If someone were to ask me what I think the most charming video game of all time is, my answer would probably be a toss up between Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii. It is very fitting then, that there should be a game that serves as a spiritual successor to both titles. Yoshi’s Wooly World comes from Good-Feel, the same studio that created Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and combines that game’s visual aesthetic of a cloth and fabric world with gameplay reminiscent of Yoshi’s Island.
Here players take control of a Yoshi made out of yarn. He can still flutter jump, ground pound, and gobble up enemies. Only now, balls of yarn take the place of Yoshi’s eggs. Though they function more or less the same as the eggs of Yoshi’s Island – being thrown at enemies and out of reach objects – they have a few additional uses as well.
Wire frame platforms can be made whole by tossing a ball of yarn into it. Chain Chomps, who are little more than metal wire here, can become bean bag-like Chomp rocks when struck by yarn (changing them into the color of the yearn thrown, for some added visual fun). Some enemies that can’t be jumped on, like Piranha Plants, can get tied up in the yarn, rendering them vulnerable.
These may sound like little changes, but it is these little details that make Yoshi’s Woolly World stand out. Whereas most games starring Yoshi since Yoshi’s Island have failed to establish a meaningful identity of their own, Wooly World is able to make the established elements of the Yoshi series feel new again because of the makeshift makeover. It’s a rare instance in which the visuals really do add to the gameplay.
Both the environment and characters are affected by the art direction: Snow becomes lumps of cotton, the lava Blarggs are now red and yellow scarfs, and those pesky crab enemies from Yoshi’s Island are transformed into purses with scissors for claws.
To put it simple, the game looks as stunning as it does adorable, and the visuals are used creatively to add some new spins on the gameplay. It’s more extravagant than Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and really runs with the yarn gimmick to make for a very beautiful game.
Though the standard mechanics are borrowed from Yoshi’s Island, many levels introduce their own fabric-themed gimmicks into the mix, ensuring that the experience remains fresh throughout its six worlds. There’s a level where Yoshi hangs on to sliding curtains that echoes Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. A later stage sees Yoshi sticking to conveyor belts of velcro, which send Yoshi in every which direction. And on one of the game’s best levels, ghostly curtains float in the foreground, revealing silhouette platforms every time they pass by. The platforms are non-existent whenever they aren’t blanketed by the curtains, so Yoshi has to stay in the curtains’ shadows.
Each level presents a new take on the formula, with many of the gimmicks being exclusive to singular levels to prevent them from overexposure. This adds a great sense of variety to the gameplay and keeps the levels exciting. It should be noted, however, that the levels can get a bit lengthy. While most of the stages are enjoyable and introduce fun mechanics, there are a couple that might over-stay their welcome. Thankfully, these are in the minority, and if you don’t fancy what one level has to offer, its features will be discarded in favor of a new batch of ideas in the next level anyway.
As is the series’ tradition, a host of collectibles can be found within every stage. Yoshi can collect beads throughout every level, which can be used to purchase Power Badges, which grant Yoshi special powers when going into a stage (such as being recovered from falling into a pit, or being aided by Yoshi’s dog Poochy in stages where he isn’t normally available). Small bouncing hearts, similar to the starmen of Yoshi’s Island, serve as Yoshi’s hit points.
Every level has five flowers and five pieces of “Wonder Wool.” The flowers give Yoshi the opportunity to play a bonus stage at the end of a level, and finding every flower within a world unlocks that world’s secret stage, while finding every piece of Wonder Wool within a level unlocks a new Yoshi to play as (every Yoshi plays the same, but provide some fun visual variety). Each stage also houses twenty Stamp Patches, which are hidden in some of the beads. Finding enough Stamp Patches allows you to use stamps in Miiverse.
As was the case with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Wooly World is not a particularly difficult game if you only wish to blast through the levels (though it is more challenging than Epic Yarn, seeing as Yoshi can actually die). But hunting down every last collectible proves to be quite a challenge even for veteran players (in my first playthrough of the game, I didn’t unlock any of the secret stages). This makes Woolly World a very versatile game. It’s challenging enough for younger players as it is, but those who might be able to beat it without breaking much of a sweat will still find a hefty challenge trying to claim all of its hidden trinkets.
This is why I question the necessity of the game’s “Mellow Mode.” Mellow Mode gives Yoshi wings that allow him to fly indefinitely, essentially making every level a non-issue. This mode can be switched to at any time in the pause menu, and is intended for really young players. But again, the game itself only provides a few challenging levels, and players always have the option of using the incredibly useful Power Badges, or a second player in co-op mode, to help them out. So Mellow Mode ends up feeling unnecessary, and maybe even insulting to less experienced players.
The game’s other big drawback are the boss encounters. As was the case in Yoshi’s Island, every world features two castle stages that end with a boss fight, one in the middle of a world, and one at the end. But whereas Yoshi’s Island was always introducing a new and creative boss fight with every encounter, Woolly World instead recycles the same two mid-world bosses for every world. After Captain Toad and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse already had repetitive boss fights, you kind of wish that Woolly World would have broken this recent trend for Nintendo, instead of following it. The end-world bosses are a bit more fun and varied, though not particularly difficult.
In the end, Yoshi’s Woolly World may not be the masterpiece that Yoshi’s Island was, but in the two decades since that game’s release, it is the first game to feel like a worthy follow-up to it. By combining the essence of Kirby’s Epic Yarn into the Yoshi series, Woolly World becomes its own entity that does both sides of its inspiration proud. It’s beautiful to look at, and it’s rather impressive musical score also makes it a joy to listen to. The gameplay is simple and fun, and the collectibles give the game a nice dose of depth and replayability.
It may not be perfect, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more huggable game out there.