Even though I loved Kirby’s Epic Yarn on the Wii, it’s a hard game to recommend to anyone. Kirby fans wouldn’t appreciate the odd newer mechanics, while those who don’t care for the fluffiest incarnation of HAL’s pink blob wouldn’t be swayed by the simplistic, far-too-easy gameplay. Nintendo’s latest stalwart to get the fluffy fabric treatment is Mario’s sometimes sidekick Yoshi – the little green dinosaur who’s usually trailing eggs behind him.
And though made by the same people as Kirby’s outing, Yoshi’s Woolly World makes up for that game’s transgressions. It’s not just cute and adorable – it’s damned good, and as challenging or easy as you want it to be. Crucially for fans of Yoshi’s games, this feels like a true successor to 1995’s SNES classic, Yoshi’s Island, blended with the good bits from the N64’s Yoshi’s Story.
Those games too had a child-like aesthetic that belied a masterfully designed platformer, and Yoshi’s Woolly World is really no different. That magical woollen aesthetic permeates everything, and now on the more powerful Wii U, really shines through more than it did in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. You can see the wayward strands on Yoshi, his enemies and the world that surrounds them. Levels feel like they’re stitched together, a tapestry of zips, buttons, cushions and fibres that Yoshi can interact with, and golly is it adorable.
It all starts off innocently enough. Kamek, the Mushroom Kingdom’s perpetually petulant wizard has turned all of the colourful, crocheted Yoshis in to separate bundles of wool, and it’s your job as the last remaining whole Yoshi to find those bits of wool and knit your friends whole again.
As with Yoshi games past, it’s a platformer all about gobbling up everything that moves while Yoshi collects everything that isn’t stitched down, while Yoshi gets a little extra airtime after his jumps, flailing his furry little legs in the air. Yoshi can still tongue at his enemies, unravelling smaller ones in the process, and expel them as balls of yarn, which trail behind like the eggs from his older outings. He can then shoot those balls of wool at other enemies; a snippet of string stifles a Piranha plant, for example. The same flocculent projectiles can also be hurled at wiry bits the landscape, filling in platforms or warp pies by knitting them on the fly.
And, for the whole first world, you’ll be convinced that delightful as it looks, it’s a doddle – an easy platformer made to look good, but without the platforming perfection you’d get from Rayman, Mario or Donkey Kong. And you’d be very wrong.
About halfway through the second world, the difficulty ramps up significantly, and you’ll need to juggle perfectly timed platforming with precisely pitched projectiles as you try and fill in a platform that you need to keep you from falling to your death. It’s a demanding platformer that requires dexterity – and you’ll find yourself gobbling enemies in mid-air as you spit them out at switches, secrets and other enemies before you’d even landed, all while using Yoshi’s extra air-time to make sure you land in the right spot.
Every so often, a secret door will take you to a new area, where – as in Kirby’s Epic Yarn – our hero is turned in to a vehicle of some sort. Spend some time zipping along in a timed level as a motorcycle, or as a knitted umbrella – or even play out horizontal “shmup” levels as a fighter jet.
The level design is frankly genius stuff, and is made more difficult if you’re a completionist sort. Collecting 5 bits of wool in each stage will nett you a re-knitted Yoshi friend that you can then use in your adventuring. While they start off being easy to find, as the game goes on, finding them becomes trickier and trickier, as you use all of the skills in your platforming repertoire to hunt for cleverly hidden secrets. They’re not the only collectibles either.
Each level houses 5 smiling flowers, often hidden as well as the bundles of wool. Getting all five in a level gives you access to a bonus level, but collecting every single one in an entire world opens up a secret stage that’ll be sure to test your thumbs. It’s all rather challenging, but in a good way; never quite reaching Donkey Kong Country Returns levels of frustration. Thankfully, levels have (sometimes sparse!) checkpoints and you’re given unlimited lives, so as difficult as it gets, it seldom makes you want to yank out your hair.
Remember how I said it’s as difficult or as easy as you want it to be? With a simple option change, you can switch from the difficult “classic” mode to a “mellow” mode that gives Yoshi a pair of wings, granting him unlimited air time. It’s the mode I played through when playing the game co-operatively with my daughter, removing much of the eye-twitching anxiety that came from miss-timed jumps. . Co-operative play is of the help and hinder sort, as your cooperative partner can gobble you up, stealing your eggs of wool – but also then shoot you up to higher platforms, making finding all of those secrets a tad easier.
There are also badges that can be bought to make specific levels easier. By spending the gems you collect in levels you can purchase badges that offer single-stage bonus. You could, for example, buy a badge that makes you invulnerable to fire and lava, which is great for those levels that would otherwise leave Yoshi toasted. Perhaps there’s a troubling level that sees you repeatedly falling to your death? Buy a badge that lets you bounce straight up after a fall that would otherwise leave you at the last checkpoint. Maybe you’re having trouble finding all the secrets? Yes, there’s a badge that makes finding them easier too.
And if things are still too tough and you find yourself dying repeatedly, a glowing egg will spawn with you, ranting not only the powers of flight, but granting you invulnerability for a level. It’s with no great shame to admit that I made use of that lifeline for one particularly treacherous stage – though I do intend to attack it again soon, making my way through without feeling like I’m cheating. The bosses that punctuate the ends of each world are typical Nintendo fare; do this thing three times to win and aren’t particularly interesting, engaging or challenging, though there’s a boss mode that becomes unlocked after you complete the game that spices things up on that front.
Yoshi’s Woolly World also has the best use of Amiibo that I’ve found in a Nintendo game to date. By scanning in your already-owned Amiibo, a skin is applied to Yoshi, making him look like Mega Man, Mario or Marth. Bowser, in particular, makes for an adorable Yoshi. Every single Amiibo released to date will give Yoshi a new look – and to be honest, it’s the most action many of my own have gotten. Scanning in a Yoshi brings another Yoshi in to the game, who mirrors your own actions. It’s useful for doing things like lining him up so you can bounce on his head to reach high platforms, or you can gobble him up to use as a projectile to uncover secrets. Tap him to your Gamepad again, and he disappears in to the ether from whence he came.
This time around, Good-Feel has made a woolly game that not only delights in how it looks, but packs enough of a challenge to keep platformer pundits happy. It’s not particularly lengthy to run through, but it’ll take forever to find all the hidden wool and free your friends and unlock all of the secret stages.
Last Updated: June 22, 2015