“Kirby’s Epic Yarn” is a bit of a strange case. On the one hand, it definitely feels like a Kirby game. It’s got that same sense of overwhelming cuteness that’s characteristic of the series, and a lot of familiar characters are back. On the other, it’s completely ditched the series’ long-running mechanic of having Kirby swallow up enemies to absorb their powers. Either way, “Epic Yarn” is a creative and fun traditional platformer; just don’t expect much of a challenge.

In the plot, we have Kirby walking around in his native Dream Land when he stumbles upon his favorite food, a tomato. A caped sorcerer named Yin-Yarn appears and tells Kirby the tomato is his magic Metamato and tells him not to eat it. Kirby ignores Yin-Yarn and eats the Metamato, causing a sock on the sorcerer’s neck to swallow Kirby up, sending him to Patch Land, where everything is made of fabric. Kirby finds that he is now made of yarn and sets out, along with Prince Fluff of Patch Land, to defeat the evil wizard.

The story unfolds through picture book-esque cut-scenes that strongly contribute to the game’s kid-friendly atmosphere. All the dialogue and narration is done by a single voice actor, who speaks in a calm and fatherly tone, changing his voice for the different characters as if you’re actually being read a storybook. Nintendo definitely went for a kid-friendly approach here, but not in a way that’s too alienating for older players.

The music generally also takes on this kid-friendly vibe with a handful of light, catchy major-key tunes. A handful of the game’s songs are also reworked tracks from previous games in the series, which is always a treat for longtime Kirby fans.

Of course, the most salient feature about “Epic Yarn” is, well, the yarn. Everything in Patch Land is made of some kind of fabric, which definitely gives the game a unique aesthetic. Fortunately, the game manages this neat effect while maintaining a high, consistent frame rate that keeps the game feeling smooth.

That smoothness continues into the game’s controls. “Epic Yarn” uses the “sideways Wiimote” style of control with minimal motion control commands. The controls are basic and intuitive, which works very well for this style of side-scroller.

As for the gameplay, “Epic Yarn” is fairly traditional platformer fare. Instead of Kirby’s usual method of inhaling and expelling items and monsters to defeat his foes, he now instead whips out a string of yarn to wrangle enemies into a ball he can then throw as a weapon. This is mainly an aesthetic change, as it basically functions the same way the old inhale/expel mechanic did.

The game departs from being a straightforward platformer mainly through the transformation beads Kirby finds on most levels which, as mentioned before, turn Kirby into different vehicles that change up parts of the levels from the usual run-and-jump mechanics. These transformations are varied and frequent, keeping the simpler core game play fresh.

Each of the levels also has two pieces of furniture and a music record hidden within them, kind of similar to the hidden gold coins in “New Super Mario Bros.” The furniture can be used to decorate Kirby’s own Patch Land apartment, or in specific combinations, decorate other apartments in his building. Successfully decorating another apartment will bring in a new tenant, which unlocks a new minigame or challenge stage for you to play. It’s a minor addition, but it’s nice that it’s there and gives you a little something else to shoot for on the levels.

Unfortunately, at times this feels like the only thing to shoot for in the levels. Perhaps as part of the kid-friendly approach, Nintendo has opted to make it impossible to die in “Epic Yarn.” Throughout levels, you collect beads that fill a meter at the top of the screen. You get a bronze, silver or gold medal based on how many beads you have by the end of the level. Getting hit causes you to drop a chunk of your gems, though you can pick up some of them if you act quickly. If you get hit and have no beads, nothing happens. Even if you get through most of the level without any beads, it’s usually pretty easy to pick up enough near the end to get through with at least a bronze medal. This inability to die even extends into the boss fights. It’s not a game-breaking decision, but it definitely cheapens the experience a bit.

In whole, “Kirby’s Epic Yarn” is a typical high-quality first party game for the Wii. It screams kid-friendly cuteness, but is still fun for gamers of any age looking for a strong new platforming title.

4 stars out of 5