As per usual, Kirby's game was the one that everyone kind of shrugged at before E3...before people got a chance to play it that is. Although I couldn't get out to E3 this year, I did manage to get a chance to get to grips with a little bit of the game on Tuesday. Kirby's had a bit of a rough deal over the years, never quite getting the attention he's perhaps deserved, but that's all about to change. You see, aside from one other game - ironically one that came not from Nintendo's stable but EA's (Calm down. All in good time! - Ed.) - this was the title that impressed me most at the Nintendo showcase on Tuesday. It's as if Nintendo have distilled the very essence of what a Nintendo game should be - fun, inventive and adorable - and given the goods to the inflatable marshmallow.
Now I'm willing to bet that there'll be some of you wondering how the hell this can be, especially if you read my Donkey Kong Country Returns preview yesterday questioning the Big N's insistence on revisiting all of their old characters in two dimensions. But the point was never so much about dimensions but rather what has come before. We haven't seen Kirby on a home console in six/seven years and back then he was busy racing people on floating stars.
Kirby's returning, then, to his platforming roots in an immaculately presented 2D extravaganza that is so gosh darn cute that at times while playing this game I was overcome with the urge to hug the screen. Kirby's Epic Yarn managed to turn a 6ft 3, twentysomething male who likes gory slashers and pwning n00bs just as much as the next guy into a simpering, giggling idiot.
Part of it is the simplicity. Holding the Wiimote sideways, which is generally never really a good start I've found, I was presented with the D-pad for navigation and two other buttons: one for jumping and one for extending Kirby's whip of thread. For a misguided second I inwardly groaned, but it is the game's simplicity, the wealth of invention that comes from these basic mechanisms, and the focused refinement that makes this game so special.
Kirby, no longer a solid pink blob, is instead a woven outline but he's still got a bundle of tricks up his sleeve. Although he can no longer inflate himself into a larger balloon, pressing the jump button whilst in mid-air will transform him into a parachute, allowing you to float across large gaps from on high. Want a speedy descent, though? No problem, tapping 'down' turns him into a heavy weight, flattening anything in the way. Those were the ones I expected, more or less, but I had to chuckle when Kirby fell into some water and instantly transformed into a cute little submarine, sprouting a propeller and periscope or when I accidentally double-tapped 'right' and he morphed into a mini racecar.
I looked around to check to see if anyone had noticed my sudden outburst of childish delight and was pleased to see that everyone else playing the game had a similar expression on their faces.
Gone is Kirby's ability to inhale enemies and poop them out as stars or regurgitated ammunition. Instead the whip does everything: sling it at an enemy and Kirby will lasso them and, with a light tug, unravel them into a bundle of string. He can use the whip to traverse chasms, to pull down patchwork flaps and reveal hidden areas, to swing on up to higher platforms and romp about like Tarzan.
The scenery, gorgeously rendered and beautiful to behold, plays up to this gadget too. There are zips that Kirby can latch onto, before running across the screen and undoing the landscape, releasing new platforms, new gems to collect and new challenges. This works the other way too: in the demo I was presented with a gap that even our pink balloon couldn't float across. But, after slinging his rope across to a little nub on the other side, Kirby was able to pull the bank across, narrowing the gap. It can help in item collection too, with one area occupied by a few trees that could be grappled and shaken to force loose those lovely collectibles.
The co-op is a joy to behold as well, with a simple drop-in option allowing a mate to leap into the fray as an equally rotund, blue protagonist. You can chuck one another around, particularly useful for the higher platforms, and there's some pleasant competition to be had when it comes to the gem collecting but by far and away the best part of the demo was combining together to form a kick ass Kirby tank. Trundling along, one player would control the aiming and the firing of missiles with the other operating the navigation of the thing, with an option to deploy a boxing glove for added effect where necessary. it was so surprising and so utterly welcome that I ended up laughing out loud and if there was any doubt at all before it was all erased at that moment.
I'd fallen utterly under this game's spell.