Kirby has had an interesting life as a Nintendo game series. Not quite as "iconic" as Mario or Samus, not quite as fan-remembered at times as the lowly Kid Icarus, but at the same time, recurrent and offering enough opportunity for the programmers to have fun in past iterations. In the past, Kirby's key ability has been to eat his enemies and gain their powers. In the Japanese iterations, the games emphasized his cuteness, while for the US market, the phrase "one tough creampuff" and a slight makeover to make him a bit more angry and edgy popped up.
The last time players were given a chance with Kirby was back in the days of the Nintendo 64 - a full decade ago. While it was fun, there was definitely something lacking; the 3d makeover didn't hold up so well, the console was legitimately seen as a failure by many (which meant less exposure to gamers), and the "combine multiple powers" feature didn't work as well as many would have hoped.
Of course, Hal Labs have always used Kirby as sort of a test-bed for new ideas, and so this time, they've jettisoned Kirby's gulp-and-swallow powers entirely. The new setup is designed to make a game that's extremely kid-friendly while still not being so insulting that adults will shy away. And as odd as it sounds, Hal Labs managed to nail the formula almost perfectly.
In terms of storyline, Kirby's Epic Yarn looks - and feels - like something out of a child's bedtime story. Kirby's daytime adventuring runs him afoul of an evil sorceror from another dimension, who transforms him into yarn and sends him to an alternate world called "Patch Land", where various evil monsters need to be defeated to collect the magic yarn necessary to sew the world back together. Along the way, Kirby finds that trying to inhale enemies simply won't work, but instead, he's got the ability to make the yarn in his body turn into all sorts of shapes and functions, lasso his enemies and turn them into yarn-ball projectiles, and more. The controls make for interesting gameplay, since each "form" has different abilities and transitions are pretty much seamless. Kirby can turn into a car for running, a parachute to slowly fall, a brick to smash his enemies, submarine to swim, and in certain levels (with the aid of special transformation spots) can become a train, dune buggy, flying saucer, dolphin, or even just get on a snowboard for a ride up and down snowy hills.
In an equally surprising but mostly engaging twist, a second player - playing Patch Land's "Prince Fluff", with the same abilities as Kirby - can join the game at almost any time simply by firing up a second Wiimote. While it's a nice thought, the designers really should have paid slightly closer attention, as playing cooperatively takes quite a bit more effort; like in the previous Nintendo outing "New Super Mario Bros. Wii", players will likely spend more time getting in each others' way than helping each other out, especially when small children learn that they can grab and throw their friends around the screen. In a few places, careless two-player throws can actually result in one player being "locked" into a spot in a level that they can't escape from, requiring the restart of the level.
Since it's a Kirby title, there are plenty of minigames, unlocked by collecting hidden furniture objects from around Patch Land and putting them in an apartment complex to convince new friends to move in. Each new friend then unlocks a series of minigames like hide-go-seek, racing, carrying an object to a specific spot, or defeating a certain number of enemies within a time limit. As new stages are finished, their minigame versions unlock as well.
Perhaps the most surprising twist to Epic Yarn is the simplest gameplay change: Kirby and the Prince literally cannot die. When players fall down a hole, or are hit by an enemy - even a boss! - they simply lose any beads they are carrying, and if the beads aren't recovered in a short time period, they vanish from the screen. Finishing levels with a certain number of beads is required to get a "gold medal" rating on the level, but beyond that, only frustration without being able to pass a certain obstacle will stop the player from finishing the level. This one minor gameplay change makes it possible to allow younger players to explore the game, while older or more experienced gamers still have a vested interest in not being "hit" or missing a strategic jump or two.
Kirby's Epic Yarn - for everyone? Perhaps not. For older gamers who are definitely in the older-gamer mindset, there are plenty of games out there. For aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, or anyone else who needs to have a game capable of being fun for cross-generational play, however, it's well worth picking up and hanging on to.