Nintendo have a thing for spinning off Mario characters into their own franchises. It’s a bit like what Marvel does with the Avengers, just the other way around, and it works well for the most part, creating some rather unique experiences. While we’ve seen plenty of games focused around Yoshi before – the most recent being Yoshi’s New Island on 3DS – we’ve never seen the green dinosaur quite like in Woolly World, where he takes the form of a knitted teddy bear.
And we’ve also got Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which is a completely new venture in that it’s Toad’s first standalone outing, the character previously only appearing playable in Super Mario games and their spin-offs. These are two very different games, but two brilliantly executed games which suit their chosen characters.
Yoshi’s Woolly World then, is a sublimely presented platformer which takes pride in not punishing you, unlike New Super Mario Bros. might or Donkey Kong Country definitely would. Instead, it’s all about exploring the level at your own pace – there’s no time limit, and death isn’t a huge obstacle – to find all of the trinkets to collect and the secret areas, in co-operative play or alone. It works well for the most part, and thankfully there are plenty of unique mechanics introduced in each level to keep it fresh.
But Woolly World will be praised for one thing alone: the way that everything in the world is knitted and crafted. It’s LittleBigPlanet’s style fully realised, with an almost tilt-shifted effect and some brilliant attention to detail, down to the fuzziness of the wool that covers the environment. There’s sequins, knitting needles, and everything of that sort dotted around the world, and every scene looks as though it’s been hand-crafted. Even the Koopas have buttons instead of shells on their backs.
This style feeds back into the gameplay mechanics; where Yoshi may have fired eggs before, he’ll now throw woollen balls; when Yoshi hovers, his legs turn into a string propellor; when he runs, his legs become woolly wheels. Balls of wool won’t be the only thing Yoshi throws, as baby chicken can be used to create cloud paths to walk along, and that’s just where the mechanics start. To put it simply, it’s a brilliant blend of style and gameplay to create a neat platforming experience.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, despite it being effectively a new IP, might feel a lot more familiar than Woolly World for Nintendo fans. This is essentially the mini-game found in Super Mario 3D World, where you control Captain Toad from an isometric viewpoint and guide him around a level to collect a number of stars. This time though, Toad is instead collecting gems for his personal collection rather than helping out Mario.
In the levels I played, there were three to collect alongside coins, and it’s all about manipulating the camera angle to see where these are and find the correct route to them. Since Toad can’t jump, you’ll often have to take long routes through levels, but there are interesting mechanics and obstacles, which are often themed and based on pre-existing Mario templates.
It’s a good puzzler though, and despite having made an appearance before in 3D World, it feels really fresh, with a slew of new level types including a Pokémon Snap-esque on-rails mode, where you’ll scour the environment for coins and gems as you travel on a mine cart using the GamePad. It’s great fun, but only makes the hope for a Wii U Snap sequel even more unbearable as this is achieved so well.
So, Nintendo may rely on the same cast of characters quite a lot, but here we have a brand new – and really stylish – direction for a successful platforming character in Yoshi’s Woolly World and a fully developed version of what once was a mini-game in the form of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. They’re both shaping up to be great games, showing that it’s not all just about Mario and his friends can join in the fun too.