning feature as we venture Into the Red. Until then, let us know what you thought of Kirby's Epic Yarn.