Woolly World is more than an attempt to find a magic that was lost; it is a title that carries the qualities of the best Nintendo classics
As a whole, the story of the Yoshi franchise has been a constant search for an elusive nirvana that had, once upon a time, been found, but that seemed to have been irremediably lost somewhere a long the way; as if its developers had forgotten to write down a map leading to its location. Yoshi’s Island, the sequel to Super Mario World, had given the Yoshi-led line of platformers an incredible start, but what followed was a chain of titles whose highest points merely hinted at the greatness that had once been unearthed. The characters, the setting, the art style, and the mechanics were always there; the level design ingenuity, though, was nowhere to be found.
Yoshi’s Woolly World arrives to drastically alter that scenario, for it catapults the green dinosaur’s franchise to a level of awe-inducing quality it had not known for quite a while. The franchise’s first home console entry in eighteen years is, unquestionably, its brightest installment in two decades. It is an assessment that might not carry much weight considering the pile of average software that separates it from the series’ crayon-infused Super Nintendo inception, so its prowess is perhaps best summed up by declaring it is a title that often dares to be as good as Yoshi’s Island.
The core influence behind Yoshi’s Woolly World is blatant; it is a continuation of Nintendo’s adorable experiment of altering some of its properties by visually covering them in cloth and using that artistic twist as a trampoline for gameplay inventiveness. A spiritual successor to the first output of that exercise, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s Woolly World comes off as a more confident and fully realized effort than the already great Wii sidescroller.
While the Kirby franchise had to adapt itself to the fabric-centered mechanics introduced in Epic Yarn by, for instance, taking away the character’s signature power-stealing skill; Yoshi, who goes after Kamek after he kidnaps his other dinosaur buddies, covers himself and the world in which he inhabits in fluffy wool and naturally thrives in that environment.
All of the core elements make the cut, and their integration with the stunning art style is seamless: the character’s tongue becomes a powerful tool to unravel pieces of the scenario that need to be dismantled, and his egg-throwing ability now launches balls of yarn that take down weaker foes, temporarily bind stronger enemies, and frequently reconstruct pieces of the environment that are not fully sewn.
The needles, yarn, wool, buttons, and stitches, then, go far beyond serving as eye candy. The astonishing beauty that is projected across the screen during each of the adventure’s minutes is certainly noteworthy. Joined by the high-definition visuals of the Wii U, the unbelievable creativity and attention to detail employed both on the settings and on the character design, which are all finely crafted with the use of a wide assortment of crochet assets, is enough to make Woolly World safely rank among the best looking games of all time.
Moreover, even though Woolly World is guilty of falling into the overly predictable Mario pattern of world themes – starting in a meadow, heading into a desert, a forest, and so on – its art style ends up lending the game a great deal of flexibility, as it is able to explore unique palettes within the domain of each setting. Additionally, there is so much freshness being exhaled by its visual design that its artistic direction never comes even remotely close to being formulaic. Despite all of those aesthetic benefits, though, Woolly World’s visual knitting yields its greatest and most valuable results on the gameplay department.
Through curtains, scraps, scarves, and other cloth-related quirks, Yoshi’s Woolly World is able to positively surprise players with most of its fifty-five levels. Some of them gravitate around obstacles that could have been pulled off without the title’s unique thematic; most, though, ride the idiosyncrasies of the game’s universe, and that is precisely when the game tends to be at its best.
Sometimes, things can be as simple as throwing a ball of yarn at incomplete structures to make them materialize, giving some portions of the game a pleasant satisfying feeling of restoration; in other instances, the inventiveness reaches grand heights through Chomps that can become rolling balls, Boos that turn into floating balloons, velcrum treadmills, knitting spiders, magic carpets, sliding curtains, and uncountable extra cases of level design brilliancy.
True to its kid-friendly aura, Woolly World’s level of challenge is tame. Many of the stages in the first two of its six worlds can be walked through without much trouble; from that point onwards, there is a noticeable difficulty spike that, while not reaching any extremely elevated level, will certainly make experienced gamers happy. Both youngsters and veterans will be pleased to know its levels have a sober amount of checkpoints that are placed decently far from one another, stopping the game from ever being frustrating even on the apex of its challenges.
To those that want to go beyond simply clearing the game, Woolly World – much like Yoshi’s Island and most of the games that followed – features a large amount of collectibles. For starters, five flowers and five wonder wools lie hidden in each stage. The motivation for collecting those goes far beyond pure completion, for while the gathering of all flowers in a specific world unlocks an extra stage that tends to be specially difficult; the joining of five wonder wools from any stage represents the rescuing of a kidnapped Yoshi, hence unlocking a brand new colorful character model for use.
Going after the flowers and wonder wools transforms even the most basic stages into meticulous exploration affairs, as those are frequently either well-hidden or located in places that require a great deal of skill to be reached. Therefore, aiming for that goal is enough to turn even the game’s first level into a twenty-minute affair, a rate of time that grows even bigger if players chase the title’s other two full-completion requirements: twenty special hidden beads in each stage and clearing all courses with full health.
Although the collectibles are undeniably alluring, they also present one of the game’s few glaring flaws; one that was inherited directly from its highly-regarded Super Nintendo predecessor. From time to time (though frequently enough to be detracting), flowers, wools, and beads will only be found if Yoshi happens to walk by the precise point in which an invisible cloud or pipe is hidden, prompting it to show up. Most are so randomly placed that only sheer luck or the obsessive exploration of every corner of the stage will uncover them. That occasional arbitrary placement displays a slight degree of laziness that heavily contrasts with Woolly World’s almost invariable cleverness.
The game’s second, and final, big issue is related to its boss battles. Most, if not all, are positively smart, as they even make use of a tridimensional perspective to extend the might and unpredictability of the enemies’ attacks. Sadly, all of them suffer from being a bit on the easy size. Furthermore, despite the fact that the final battles in each world are always unique, the mid-point struggles recycle the same two bosses – albeit in altered versions – three times each, a move that is, once more, not compatible with the software’s overall high creativity.
Those missteps, however, are almost completely negligible under the blinding bright light emitted by everything else Yoshi’s Woolly World does right. The first Yoshi game worthy of being put in the same category as Yoshi’s Island is a satisfying journey whose impressively elevated degree of inventiveness is guided by its cloth-inspired visual elements, which – more than lending the game an astonishing aesthetic – inspire its gameplay to take flights towards some rather surprising grounds. Woolly World, as a consequence, surfaces as more than an attempt to recreate a magic that was somehow lost twenty years before its release; it appears as the reestablishment of a beloved franchise and as a title that carries all qualities present in the most remarkable Nintendo classics.