Yoshi’s Woolly World
Release Date: 10/16/2015
I believe that Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is a legitimate masterpiece. It blends exciting platforming with clever puzzles in a way that few games have been able to duplicate. While the Yoshi series has been producing fun (although unspectacular) games ever since, none of them have been able to get anywhere close to the magic that Yoshi’s Island delivered. Yoshi’s Woolly World is probably the closest thing to the original yet, especially in terms of originality and surprises. It builds on the formula established by its predecessors and injects its own charm, particularly with the graphics, while also providing plenty of new ideas. While the result falls slightly short of the original, it is definitely a game worth playing. Allow me explain why.
First of all, the whole game is made to look like the world it inhabits is hand-made with wool, yarn, fabric, buttons and other crafting material. The Yoshis, the courses, the backgrounds, the enemies… everything is crafted to look as if it has been knitted together or sewn in place. Everything that makes a comeback from previous games in the series has been adjusted to fit this new style. For example, instead of eggs, Yoshi now produces and throws balls of wool. The graphics are sharp enough to make the world look real and the colours pop. It is a truly charming style, and while it is not entirely original (it is the same style that was used in the Wii title Kirby’s Epic Yarn), I feel like it fits the world of Yoshi better than it did Kirby’s. The hand-made aesthetic is thoroughly exploited to give personality to the different course, with different materials having different properties, but we’ll talk about this in detail later.
Yoshi’s Wooly World (or “YWW” for short) opens with the sweetest, most upbeat acoustic guitar song I have heard in a long time. That is not even the title screen; that song plays while the game is loading. The song sets the tone for the rest of the game’s soundtrack. While not every tune is as upbeat as the loading screen one, the collection of songs is one of the most memorable original soundtracks this generation has seen. It offers a wide range of styles, from the aforementioned acoustic song to the catchy techno beats of the final stage, to the hard rock of some lava stages. There’s even a song for one of the snow courses which honestly sounds like it should be a new Christmas classic. No matter what genre they represent, every song fits the atmosphere of the stage in which they play, and they are all meticulously crafted to set the mood, sometimes switching in the middle of a level to fit a change of scenery. It might be a bit late to say that, but YWW is definitely my favourite soundtrack of 2015.
Back to the game’s opening, we are then shown the setup of the story: On Craft Island, a bunch of Yoshi’s made out of wool live happily doing nothing of importance. They are pretty much all lounging around in the sun when we meet them. Suddenly, most of the tribe is transformed into balls of wool by the evil Kamek the Magikoopa. His goal is to bring them to his master, Baby Bowser, because the future King of Koopas is now super into knitting and would like some new material to play with. The two Yoshis left behind decide to run after Kamek, hoping to free their friends. As a story, it is very basic, and it is probably the weakest point of the game. If this was a 40-hours RPG, this could very well sink the whole thing. However, as a setup for a platformer, it’s merely mediocre, as it gives you a simple objective and an even simpler motivation to do it all.
Thankfully, the gameplay itself is imaginative, even addictive, and makes you forget about the lack of story as soon as you start the first course. The objective is simple enough: you are a dinosaur who solves problems by jumping on stuff and throwing balls of yarn around. With your different abilities, you need to make it to the end of every stage. Yoshi can flutter to extend the duration of his jumps, and he can damn near eat anything that’s not sewn to the ground to make yarn balls out of it. If you want to get the most out of the game (and trust me, you will), there are a bunch of things for you to collect, and they all have a reason for existing. Collect five magic wools, and you will unlock a new Yoshi pattern. There are over 60 Yoshi patterns available, and while they don’t affect gameplay, they are nice enough to get out of your way to find them.
Each course also has five flowers to be found, and collecting every flower in a world unlocks a special course (with an extra Yoshi pattern and more flowers in it). Collecting every flower in the whole game unlocks a special stage which might as well be the toughest one I have played in the Mario universe since The Lost Levels. It’s a challenging romp through six sections which are themed after the different world in the game, and it must be completed without dying once. If it doesn’t sound that bad, remember that bottomless pits, lava, spikes and being crushed by obstacles are all instant deaths, and there are a lot of these in every section. None of the deaths feel cheap; they are all avoidable if you can just remember the enemies’ patterns or the layout of the course. The challenge is tough but fair, and it makes you feel clever enough when you clear a section that you will want to continue no matter how many times you have to restart the course.
If that sounds too much for some players, Yoshi’s Wooly World offers two ways of making it past these obstacle. The first one is called “Mellow mode” and gives Yoshi the ability to fly through a level. It can be switched on or off at any time from the game’s world screen. The second one is the badge system, which allows the player to buy different perks to help him or her. Those perks can be as simple as making Yoshi take less damage from enemies, or making him invincible to lava and fire. As you progress, you will unlock badges which can make every level a breeze to go through, such as unlimited watermelons (Eating watermelons transforms Yoshi into a seed-spitting machine gun) or every hidden part of a stage being made bright and visible. These badges can also be switched on the fly from the pause menu, but be aware that every time you switch ability, the game deducts money, or beads in this case, from your total. Which brings me back to the things you can collect in Yoshi’s Woolly World.
Beads are all over the place in this game. Most of them have nothing special to hide and can only be used to buy the badges mentioned above. However, every stage has twenty special beads which hide stamps behind them. Collecting them unlocks stamps which can be used when posting in the Miiverse. It might not seem like much to most players, but the game integrates the Miiverse in a way which seems to be very popular with kids (and a few adults too). First of all, Miis are scattered all over the world map, and talking to them will show a Miiverse drawing made by another YWW players. Secondly, Miiverse posts are also shown at the start of every stage, and some of them are surprisingly helpful. While a lot of players post simple drawings to the Miiverse, some people actually take the time to give crude hints and tips through their posts: where to look for magic wools, for example, or which badge to use to make your life easier. It’s not much, but it makes the game feel alive and connected.
Collecting every flower, every magic wool, and every stamp (as well as finishing a level with 20 hearts on your health gauge) will give you a gold star. The gold stars don’t seem to be for anything else than bragging rights, unfortunately, but I’m sure that some players will be obsessed with obtaining them. Personally, I was satisfied with collecting flowers and Yoshis.
The gameplay is where this game truly shines. As I mentioned before, the game uses a style in which everything appears to be carefully crafted with wool and different fabrics. While the developers could have been happy to make a pretty game and be done with it, they instead packed the product with gameplay mechanics and secrets that can be understood and uncovered if one pays enough attention to the rules of the game world. For example, if a part of the stage appears to be made out of loosely stitched material, it will often have a piece sticking out so that Yoshi can grab it with his tongue and unravel the whole thing, usually revealing hidden collectibles or a secret door. If a wall appears to be made like a cushion, it can probably be pushed back to reveal more collectibles. Secret paths can be revealed by knitting pipes or platforms back together by throwing wool at them. The game uses its aesthetic as a chance to create a different world with its own rules instead of simply taking it as a new coat of paint on a tired formula.
The level design also benefits immensely from the new ideas. While series regulars such as forts, caves and mazes all make a comeback, YWW introduces many new level types. One level has Yoshi jumping on bubbles that can be popped by Shy Guys, sending him to his death in a bottomless abyss. Another one has the dinosaur throwing wool at trees and cliffs to create avalanches and open up new paths. These are good, but there are two new course types which caught my attention more than the rest. The first one has Yoshi navigating the shadows behind drapes which move back and forth on a rail. The thing is that some platforms become hidden when the drapes are in front of them, while others only appear in the shadows. Precise timing and jumping are required to navigate this course properly, and the flutter jump really is a life saver in this one. The second type has Yoshi grab on to shower curtains which then go sliding furiously down their path as you use your reflexes to jump on to the next curtain before you run out of track. This mechanic is re-utilized in one of the special unlockable levels where the pace becomes even faster and blinking could prove to be fatal, and yet it never feels cheap. The game always strikes a good balance, being tough while staying fair. The risks taken with the level design are immensely rewarding.
Even in the regular platforming stages, the monotony is often cut by short interludes which transform Yoshi in different objects and vehicles, racing against a time limit to find flowers and beads and make it to the finish line in time. Yoshi can thus become a motorcycle, an airplane, a rock-digging mole, even an umbrella propelled by air currents. These diversions are short and fun, and to be quite honest I would have liked to see more of them. These transformations have been a staple of the series since Yoshi’s Island, and yet I feel like they are criminally underutilized in every game.
Talking about level design, as wonderful as it is, does bring me to one of the game’s weaknesses: the boss fights. The bosses apparently all went to the same school of villainy as they have a pattern which, while distinct from one another, is easily identifiable. They also have a recognizable weak point which must be hit three times in order to win, and quite frankly, none of them pose much of a challenge. The bosses do make a comeback in the boss tent, a mode which is unlocked after completion of the main story.
The boss tent’s intro says that the bad guys are now tougher, when in truth they are exactly the same, except that they now move faster while you have less health on your meter. This will throw off your timing on the first try, but in the end things are only slightly more difficult. Of the entire rogue gallery, only Baby Bowser poses any real threat, and that is only because the fight is the longest of the game. What do you get for completing the boss tent? More Yoshi patterns! I’m sure some people will find it lame, but after playing this game for a while, I am all about Yoshi costumes. Did you know that you can unlock a Yoshi that looks like a cow? They even called it “Moo Moo Yoshi”. It has got to be the most adorable thing I have seen all year.
As a quick note, you can also unlock Yoshis that look like Nintendo’s other mascots, as long as you have the required amiibos. Tap a Donkey Kong amiibo on your controller and Yoshi will look like an ape. Tap a Peach amiibo and he’ll look like a princess. Diehard Gamefan’s own Sean Madson probably has the full roster of Yoshi patterns at this point.
Finally, I would like to mention the multiplayer mode, which is accessible at any time you start a level. The game will always ask you if you want to start the level by yourself or as a cooperative effort, and trust me when I say that the game is even more fun as a multiplayer experience. While you will encounter the usual issues of multiplayer Nintendo platformers (timing jumps onto small platforms or tripping over each other, for example), having two Yoshis instead of one makes exploring much easier. One Yoshi can swallow the other one and turn it into a cute little ball of yarn with eyes, and then toss their partner at hard to reach places to grab collectibles that were out of the way. The game has a pretty steady learning curve too, so it’s a good way to introduce less experienced players to the world of Yoshi while sparing everyone a lot of frustration.
Short Attention Span Summary
Yoshi’s Woolly World is so sweet and colourful that it looks right out of a kids movie, yet it is surprisingly challenging. It will take a truly skilled player to unlock everything that the game has to offer on classic mode, but the mellow mode makes sure that it stays accessible to less experienced gamers. The game can be completed in less than ten hours if you only want to go from point A to point B, but the thrill of figuring out puzzles and the feeling of cleverness that comes with it will make sure you will want to dig deeper. While it falls short of being an all-time great like Yoshi’s Island, it is still one of Nintendo’s freshest efforts on the Wii U.
Tags: Nintendo, nintendo wii u, Video Game Reviews, Yoshi's Woolly World