Despite being a fairly major character for Nintendo, it’s been a while since we’ve seen lovable pink-shape-thing Kirby, so his return to the release schedule is a welcome one, especially as he’s back in his natural habitat – the platform game. Initially developed as a title to feature Prince Fluff, who now appears as a second playable character, there are a few modifications to the gameplay mechanics – you can no longer copy enemies by inhaling them, for example – but these aside, this is definitely a Kirby game in the classic sense, a kind not seen on a home console for over ten years.
We begin by entering a brightly coloured world of patchwork, starting off in Quilty Square where the plot is revealed. In a move to shock gamers everywhere, a bad guy has arrived and stolen something important that we, as the hero of this tale, must reclaim in order to restore the natural order. In Kirby’s case, this consists of retrieving strands of said yarn to stitch Patch World back together.
However, there is a curious subplot to the game in which Kirby must work as a seemingly unpaid home renovator, as your landlord soon has the cheerful pink blob (and therefore you), scoping out furniture for other prospective tenants. Why he’s not as worried as the rest of the kingdom about the impending invasion by the evil Yin-Yarn is a mystery and yet another reason you should never trust a landlord.
These lodgers then become your friends and gushingly adore your feng shui as you furnish their apartment with a dinosaur chair you found on some level on the 3rd world. But this strangeness is soon forgotten when you get to work arranging your own apartment, for which I invested in an outdoor swimming pool indoors, a telescope, an electric guitar and massive throne, presumably so Kirby can spend his days off pretending to be the King of Rock.
Once you stop with the interior design and get on with the game, the first thing you notice is how gosh darn cute it is. Lovingly rendered in scraps from Nintendo’s finest haberdashery, the visuals make use of the Wii’s capabilities to authentically recreate the look of many different textures; from felt trees and button swings, to cotton wool snowballs and fabric sand, both scenery and characters combine to give the game a look which is easy on the eye, consistent and yet frequently surprising.
The game shares both cosmetic similarities with older Nintendo platformers like Yoshi’s Island, the gentle pace, the cute graphics, and the more fundamental ones – the central mechanisms of Yoshi’s tongue and the thrown yarn are almost identical. Happily although Kirby no longer sucks everything around him into his (now hollow) frame, the gameplay is still identifiable with the character, and is an interesting update rather than a frustrating sideways move which can often upset hardcore followers of any franchise.
The myriad of interactive scenery provides a constant source of amusement – from the way you can hook certain buttons and pull the cloth of the level together, revealing new routes to jump, to the lovely presentation when you move ‘behind’ scenery or through a laced-up portal, and see Kirby as a little moving bump under the fabric of the background.
The levels initially seem like fairly conventional platform fare – a desert level, underwater world, ice, and futuristic space port – but the love and attention lavished on them means they charm and enchant even a hardened cynic like myself. Perhaps the old ‘they are cliches for a reason’ argument holds water here, and that the programmers felt that within these archetypes they could innovate sufficiently to prevent a feeling of platform by numbers – it certainly appears Nintendo achieved this here.
I looked forward to every level unlocked in this game, if only to see the sumptous animation as they were each revealed. In one instance a cat sleeping in an underground hollow, wakes up for a second, stretches to form a mound in the earth (thus revealing the door to a new level) and then curls up again to rest. Several I played immediately again straight after finishing them, as they beg to be seen one more time before you move on.
There are many sumptuous set pieces that come to mind, from riding the rollercoasters of Space World, the prehistoric antics of Dinosaur Land or being chased by a massive woolen fish with evil button eyes in Water Land, Boss fights are very cleverly done – as you gradually deplete the energy of the wool-based monsters, their outline fades and frays, encouraging you to go on and wipe them out completely, thus winning a piece of the coveted magic yarn and stitching together another part of the world, allowing you progress into the next area.
So are there any criticisms? Well, the game is fairly easy – as with many games aimed at a younger audience, this is the case, but the strange interior design side quest is enough to send players back through previously completed levels to uncover missing pieces of furniture or more gems to spend on wallpaper. The music is strange in that all the songs playing in the background sound eerily familiar.
It appears that the composers have taken some of their favourite pieces of popular music and changed them just enough to avoid lawsuits from angry publishers. Still, they suit the game well enough and don’t detract from the cutesy atmosphere. It is a telling mark of this game’s quality that the one thing that annoyed me most was a slight jerk in the animation on the loading screen as Kirby and Prince Fluff run across – an insignificant detail in the grand scheme of things.
The whole game evokes memories of childhood, when your imagination was as fresh and fertile as that of this game’s designers. It feels like the gaming equivalent of a hug and a big mug of hot cocoa. In a market perhaps increasingly dominated by big budget titles with mature themes, it is reassuring to know that Nintendo is out there catering for both younger gamers and those who retain an affection for the childlike yet captivating design. Here they have woven a bewitching tapestry from what could have seemed like cast-offs, and done a superb job of stitching it together to form a great little game.