Kirby's Epic Yarn
I sold myself on Kirby's Epic Yarn (released in October for Wii) almost immediately based just on the presentation. With almost every game I play trying to create realistic settings or characters, the pink puff ball's adventure in yarn form gave me a childlike sense of awe at first sight. What followed is a game with minimal challenge, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. It is undoubtedly a kiddie game, but you might find it surprising how delightful it can really be.
Told in a storybook fashion with chapters and a narrator, Kirby is transformed into yarn by the evil wizard Yin-Yarn and transported to Patch Land, a world made of fabric. With sections of Patch Land stolen, it's up to Kirby and his friend Prince Fluff to recover the pieces and save the day.
The best way to describe the look is like an adventure style of Blue's Clues. All the visuals are based on clothing; enemies are made of yarn that Kirby can unravel, and backgrounds have zippers and tags that can be pulled out. Kirby's transformation powers turn him into a little car when he runs and a parachute when he's falling. Even with the Wii's lack of processing power, this game looks fantastic in its unique way.
Gameplay is similar to New Super Mario Bros., with the controller held sideways and your focus on running and jumping, minus the speedy reaction time required in Mario's later levels. It's not too difficult but not too easy, making it a better game for younger ages. But even as an adult player, it's just plain fun running through levels and seeing what crazy cloth concoctions come up next.
Epic Yarn's biggest fault is the inability to lose a life. There is no major penalty for getting hit by enemies or falling into pits; you just get knocked back a short distance and lose some of the buttons you collect in that level. With button-collection aimed at completists who want to unlock every piece of art and music, casual players won't lose sleep over it and wrap up the game in six to eight hours.
Kirby's Epic Yarn might not have been the challenge or adventure that I was looking for, but it's worth trying as a relaxing experience, with child-at-heart fun. It feels a bit pricey at $50 if you're not a fan of finding every little thing, but the ease of entry makes it a great choice for all skill levels. If you have a little one that watches you play games and wants to get into the action, I can wholeheartedly recommend Kirby.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
I initially got Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 for myself out of enjoyment of the Naruto book and animated series, with no expectations beyond playing the story I've followed for the past few years. But what I got was a game with impressively cinematic gameplay and cel-shaded visuals that put you darn close to the animated series.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (released in October for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) starts at the beginning of the Shippuden story arc. You'll encounter and play as many different ninjas, but the story focuses on main characters Naruto (as he defends his village and friends from the ninja group called Akatsuki) and his estranged best friend Sasuke (on the hunt for his older brother, a deadly rogue ninja). Fans know what to expect from the saga, but newcomers won't be left in the dust; the game does a good job streamlining its tale for anyone to enjoy and also includes background for those curious about the prior events.
Gameplay is focused on fast-paced ninja combat, and it hits the mark with ease of use and dynamic fun. Striking, light-ranged attacks, guarding, and jumping are single-button controls that can all be combined with chakra energy to deliver a bigger bang when the timing's right. A lot of action can be going on at any time, but it's not too hard to follow and is exciting to watch. With online play available as well, two talented players can make the on-screen action simply outrageous.
Regular fights have their charms, but the boss encounters take the action to electrifying heights. What can start out basic can pick up in a flash with God of War-style events requiring quick button hits, giving battles intense cinematic quality similar to watching an episode of the animated series. You might not be controlling the action at that point, but it's some seriously good eye candy.
Watching the game is a treat. The cel-shaded 3D graphics make it look like you're playing the cartoon with bright coloring. The energetic and emotionally intense music puts you right in the midst of battle in the ninja world, and while the English dubbing feels lacking, it can be switched to the better-quality Japanese voice work with subtitles.
Roaming outside of battles tends to be the low point of play. Running around in the environments looks good, but options in the "actually doing stuff" category are scarce. There are side quests, but most require so much travel and tedious item-gathering that it drags the experience down.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 might not be for everyone, but it's a pretty experience that can draw you into the animated ninja world.
Kirby's Epic Yarn is now available on Wii for $49.99. For the review, the author completed the main story.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is now available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $59.99. For the review, the author completed the main story and side quests, and played several matches online.
Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.