Games 10/19/10: Kirby's Epic Yarn, Medal of Honor, Dead Space Ignition

Kirby’s Epic Yarn
For: Wii
From: Good-Feel/HAL Laboratory/Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

The smiling pink blob known as Kirby has never not been adorable, but “Kirby’s Epic Yarn” very literally takes video game cuteness to an entirely new plane.

“Yarn” plays like most Kirby games, insofar that it’s a sidescrolling platformer in which Kirby waddles, jumps, smacks enemies and uses his uniquely flexible chemistry to transform into alternate forms that allow access to otherwise inaccessible areas.

Instead of a squishy blob, though, “Yarn” transforms Kirby, his friends and adversaries into outlines constructed entirely from yarn, buttons and bits of fabric. That goes as well for the entire game world, which is constructed almost exclusively from cloth. (The story, narrated with all the sweetness of a children’s bedtime tale, explains everything.)

“Yarn” succeeds on the novelty of this presentation because it looks awesome and doesn’t break the illusion when in motion. Jumping on a felt platform causes it to sag ever so slightly like the real thing would, and Kirby can pull on certain buttons to stretch or contract the cloth backdrop and subsequently alter the game world. Some pathways even allow Kirby to access areas behind the fabric — a trick presented amusingly by showing Kirby as a bulge pushing the backdrop around.

But “Yarn” thrives, like so many other Nintendo platformers previously have, by parlaying the gimmick into a stream of clever ideas that transcend novelty. Kirby can swing from a button’s loose thread, wrap a string around a spool to raise the terrain, and transform into a string himself to thread a maze of corridors. His all-yarn composition allows him to transfer into everything from a firetruck to a rocket-firing mech for various challenges, and the aforementioned stretch/contract effect gets put to great use in levels that emphasize exploration.

The exploration is a pretty big deal for players who like a challenge, because if “Yarn” has a hangup, it’s the doormat difficulty. Players who simply strive to complete the story will face very little resistance in doing so, because Kirby’s inability to even die means a power failure is the only way not to complete a level. The game’s challenge comes from achieving gold medal scores on each level, picking them clean of hidden collectibles, unlocking bonus levels and completing those with similar aptitude. Even doing all that isn’t exactly a mountainous challenge, but it’s the only way to get “Yarn” to show any teeth, and some teeth are better than none if it incentivizes skilled players to experience what otherwise is a gem of a game.

“Yarn” allows two players to team up (one as Kirby, the other as sidekick Prince Fluff, but both with the same abilities) in simultaneous local co-op play, which serves simply to allow two players to enjoy the game together. The composition and difficulty of the levels do not change or scale.

Many of the aforementioned collectables also double as furniture players can use to decorate Kirby’s new apartment and surroundings. (Again, the story explains.) “Yarn’s” decorating module is almost entirely skippable for players who have no interest in such things, but it’s a cute and harmless diversion, and those who play around with it will open up a few additional challenges to complete. The act of decorating is a pretty low-maintenance affair, so those who simply want the extra challenges can rest assured that getting them isn’t much of a hassle.

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Medal of Honor
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Danger Close/DICE/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, violence)

The new, subtitle-free “Medal of Honor” can signify all it wants that it’s a new beginning, but make no mistake: If you’ve played a warfare game in the last few years — “Battlefield: Bad Company” and “Modern Warfare” most especially — then you’ve seen this before.

Don’t automatically confuse that for a swipe against the game, which has a consistently entertaining (though rarely exemplary) single-player campaign and a strong (if loosely familiar) multiplayer component. The groundings in real-world Afghanistan give it a hook the other games lack, and while “Honor’s” dabbles in fiction with its storyline, it displays a reverence for its soldiers that’s eluded the war shooter genre since it abandoned World War II.

But seriously, you’ve done this before. “Honor” throws players into the usual FUBAR scenarios that pop up in war games with creative liberty at their feet, so expect to be ambushed a few times and pinned down while fighting a Taliban force that has 10 soldiers for your every one. Expect, also, to dodge gunfire on an ATV, man a turret gun in an Apache, call in laser-guided airstrikes, pick snipers off a mountain range and stalk Taliban in pitch blackness with the assistance of night vision goggles.

But while “Honor” doesn’t innovate on what comprises a good war game, it at least imitates capably. It’s mechanically sound and smart about rotating between traditional and diversionary missions, and outside of some segments in which scripted A.I. forces players to play a certain way or die trying, it flashes some smart enemy and ally intelligence. Most segments have a tendency to last a few minutes or enemies longer than they should, but there isn’t a mission in the bunch that stands out as a dud. “Honor” is derivative fun, but it’s solid fun nonetheless from credit roll to credit roll.

“Honor’s” online multiplayer (24 players) is unique insofar that a different developer — DICE, of “Battlefield” fame — built it using a different engine than was used for the campaign. But outside of a few odd discrepancies this creates — the interface and overall design are trivially but noticeably different, and certain single-player commands (sliding into cover, going prone) aren’t available in multiplayer — it follows the template pretty faithfully. The basic controls are the same, and the modes are, while designed around the Afghanistan war theatre, hardly foreign to anyone with fresh memories of any recent war shooter.

That’s not much of a surprise: DICE designed “Honor’s” multiplayer using “Battlefield’s” engine and amid a slew of “Battlefield” projects, so it stands to reason that the tempo of the action and robustness of the graphics, sound and controls are reminiscent of the genre’s best series.

Also, while it’s easy to dismiss “Honor” as “Battlefield’s” weird little half-brother, there’s merit in what’s happened here. “Honor’s” firefights take place on maps that are smaller and tighter than those found in “Battlefield,” but the threshold for survival — a few seconds, one wrong move into the open and a few bullets at moderate range — remains dangerously thin. The premium on tight spaces and cover gives “Honor” plenty in common with “Modern Warfare,” but that thinner threshold will brutalize players who run and gun here like they do in that game. That’s a level of punishment that should have seasoned players in need of a new challenge jumping in head-first. (The rest of you, be warned: If you want to succeed here, you’d best come prepared.)

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Dead Space Ignition
For: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Sumo Digital/Visceral Games/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)
Price: $5 standalone, free with “Dead Space 2” pre-order

It’s officially trendy now f
or publishers to precede the release of a big-budget game with an inexpensive, downloadable not-quite prequel. But “Dead Space Ignition” represents the weirdest venture into this territory thus far. Nowhere near a third-person horror shooter like the upcoming “Dead Space 2,” “Ignition” instead is a series of hacking mini-games glued together by a motion comic-powered storyline that partially sets the table for “DS2.” Though gifted with good voice acting, “Ignition’s” animation looks a bit drab even by the loose definition of motion comic animation, and the three mini-game varieties include one that’s enjoyably frantic, one that’s engaging but simple, and one that’s a shoddy tower defense wannabe. That adds up to selection that’s as full of misses as it is hits, which may make “Ignition’s” short length a plus for those who simply want to blow through it and collect the reward (a unlockable suit for main protagonist Isaac to wear in “DS2”). Devoted fans of the “Space” fiction stand to gain the most from “Ignition,” which, in addition to detailing select events from the perspective of new characters, also allows players a small measure of control over the decisions those characters make. That, and the fleeting fun of the two good minigames, makes this a worthy diversion for those who already plan to get “DS2” and consequently get this for free. If you need to pay $5 to play this, you probably have no reason to be playing it.