Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn review: a woolly, wonderful farewell to 3DS

Kirby has a habit of showing up right at the end of a Nintendo system's lifesapan, sending the old hardware out in a puff of stars and rainbows like some kind of adorably amorphic grim reaper.

The eight-year-old 3DS family of systems has virtually no games slated for 2019, so it's clear the time is nigh for one more Kirby. But surprisingly, rather than a new entry in the series, it's a 3DS port of the nine-year-old Wii game Epic Yarn that's arrived to see the handheld out the door.

Extra Epic Yarn is just as heart-warming as the original Wii version, with its blend of soothing picture book storytelling and cuddly, tactile look and feel. Its worlds built of quilts, stitches, beads and (obviously) yarn are so beautiful and lend themselves to well to a slow-going gladsome style of play that developer Good-Feel has scarcely deviated from it since, following Epic Yarn with Yoshi's Woolly World and the upcoming Yoshi's Crafted World. It's very close to my favourite game on Wii, and revisiting it portably has been a blast, even if I frequently wished it had come to Switch instead.

The game's all about poking and prodding at the imaginative levels; literally pulling at threads to see what unfurls. A big part of the fun is just seeing what the game does next, from flying on felt dinosaurs to transforming Kirby into a giant woolly mech, but the gameplay itself is an enjoyable twist on the Kirby platformer too.

You can't inhale baddies or steal their powers this time, but you can whip out a thread to ravel them up into a spool and hurl them at obstacles. Kirby's locomotion is all tied to the transformative properties of his yarn body as well. Instead of sprinting you turn into a cheerful car to go fast, and instead of floating you become a parachute. You can even navigate small gaps by become one long piece of string and noodling through.

There's no lives or dying in Epic Yarn, although you will need to avoid the various hazards — like button bees that buzz out from honeycomb mesh or — if you want to hold on to all the beads you're collecting and unlock everything the game has to see, and you really do want that.

Unfortunately, though there are some thoughtful bits of new content in the 3DS version, a lot of specific additions and subtractions hurt the game's charm overall versus the original. It's not a super relevant comparison, since this game is aimed mostly at younger kids who probably didn't play the game on Wii in 2010. But that's not to say there aren't adult fans out there, and it's disappointing to get a new version of an almost decade-old game and have it be a downgrade.

Kirby’s yarn body can contort into a number of different forms.

For a start it doesn't look as good. The craft aesthetic is still striking and endearing, but it's noticeably blurrier. The Wii output an already tiny 480p image, and the resolution on the 3DS screen is half that. It doesn't look bad, in fact it looks every bit as good as a 3DS game could look, but details like stitching, texture and text take a hit.

Meanwhile the primary new addition are "ravel ability" powerup hats that give Kirby powers akin to those in his more traditional adventures, including needly swords and button bombs. Epic Yarn was in no way crying out for a way to make the game easier, and these powers only encourage you to blast through enemies and obstacles in a way that's at odds with the original vibe. A new harder "devilish" mode suffers from a similar issue, introducing enemies that chase and harry you through the levels. Both these additions are fairly easy to ignore, though.

Then there are two wholly new minigames that let you play as King Dedede and Metaknight respectively. These are much more successful at turning the yarn aesthetic into a challenging, action-packed diversion, limited in scope though they may be. There's also a cute touch where completing each level at each rank earns you "mats", and you have to spend the different coloured beads you collect across both minigames to fill those mats and reveal fun little bead pictures.

Powerup hats, dangerous devils and a pair of minigames are all new this time around.

Finally, and perhaps most noticeably, there's no two-player co-operative play on 3DS, which was a key part of the original. Instead of being the second playable character, Prince Fluff shows up in this version of the game to throw you ravel ability hats. Thanks Fluff.

Comparisons aside, though, if 3DS is still your portable of choice there's a lot to love here and the game retains its ability to put a smile on your face. If you missed the game on Wii or are aching to return, it's also a fine reason to dig the 3DS out for one last time. Funny and inventive, free from challenge or punishments and with just enough content and collection to keep you engaged, its one of the prettiest and finest stress-free platformers around.

Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is out now for 3DS.

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