We gave it a B+
When Mario’s dinosaur pal Yoshi first flutter-jumped into the lead role in 1995’s Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, he brought a new pace of gameplay to the platforming genre and a revolutionary artistic look, where everything appeared to have been hand-drawn with crayons. The game went on to sell over 4 million copies and is widely regarded as one of the best platformers of all time. But following up an instant classic is pretty tough, it seems, based on the series of disappointing sequels that came after. It took 20 years, but we finally have a worthy successor in Yoshi’s Woolly World.
I was skeptical going in, especially after trudging through 2013’s New Yoshi’s Island on 3DS, which betrayed its name by offering little new and felt like a weak facsimile of the original. And Nintendo already toyed with a similar fabric aesthetic five years ago with Kirby’s Epic Yarn. But as soon as I loaded up Woolly World’s title screen and heard gently strumming acoustic guitars and glimpsed the tactile, soft yarn world, it was clear that developer Good-Feel was about to make me feel good.
It’s almost impossible not to smile while playing the game. Everything looks like it was hand-crafted from yarn, lace and fabric, and sequins are scattered liberally, as if Etsy exploded on your screen. The attention to detail on Yoshi’s animations alone is staggering. His feet unspool into wheels when he runs, propellers when he jumps, and ice skates when he slides on ice (he even adds in a little Johnny Weir-esque spin for good measure).
Enemies and the environment receive just as much care: Shy Guys brandish crochet hooks, Koopa Troopers are adorned with buttons, and water is made of flowing strings of yarn. It all combines to form the most charming visual aesthetic since… well, Yoshi’s Island’s.
Of course, none of that matters if the gameplay isn’t up to par, but I was continually surprised and delighted by Woolly World. It doesn’t stray from the gameplay of the original at all. You still swallow enemies to make eggs (this time balls of yarn), and shoot them at enemies as you work your way through side-scrolling levels. And if you simply rush through stages, it’s a relatively breezy ride. But the same was true of Yoshi’s Island, and the challenge comes from gathering all of the numerous collectibles. Each stage contains five flowers, 20 stamps, and five skeins of yarn, and they can be fiendishly difficult to find and will challenge even the most seasoned player’s platforming prowess.
The flowers and stamps don’t give you much, but there’s great incentive to collect all the yarn, as each level contains an adorable Yoshi skin to unlock (the Shy Guy outfit was a personal fave). The game also features the best use of amiibo I’ve yet seen, as tapping one of the toys to the Wii U GamePad grants access to a charming yarn rendition of that character’s costume. And don’t even get me started on the yarn Yoshi amiibo that comes bundled with the game. I haven’t completely understood the amiibo mania that is sweeping the nation, but I would buy any Nintendo character made of yarn.
There’s a great deal of variety throughout the game’s six worlds, and hidden bonus levels punctuate the journey with entirely different play styles that see Yoshi transforming into a motorcycle, an umbrella and even a mermaid in levels reminiscent of Sega’s Ecco the Dolphin. If anything, there aren’t enough of these, as many are one and done. The game’s weakest parts are the two boss fights that pepper each world, as they’re repetitive, simplistic and rather uninspired.
Despite everything it gets right, it’s still treading on the familiar ground that Yoshi’s Island established and perfected two decades ago. It’s hard to follow up an instant classic, clearly, but Yoshi’s Woolly World is so charming and well-crafted that it doesn’t matter if it can’t surpass the original; it’s still an epic yarn that’s well worth experiencing.