Carrots and sticks. Every game should have ‘em, every game does have ‘em, or so design orthodoxy tells us. In Modern Warfare, for instance, the carrot might be a large and rather patriotic explosion, or the sight of an enemy crumpling naturistically across a smoking car bonnet, while the stick would be getting shot through the back of the head so hard your frontal lobe flies clean around the globe and smacks into the face of your unsuspecting widow. In Super Mario Galaxy, to pick a less bloody example, the carrot is generally a gleaming golden star, while the stick might be a pursuing Chomp or a ticking clock.
But what of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, unveiled at E3 2010 and on-course for a mid-October release in the US? We can spot a fair few carrots: reams of colourful, touchable, ruckable cloth, dragged this way or that by the pink puffball’s string-whip; a charming array of Kirby forms of which undoubtedly our favourite has to be the car, all snub bonnet and ‘poop poop’; the glee of lassoing your co-op partner and hurling him or her off a precipice, or onto a ledge, or through a tearable surface; and, more mundanely, the satisfaction of emptying a level of its jewels and trophies. But where’s the stick?
As most readers should know by now, providing they have eyes and have come within a thousand yards of a screenshot, the new game’s big conceit is that everything is made of thread. Trees are tufts of emerald wool, rolling hills sport gorgeous embroidery, sewn-on patches take the place of treasure chests, backdrops resemble a card-maker’s table at the end of a busy day. Many previewers have noted how well this theme and style couples with Epic Yarn’s transformatory, physics-driven antics, as Kirby swings from buttons or becomes a moving dimple beneath a quilted facade. Not quite so many have noted that the game’s ‘softness’ is twofold.
We’ve played three levels in total, one solo and two in company. All three were stupefyingly painless. In many a case, this would be a problem. In this one, nothing could be further from the truth. Epic Yarn is a hefty poke in the chest for those who would have us believe that the harder you’re pushed, the better you’ll perform and the more you’ll enjoy. Developer Good-Feel (otherwise known for 2008′s Wario Land: The Shake Dimension) has little to no truck with the concept of player punishment. It trusts you to get the most out of the experience unspurred.
In theory we’re dealing with a precision platformer, modelled on the crisp, forbidding exploits of New Super Mario Bros Wii, but in practice you can smudge the gameplay’s edges a fair bit, extending a jump by double-tapping Kirby into the shape of a parachute, or converting a watery plunge into onward progress by assuming the form of a mini-sub. This takes much of the grief out of co-op rivalry, of course. The camera follows one player rather than zooming out to cover both, but should you be rudely tossed off-screen, there’s a Sonic-2-esque respawn trick whereby abandoned second players are swiftly restored to visibility.
Death is a stranger to this habadasher’s playground. As in LittleBigPlanet PSP, brush against a foe (easy to confuse for friends in their supple new threads) and you’ll suffer high score damage only. There are no 1-ups, or continues, or checkpoints. Nothing bleeds.
It’s possible that the game will get harder further in, and if it doesn’t, it’s possible that the absence of consequence will start to pall. We doubt it though. Epic Yarn doesn’t need to force you to have fun. There’s more than enough whimsy and invention on offer to keep the player plugging.
What do you think, readers? Europe gets it in Q1 2011. Japanese release dates have yet to be confirmed.