Kirby's back on a console for the first time since 2003's Kirby Air Ride, and he's been completely re-imagined, again. We've seen him waddle into different genres many times, from pinball to golf and marble-tilting, and he's even been inside of a painting for Kirby: Canvas Curse. Now Kirby has found himself in another physical art medium, but instead of playing as an outsider who paints all over Kirby's world, you get to play as Kirby and modify this strange new world from within. The entire game is made out of yarn and fabric, with visible stitches and zippers keeping the whole game together, providing one of the most unique visual styles I've ever seen in a game. Also, it's really fun.
The first thing I noticed when I got to play the game was that Kirby's two most infamous powers are gone. That's right, there's no inhaling of enemies to steal their powers, and there's no flying. "That's not Kirby!" you say? Oh but it is. You see, Kirby still transforms into everything under the sun. He just doesn't need to eat his colleagues to do this anymore. Just by bending his yarn shapes around, he turns into a spring when he jumps, a parachute when he slowly descends, a car when he sprints, and one power-up let my Kirby operate a giant Kirby-shaped tank. You can also snowboard, or turn into a shark, submarine, or a UFO, so I'm sure he's full of other crazy surprises.
Kirby's main eating attack has been replaced with a whip of yarn, making the gameplay closer to Indiana Jones or Bionic Commando. However, the yarn and fabric provide a perfect mix of visuals and gameplay that work together. If a jump is too far to make, you can pull the other side towards you with your whip. If a secret is too high to reach, you just grab some of the cloth background with your whip, and pull the whole sky down a little bit. I never thought I'd see such crazy sci-fi concepts as "space-folding" ever look so cute and cuddly, but it just works.
Most enemies I encountered couldn't survive a single crack of my string (they are made out of yarn after all). But if you hold the attack button down, you pull them back and carry them around. Then you can let go of the button to toss your new yarn-corpse at another enemy. Many doors or walls have little tags sticking out from behind them, like the blue boulder in the screenshot above. Whipping these tags lets you peel off certain areas of the background, opening doors or revealing secret areas.
Another great feature that's always welcome to the franchise (but hasn't been seen in a while) is the addition of 2 player co-op. Kirby is joined by a fellow yarn-ball, but he's blue, he has evil eyebrows, and he rocks a crown, so it's easy to tell the two apart. You can bounce off each other's heads to find secrets, grab each other with your whips, and toss each other around. When you get the giant tank power-up, Kirby gets in the cockpit, operates the gun, and flies the thing around while the blue guy turns into an extendable boxing glove weapon. Both players can then aim by tilting their Wii remotes side to side while blasting everything in sight.
At the end of the demo level I got to face off against a giant green dragon with several attacks. He was flapping his wings to blow me around, jumping all over my face, and trying to stab me with his tongue of string. So not cool. After dodging several attacks I got an opportunity to grab his tongue with my whip and stretch it out a bit before it launched back into his mouth like a rubber band. This of course made him angrier, so he unleashed some of his stronger attacks. This back and forth went on for a while, and then victory was mine.
The demo took about ten minutes overall, and two or three of them were the boss battle. That also included finding all the secret gems in the demo, but the yarn aesthetic makes exploring just too much fun to skip. Kirby's Epic Yarn is slated for a Fall 2010 release, and we'll definitely be keeping our eyes on it.