Yoshi’s Woolly World will make you happy. The moment the game starts loading and the music begins to play, you can’t help but feel elated by the overwhelmingly tactile aesthetic. The fact that a game that looks this good is genuinely fun as well makes this, Yoshi’s first home console outing since the N64, yet another reason to pick up Nintendo’s unique Wii U.
Beginning on the idyllic Craft Island in the middle of the Handmade Ocean, everything is peaceful and relaxed for the Yoshi clan, that is until Kamek shows up and starts turning all of the diminutive dinosaurs into yarn. Fortunately, two manage to evade his evil magic, and they embark on a mission to rescue their enchanted brethren.
At the outset you’re offered the option to play in Classic mode or Mellow which makes the game a little easier to play, though you can switch at any time should the mood take you. In Mellow mode Yoshi has a pair of wings which allow you to avoid many of the more difficult sections and enemies, and you’re provided with visual clues as to where some of the hidden collectibles are in a level as well.
While this is obviously aimed at helping inexperienced players make their way through the game, some aspects of it, particularly the varied mechanics, may still make it tougher than you’d expect for younger members of the family. The game can be played in either single-player or co-op mode, with the multiplayer option giving you the chance to work together to bring down Kamek, utilising a few extra abilities such as picking up your partner and throwing them about the levels, both to attack enemies as well as get to difficult to reach areas.
Yoshi retains his classic flutter-jump, with its endearing straining sound effect, as well as his ability to eat enemies that he’s grabbed with his long tongue. In Yoshi’s Woolly World he can turn these tasty enemies into balls of wool which then follow him about. Yoshi can throw these balls at other enemies, tying them up in the process so you can bounce on their heads, or they can be thrown at other items in the level, revealing hidden pathways that help you progress.
Each level features a range of collectibles, which in turn award you with stars for completing a set. Five sunflowers, five balls of yarn, and twenty stamps each net you a star, while retaining twenty heart-flowers – Yoshi’s hit-points – gains you another. It’s a mechanic that rewards exploration and experimentation as many of them are hidden in hard to find places, though it’s relatively gentle in its approach.
There are also beads to collect throughout each level which you can exchange on the world map for badges that give Yoshi extra powers, such as making all yarn balls bigger or making it so you can’t die from falling in a pit. The usefulness of the ability dictates its cost in beads, meaning you can’t simply activate a powerful one for every single level, but they can make a huge difference, particularly if there’s a level you’re struggling with.
You have to keep a close eye on the environment as you explore, as many of the pieces of scenery have bows tied to them meaning that Yoshi can unravel them, often revealing hidden areas. Throwing yarn balls also exposes invisible clouds which may cause new parts of a level to appear, or contain a collectible or two.
The pace is so much more measured than a Mario title, often with little need to worry about how long you take, or the pressure of having to run to make a huge leap. That measured pace really does cover up the undeniably tough collection mechanics though, and in some parts its platforming can also be fiendishly difficult. Sometimes you simply can’t work out where a missing sunflower or ball of yarn is, which can cause frustration, though more often than not it made me restart the level again in an attempt to find the offending article.
You can speed-run through the levels, and while it misses the point somewhat there’s fun to be had in this approach as well. Oddly, playing the game like this brought Sonic The Hedgehog to mind more than Mario, which is perhaps as much to do with Yoshi’s legs morphing into spinning wheels when he runs as anything else.
The woolly aesthetic extends to far more than a graphical styling, and whilst Yoshi’s trademark chomping – and, erm, passing – of enemies makes a return, every level sees different ways of utilising the fabric façade. Hidden portions that are uncovered by folding the landscape, invisible platforms that can be made solid by covering them in wool, enemies that are trapped in unravelled wool, or indeed enemies that are lava monsters made of scarf; Nintendo have utilised every possible avenue to ensure that this feels like no other title in the Mario universe.
Besides the standard platforming mechanics Nintendo has thrown in a number of different sections which see Yoshi take a different form for a portion of a level, adding a great deal of variety as they appear. Becoming an umbrella sees Yoshi floating in the wind currents, you can also turn into Mega Yoshi and stomp around swiping enemies with your tail or perhaps Moto Yoshi where you become a speedy motorbike that speeds through levels. The tight time limits for some of these sections meant that they were amongst my most re-played segments of the game, repeatedly failing as I strived for one more collectible.
Yoshi’s little efforts and cheerful demeanour lend him so much character, and of course he’s undeniably cute – particularly in wool form – meaning that he’s simply a pleasure to spend time in the company of. When his canine companion Poochy arrives in yarn form you might as well give up trying to resist the game’s sweetness unless you literally have no soul.
While the game’s wonderful, and integral, graphics play a huge part in the game’s attractiveness, a mention has to go to one of the most enjoyable soundtracks in the Mario universe. Shifting between laid-back Jack Johnson-esque acoustic in one level to tuba heavy fairground music in the next or Led Zeppelin style classic rock in another could have been disastrous, but I loved it, finding myself humming some of the more memorable themes long after playing.
As with nearly all of Nintendo’s first-party releases, Yoshi’s Woolly World supports their much sought-after Amiibo figures. Sadly they do little here other than provide you with a range of Yoshis coloured like your favourite characters, and while it’s mildly amusing to steer a Link styled dinosaur around the courses, it’s a shame that they don’t bring any special abilities with them.
Some niggling annoyances do start to surface as you progress, not least the increasingly precise manoeuvring needed around the levels, and in a surprisingly un-Nintendo-like manner there is some poor checkpointing, with checkpoints positioned too far in advance of some of the bosses. In these cases it means you have to replay the same, very precise section, ensuring you get all of the collectibles along the way as well. This makes it far tougher, and certainly more annoying with every replay of the stage.
There is also even – whisper it – the occasional performance issue, where the frame rate stutters, both in the level-select hub world and occasionally in some of the 3D transitions or effects heavy sections in the levels themselves. The actual gameplay is often only minimally affected, but it’s a surprising lack of polish on what is otherwise a wonderfully constructed game, and it’s particularly unexpected for a Nintendo product.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is a joyful platformer, which takes a different approach to other games in the Mario family by emphasising collection and exploration, while retaining a solid level of challenge. Despite a few technical problems and design missteps, the variety, and thoughtfulness, of the myriad mechanics make it a pleasure, as you advance through each world exploring every nook and cranny. Once again, the Wii U makes an excellent argument for its existence, especially when it’s giving players time in the company of one of Nintendo’s most beloved characters.