A yarn worth unravelling.
For quite some time now, I’ve been looking for Nintendo to deliver a side-scrolling platformer that would make me feel the same way as I did when I first played Super Mario World. The New Super Mario Bros. games have been pleasant trips back to the past, but they have never felt like that leap forward which games like Rayman Legends have proven are still possible to make within the once mighty genre. They’ve felt too regressive, overly fond of making nods to Mario’s past rather than moving forwards with the boldness that the 3D Mario games have, and more concerned with reminding us how much we loved the original games than giving us something new to adore.
But then in steps Yoshi’s Woolly World, a game that takes what I loved about Super Mario World but adds its own unique spin(dle)… with a nod to Kirby's Epic Yarn. Super Mario World was a game that thrived on getting players to explore its levels in order to find alternate paths, adding a layer of replayability to the game once it had been completed due to the plethora of new shortcuts, hidden keys that unlocked new areas on the world map, and of course the infamous Special World. Yoshi’s Woolly World is very similar in this approach, inspiring a degree of exploration I haven’t experienced in a side-scrolling platformer for quite some time.
Yoshi’s Woolly World tells a familiar tale: The evil wizard Kamek has unknit Yoshi’s friends, shoving them into a sack before high-tailing it across the Woolly universe. As either green or red Yoshi, you are tasked with retrieving them across the game’s six worlds, before finally taking down Kamek and thwarting his dastardly, rather unnecessary plan. It’s whimsical nonsense, of course, but Yoshi’s Woolly World should transport you through a gorgeous knitted world, sewn together with tight, responsive gameplay and more cuteness than you could see in a lifetime of YouTube videos of cats squeezing into small boxes.
At its core Yoshi’s Woolly World is a collect-a-thon, and while this may prove to be a little off-putting for those who typically gloss over every coin, ring, or star in their path as they move from level to level, it’s not nearly as mundane as it sounds. Woolly World is filled with secrets, from winged clouds containing hidden items that can only be revealed upon touching them, to areas that can only be accessed once Yoshi has tugged on a piece of string leading to them with his tongue.
These secrets make each level within each world of the game feel much larger, and whereas in a typical platformer you could spend only a few fleeting minutes in the majority of their levels, in Woolly’s World I found myself getting wondrously lost within them, trying to hunt down elusive Wonder Wools and sunflowers unlock different-colored Yoshis and end-of-level bonus stages. While I’m never typically enamored with the collecting aspect of platformers, as soon as I began to unlock adorable new Yoshis, I found myself unable to pass through a stage without making a concerted effort to snag each of the five hidden Wonder Wool collectibles hidden within them, and given the amount of time they’ve spent on encouraging the player to explore, this is certainly how developer Good-Feel wanted their game to be played.
Good-Feel were previously responsible for Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the tranquil Wii game that, although thoroughly pleasant, was lacking in any form of meaningful challenge to keep seasoned platformer veterans entertained. Yoshi’s Woolly World lifts the cutesy, yarn-based aesthetics from its spiritual predecessor, but then ups the level of difficulty to the point where some of its stages are legitimately tough to progress through, especially when you have your sights set on obtaining all of the hidden collectibles.
There are options to give Yoshi some support in the form of badges you can purchase using gems you’ve collected, that range from showing you the location of all the collectibles in a level to allowing Poochy, Yoshi’s canine-esque companion, to accompany you on your journey throughout a level. Aside from being almost sickeningly adorable, Poochy can collect items that would otherwise be difficult/impossible for regular ol’ Yoshi to collect, and Yoshi can hop onto his back at any point in order to travel across spikes and other assorted pitfalls that would otherwise lead to instant death. While I mostly avoided giving myself the advantages that these badges provide, they’re certainly a pleasant helping hand for younger, less-experienced players and at the very least are more inventive than the Super Guide button that would complete a level for the player in the New Super Mario Bros. series.
In terms of gameplay, Yoshi’s Woolly World borrows a few mechanics from Yoshi’s debut as a protagonist, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. The wool you obtain in the game, either by unravelling enemies using your tongue or by headbutting a box containing it, bounces behind Yoshi until he takes aim and shoots it. There are three different controller methods in which you can play the game—the Gamepad, the Pro Controller, or the WiiMote—with the first two requiring you to press their trigger in order to begin the rotation of a reticule that, when stopped, will fire a ball of wool in that particular direction, used to thwart enemies, destroy items blocking Yoshi’s path, and hit items.
The game can also be played co-operatively offline with a friend, which introduces a whole other element to the gameplay as you can use your buddy as a ball of wool, firing them into hard-to-reach areas and also using them as a weapon. Rather than making the game any easier, I actually found that experiencing Woolly World’s with two players added an extra layer of challenge and sessions would often devolve into chaos, as is the case with most good co-operative games.
Outside of Yoshi’s method of attack, his movement also feels solid and responsive. Thanks to Yoshi not being limited to a double-jump and instead being able to transform his bottom-half into a propeller that can carry his weight for an extended period of time, there are actually many opportunities to skillfully speedrun through a level, if that is your objective… though given Woolly World’s focus on exploration, I wouldn’t recommend it. There are also special stages where Yoshi transforms into different “vehicles” that each have their own method of control, such as an umbrella that allows him to float gracefully around a stage, and a drilling machine that allows him to, well, drill. These are some of the highlights of the entire game, and it’s unfortunate that they don't appear more frequently as they help hide one of the game’s biggest flaws.
While each stage of Yoshi’s Woolly World pricks your curiosity to explore its multitude of hidden areas, when taken at face value and without the allure of collectibles, they fall a little flat. Though the art direction is consistently gorgeous with its vibrant, detailed backgrounds, there are very few levels that leap from out of the screen as far as their mechanics, causing them to blur together. The variety that the aforementioned vehicle stages provide are welcome changes in the game’s pace, but there isn’t enough experimentation within the main levels to transform Yoshi’s Woolly World from the thoroughly pleasant ride that it is to the classic Nintendo game that it had the potential to be.
So Yoshi’s Woolly World doesn’t quite match the highs of Super Mario World, despite both games’ numerous similarities, and it may not be the vital platformer that Wii U owners were hoping for as the console continues its unfortunate drought. However, it’s still a very enjoyable yarn (geddit?) that offers a surprising level of replayability that delights with its overwhelming level of cuteness, even if it doesn’t particularly innovate.