Game Review

by Heidi Kemps,

Yoshi's Woolly World

Wii U

Yoshi's Woolly World
After two decades of mediocrity, Yoshi finally delivers a worthy follow-up to his most beloved classic.

A personal litmus test for what makes a truly superb action/platform game is how memorable individual levels are. After all, when you're zipping through stage after stage, bouncing across dangling lifts and bopping bunches of enemies, things can start to blend together after a while. The best platformers are the ones that constantly surprise and delight, which continuously throw new gimmicks and ideas your way and challenge you to push the skills you learn at the beginning of the game to their limits by the end.

Yoshi's Island was a game that did this so well that it's still held up as one of the pinnacles of the genre. Yet while other Nintendo platform heroes like Mario and Kirby have had numerous excellent titles over the years, Yoshi has never managed to even come close to the quality of his debut starring adventure since. Yoshi's Woolly World is here to change that.

One of the most striking elements of Yoshi's Island, upon its release, was its graphical style, deliberately made with a sketchy, hand-drawn look to make it stand out from the pre-rendered CG visuals coming into vogue at the time. (It worked spectacularly: Yoshi's Island, to this day, is a fantastically beautiful game.) Yoshi's Woolly World goes for a similarly striking graphical style, though with a different slant: everything in this strange little Yoshi sub-universe is made up of various fabrics. The Yoshis and the various enemies are knitted out of yarn, sparkles and baubles in the environments are made of beads and sequins, floating platforms are chunks of felt, and hazards include knitting pins and hazardous underwire.

Yoshi's Woolly World is not the first game to use this sort of aesthetic - Little Big Planet obviously springs to mind – but the way it works the theme into the gameplay is nothing short of sublime. You've got all the standard Yoshi gameplay abilities here: flutter jumps for more airtime, a stretchy tongue to grab things with, a ground pound, and the ability to chuck yarn balls (which have supplanted eggs in this title). These can interact with the environment in new and unexpected ways: ground-pounding a piece of collapsible fabric can flatten it like an accordion and reveal secrets underneath, while pulling a loose piece of string with Yoshi's tongue can make obstacles unravel. Throwing yarn has more varied effects than eggs did in previous titles: they can entangle foes to stun them in place, or can be thrown at wiring and patterns in the stages to cover them in stitching and transform them into different objects.

Even with the new visual style, however, there's a fair bit of familiarity to those who have played previous Yoshi titles. You've still got an array of collectibles that litter each stage: five flowers, five yarn bundles, and twenty special gems in each stage. Yarn unlocks new color patterns for Yoshi, while flowers reveal new levels and gems reward you with stamps that can be used on Nintendo's Miiverse service. These goodies are often hidden or require a bit of clever play to obtain, and they rarely feel like frustrating obligations, even if you're trying to 100% the game. (It helps that you don't have to collect everything in a single go of a level like in Yoshi's Island). Brief bits where Yoshi transforms into alternate forms make a return, and are thankfully devoid of the awful gyro-gimmick controls that made them such a miserable experience in Yoshi's New Island.

The core gameplay is solid: Yoshi moves quickly, controls beautifully, and doesn't have to worry about being bogged down by screeching infant Nintendo character hellspawn. But it's the design of the stages themselves, and the way Yoshi's abilities work with them, that elevate Yoshi's Woolly World from “pleasant” to “excellent.” Co-developer Good-Feel (who made the similarly superb – and similarly fabricky – Kirby's Epic Yarn) seems to understand that these games need to be built on a foundation of wonder and surprise, of letting the player discover the “rules” of the game worlds and enjoy learning how they can be utilized. There are numerous sequences that are bursting at the seams – pun not intended – with joy and imagination, the sort of levels you breathlessly describe to your friends to let them know just how fun the game is. One of my personal favorites is the secret stage in the very first world. The stage is essentially a giant bottomless pit where “waves” of fabric roll in, like Ocean Waves, providing crest platforms that last a scant few seconds before falling away. It challenges you to make use of your hover jumps to keep Yoshi airborne for very long stretches of time, all while managing your yarn stock and dodging various air-based hazards. I loved every second of it.

Honestly, it's hard to think of complaints to levy against Yoshi's Woolly World. The in-stage amiibo functionality, which lets you tap a Yoshi amiibo to the Wii U Gamepad in order to control two Yoshis at once, is as difficult to utilize as it sounds, but it just seems so insignificant to the game as a whole that it's not really worth complaining about. (The other amiibo finality, which lets you use Yoshis themed after various characters, is in fact quite awesome.) The music's really bland, too – not offensive, just kind of tolerable. Really, the worst sin of Woolly World might be that it's still not quite as amazing as Yoshi's Island was. Even so, a few rungs below “all-time gaming classic” is still “really, really good,” and after twenty years of half-hearted attempts to repackage the Yoshi's Island magic, it's an utter delight to actually enjoy a Yoshi game again.

Overall : A
Graphics : A-
Sound/Music : C+
Gameplay : A
Presentation : A

+ Excellent controls, well-paced gameplay, cute fabric theme that plays well into stage and game design.
Amiibo “co-op” is messy, music is only just tolerable

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