It’s been a long time coming. Since 1997’s Yoshi’s Story on the N64, the only games we’ve seen starring everyone’s favourite two-legged green dinosaur have been on Nintendo’s various handheld consoles, but now, at last, he’s back in our living rooms on the Wii U. Whilst Yoshi’s Story had an underwhelming response, his first lead role in a platforming game – 1995’s Yoshi’s Island on the SNES – was heralded as a worthy successor to that machine’s Super Mario World. But how does Woolly World bear up?
It’s certainly in safe hands. The developer, Good Feel, released a similar title – Kirby’s Epic Yarn – back on the Wii in 2010 which was well-received by critics and gamers alike. Particular praise was given to that title’s graphics, and this builds on that spectacularly. Every single item within the world looks handmade – from Yoshi and his various enemies to the landscapes he wanders through and the backdrops behind. There’s a satisfying tactility to the environment too – stand on softer fabrics and they’ll subtly indent as you move over them. See a loose thread, and your instinct to pull at it will be rewarded. Spot a folded up piece of material, and you can probably give it a shove and check out what’s hidden behind. These little flourishes, of which there are many, help to give the game design a real sense of cohesion – rather than a lengthy tutorial explaining all of this to you, you simply come to expect the logical behaviours these materials would have in the real world, and it rarely disappoints.
There’s a lot of gameplay elements that’ll be familiar to long-term fans of the Mario and Yoshi platforming games too. See a block, bash it from underneath. See a pipe, press down to explore. Gobble up an enemy then press down, and you’ll convert it into – not an egg, as you would have expected in previous Yoshi titles but, you guessed it; a ball of wool! Yoshi’s adorable flutter jump, allowing you to get that little bit further, also makes a return, as do many familiar faces. The first level alone introduces us to classic enemies such as Shy Guys and Piranha plants, albeit in their new woolly or fabric versions, and there’s plenty more knitted and woven nemeses to encounter throughout your adventure.
It’s not the hardest of games though, by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact there’s a number of things to make it even easier. The levels themselves don’t have timers, so you’re free to explore at your leisure, and you won’t run out of lives – fail and you’ll simply be put back to the latest checkpoint to try again. If that’s not enough, you can switch to mellow mode to reduce the difficulty – giving Yoshi additional health and the ability to fly. Fail a course five times and it’ll even give you an Invincibility Egg to protect you from all the level’s enemies. Some may feel all this makes the game far TOO easy, but there’s plenty here for those who want to find it. Sure, you could just race to the end of the stages, but the joy here is in finding the many hidden collectables such as the 5 Smiley Flowers and Wonder Wools hidden in each. That absence of a time limit is a clue to how to play – this is a game you should explore, to really make the most of its beautiful design.
In a way, its similar to Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – which sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. That was a game you could bash through in next to no time, but the people who enjoyed it did so by exploring and savouring everything it had to offer. The same is true here – if you don’t stop to take in the sights, you’ll miss some truly beautiful game design. Yoshi’s Woolly World might not quite reach the heights of the SNES title, bit its certainly superior to the N64 installment, for those who take the time to discover its hidden, fluffy charms.