It is amazing how well the world of Yoshi transfers into yarn. Or perhaps it’s not – given how famously cute everything in the Yoshi universe has always been. Although Yoshi is one of the best-loved characters of the Super Mario Bros. franchise, he has only received a handful of his own titles, and this latest entry is definitely the best so far. Everything is so bright and colourful, delightful and happy, that you cannot help but grin stupidly at the screen – even as you plunge to your inevitable platforming death. In fact, you probably won’t even notice, as you’ll be totally distracted by that adorable cloud smiling at you incessantly.
Like most Mario Universe platformers, Yoshi’s Woolly World is somewhat light on story. Since Peach was first whisked off to Bowser’s castle back in 1985, Mario Universe plots have not seen much development. In fact, anyone who has played Yoshi’s Island, or the newer 3DS version (inventively titled Yoshi’s New Island) will know that the Yoshi games have traditionally had almost exactly the same story – only for Yoshi it was Baby Luigi who needed rescuing, not Peach. Woolly World features a similarly predictable plot. Kamek – a flying bird magician thing and Yoshi’s long-term rival – arrives at the Yoshis’ peaceful, happy home of “Craft Island, a tiny place in the middle of the Handmade Ocean” and proceeds to turn all the Yoshis back into balls of yarn – apparently unaware that THE WHOLE DAMNED WORLD IS MADE OF YARN SO HE COULD GET AS MUCH AS HE WANTED FROM LITERALLY ANYWHERE ELSE. What a bastard. Stuffing all the Yoshi-Yarn (which I guess if you want to be bleak about it and find some motivation for this adventure, is really the bodies of all your friends) into a sack, Kamek flies away, accidentally dropping a handful of Yoshi-Yarn over the first world. The only two Yoshis to evade capture – green and red Yoshi – must then set out on a grand adventure to find, and knit, all their friends back together.
It is likely you will not be paying attention to this simple plot, however, as the visually stunning Woolly World will probably have distracted you throughout the opening. The attention to detail in the visuals of this game is amazing. In keeping with the ‘woolly’ theme, everything is knitted or crafted in some way, held together by bows, pins, knitting, and sewing needles. World 3, which is a kind of Candy Land of unbelievable cuteness, stood out amongst the other levels, which, although just as cute, relied on well-used themes such as ‘jungle’, ‘snowy’, and ‘desert’. The colours are bright and engaging, the world intriguingly interact-able. Exploration is very much rewarded – in fact, you will need to be quite adventurous if you are hoping to discover all the collectables of the world. Just like in Yoshi’s Island, Woolly World features special stages in which Yoshi’s yarn-y body transforms in a wide variety of adorable ways – such as motorbike, umbrella, and plane. These timed stages remain just as fun as in previous Yoshi titles.
Nintendo clearly understands the dual target markets any new entry into the Mario Universe will need to serve: long-time Nintendo fans (who could be anywhere from in their teens to middle age) and children, playing a Mario game for the first time. The game has been lovingly crafted with this consideration in mind. The core game contains everything fans will want and expect – challenging platforming, interesting levels, and cleverly concealed collectables. The game’s difficulty is offset by something called ‘Mellow Mode’, which will give you helpful power-ups if you are having difficulty with a particular level. There is also the option for all players to purchase ‘badges’ using in-game currency. These allow you to buy specific power-ups that you may need to complete a level. While I prefer to play the game using none of these new features, it is really gratifying to see this kind of consideration in design. The main way that amiibo figures feature in this title is through Yoshi skins, which can be unlocked simply by touching your amiibo to the gamepad anytime during play. This will unlock a skin which resembles whichever amiibo was used – and once you have unlocked it, you can reuse it at any time. The Yarn Yoshi amiibo, which was released with the game, unlocks an odd function. Touching it grants you a twin of the Yoshi you are playing with, who will mirror your every move throughout the level. I think the intention behind this was to give players the benefits of co-op mode without needing a second player; however, it felt like a redundant feature to me. I was so concerned with making sure neither Yoshi died that the game became a kind of platforming puzzle nightmare. Luckily, using this feature is totally optional.
The regular co-op mode employed in Yoshi’s Woolly World is another area in which the game excels. The entire game can be completed using local co-op mode (a rare feature in modern titles), and the ability to eat your fellow player and transform them into an egg is actually very useful when searching for well concealed collectables – if you have the power of teamwork on your side. Like most Super Mario Bros.-style platformers, this game is fun in groups, even if only one person is playing – the suspense of watching someone platform their way through perilous levels always seems to invoke some kind of primal screaming response in a group of friends. Also, like most Super Mario Bros. platformers, the difficulty of the stages in Yoshi’s Woolly World seems to be on some kind of crazy exponential curve. You will breeze through the entire first world, but by the time you reach the fourth, you will likely be cursing Kamek for leading you into this Woolly hellhole.
Jumping and fluttering your way through Yoshi’s Woolly World is fun, and will likely be the most adorable experience of your life. The satisfying search for collectables will keep older players hunting every stage in their quest for completion, while children and casual players will appreciate the simple fun this game provides. Yoshi’s Woolly World was a highly anticipated Wii U title, and for this player, it lives up to the hype.