Yoshi’s Woolly World won’t be arriving in the United States until October but was released in the UK last month. The game was met with a warm, but not emphatically positive welcome. Eurogamer said it was a “surprisingly conservative game that borrows too many of its best ideas,” and Edge magazine described it as an “opportunity squandered.”
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, released earlier this year, was better received.
All of which I find quite surprising, because Yoshi’s Woolly World is an amazing game.
It’s a game that although not developed by Nintendo directly – with Good Feel taking the reins – feels every bit like a Nintendo game.
Good Feel’s track record is not particularly auspicious. Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Wario Land: Shake It! never quite lived up to their potential, although there were many positives with each, but with Yoshi’s Woolly World they have finally found their groove.
Many reviews have pointed to the game’s slavish devotion to the original Yoshi’s Island, and yes, the game retains the core controls and gameplay structure of the 1995 classic. But I don’t understand how that could ever be perceived as a problem. If you are borrowing ideas, borrowing from the best hardly seems a crime.
On top of this robust template Good Feel have gone to town with ideas.
During one stage you’ll find yourself hopping through dissolving clouds, always on the move to avoid falling to your death. In another, you have to guide a chain-chomp, in a fun spin on an escort mission, unravelling and re-knitting him as you go. In later levels you will be dangling from a high-speed roller coaster made from curtains and exploring a stunning reinvention of a Mario ghost house.
Even old foes like Bullet Bills receive a new lease of life, with their smoke trails becoming temporary cotton wool platforms on which to jump.
Woolly World is no Super Mario Galaxy 2, but it has the same sense of experimentation; churning through ideas with abandon and never letting them outstay their welcome.
Woolly World is not a particularly tricky game. Although it’s a significant step up from the consciously kid friendly exploits found in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Later levels contain some frustrating difficulty spikes but in general progression is not difficult. The challenge comes from discovering each level’s collectibles, which, for the first time in a long time, is something to enjoy.
Each collectible offers a reward. Balls of yarn are traded for new Yoshi skins. Gems buy power-up badges. And flowers unlock new stages. This, coupled with game’s moderate pace, encourages exploration and makes ferreting out trinkets a surprising pleasure.
It’s certainly preferable to the gruelling test of patience found in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
All of this is imbued with bags of charm by the game’s knitted aesthetics. It doesn’t take the hand-crafted motif as far as Little Big Planet, for example, but it’s an adorably cute and tangible looking game. Never more so then when Yoshi’s canine pal, Poochy is on the screen.
Woolly World also provides another use for amiibos. Each (with the exception of the Pokemon characters) unlock character skins for Yoshi to wear. It’s just window dressing but a lovely touch nonetheless.
The music by Tomoya Tomita and Misaki Asada is also worthy of mention. Jaunty and energetic when above ground, and soulful with the twang of bass when below. It’s nice to see Nintendo continue to eschew retro-style soundtracks, instead using the horsepower at their disposal to explore everything from smooth jazz to electric rock.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is not a top-tier Nintendo platform game, but it’s the best Yoshi title for some considerable time, thankfully erasing the memory of last year’s desperately poor 3DS outing.