Review: Yoshi’s Woolly World for Wii U
This one is a good egg.
Ever since the release of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995, the Yoshi series of platforming games has felt almost cursed. Not that its successors were necessarily bad, but with each new installment, it seems that the consensus has been that the series peaked right out of the gate.
Unlike other series, wherein sequels typically improve on the ideas of the original and lead us to arguments such as “Super Mario Bros. 3 vs. Super Mario World“, “Mega Man 2 vs. Mega Man 3“, or “Sonic the Hedgehog 2 vs. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles“, you don’t typically find that argument in Yoshi. The original, itself something of a product of Nintendo’s continued 2D platforming refinement over the course of a decade or more, has long been regarded as the best with little dispute.
The Nintendo 64’s 1997 release of Yoshi’s Story was considered too short. Nintendo then handed the reigns over to Artoon for 2006’s Yoshi’s Island DS, which introduced some cool new ideas, but was unpleasantly difficult due to the blind spot between the handheld’s two screens. Arzest, formed from members of Artoon, would give us last year’s Yoshi’s New Island, which hit all the right notes, but possibly a little too well, feeling almost like a direct imitation of the original with some less-inspired bosses and a few incidental new features like the Mega Eggdozers.
That brings us to Yoshi’s Woolly World for the Wii U, the latest installment which is made by Nintendo and Good Feel, developers of Kirby’s Epic Yarn. But how does it hold up?
For starters, this needs to be said straight up front: if you have any notion that this is basically Kirby’s Epic Yarn but with a Yoshi theme, dispel it right now. Aside from the developer and the general fabric-based aesthetic, the two are almost nothing alike. This includes the game’s level of challenge.
Admittedly, Yoshi’s Woolly World isn’t especially hard. There is no life system here, as you’re free to die and restart from the last checkpoint as many times as you wish. For the most part, my death count was fairly low, occasionally succumbing to the accidental slip or a risk for a collectible that didn’t pay off. I played on the game’s Classic Mode from beginning to end, but if you get stuck in a particular spot, you can engage “Mellow Mode” at any time. That said, it really doesn’t add too much to the experience but to give Yoshi a pair of his classic wings with which to flutter indefinitely, though one can achieve the same effect with careful timing through Yoshi’s regular flutter jump.
Also worth noting is that these Yoshis aren’t nigh-invincible as in the games which feature a baby in the saddle. In that regard, this game feels a little more like Yoshi’s Story, with the Yoshis each having a life meter which also counts towards the level’s completion bonus, just as stars did for the Baby Mario counter.
Another thing which may help, and is new to the Yoshi’s Island series, is the inclusion of 2-player co-op. A second player can join in at the start of any stage, and better still, they can use either the GamePad (if Player 1 isn’t, of course), a Pro Controller, a Classic Controller, or a Wii Remote.
This is likely to be a mixed bag, depending on who you talk to. Compared to how multiplayer works in more recent Mario titles, I didn’t feel like my wife and I were getting in each other’s way as we did in those titles, but she felt it was slowing us down. Still, there are benefits to going with two Yoshis instead of one, particularly that either one can use their partner as a yarn ball (this game’s equivalent of eggs, more on that in a bit), allowing for a lot more flexibility without having to keep our stock up.
If all of that wasn’t enough, there are also the badges you can collect and pay to equip before entering a stage — except those times when you’re allowed to equip them for free. The effects range from unlimited watermelons that get airlifted in to more powerful ground pounds to additional use of Yoshi’s canine friend Poochy, who is back and better than ever. Not only is he more lovable than ever, but he can also run clear through enemies, fetch items, and help reveal hidden collectibles along the way, too.
Normally, if I address graphics, I’d wait until later in the review. Instead, I need to bring it up here, as the yarn design is more than just an aesthetic choice — it’s a key gameplay element. In fact, I dare say that this game succeeds where previous installments fell short as successors to Yoshi’s Island as a direct result of the visual style.
The original game featured a sort of coloring or storybook look to it, and shy of Yoshi’s Story, each subsequent game has tried to follow that look. Instead, Yoshi’s Woolly World tosses that out and (obviously) goes with a yarn look instead, detailed right down to the fuzzy strands of fabric which stick out from every piece. Truth be told, it’s not just yarn, either — all sorts of fabric and materials are used throughout. One would think the LEGO video games would make the most of their potential for a unique visual style, rather than making more natural-looking scenery occupied by LEGO people and the occasional item made of the building blocks; however, unlike those games, Yoshi’s Woolly World goes all in. From yarn-based creatures to leather-type material forming desert regions and more, the game looks from top to bottom like it was formed from a homemade diorama.
And as noted, that factors into the gameplay as well. Rather than forming eggs, Yoshis form balls of yarn when they eat enemies (among other ways), and these are used to “fill in” outlines throughout the game to form platforms, pipes, and other means of traversal. Rather than socking a Piranha Plant in the kisser, it will become entangled long enough for you to stomp it. Elsewhere, you’ll find strings of yarn tied into a bow; with a flick of Yoshi’s tongue, the entire structure it’s attached to becomes unraveled, revealing hidden goodies to collect.
Overall, it helps make a huge difference versus its predecessors. By and large, the inventiveness and charm that fans have long wanted back in the series is here, and so much of it is thanks to this new visual style and the gameplay changes it’s brought forth. Many of the core Yoshi gameplay mechanics remain, but are modified to take advantage of this new landscape and the style in which it was rendered.
What’s more, each stage provides a unique challenge, a distinct way of progressing that I don’t think is repeated throughout the entire game. While six worlds of eight levels apiece seems rather small, the stages are quite substantial in length, and no idea wears out its welcome. If there is a stage whose style you don’t like, you needn’t worry about seeing it again throughout the course of the main game. This also goes for the transformations — I only recall seeing two more than once, the giant and (surprisingly fun) mermaid forms.
That said, I can’t speak for the bonus levels of each world. As in Yoshi’s Island, each level is replayable as you try to collect everything within — fortunately, unlike the series progenitor, you don’t have to get everything in one go, thus making replays of the lengthy romps more tolerable. Fans of the series have some idea of what to expect — five flowers remain, while 20 hearts for your life meter replace the stars of Baby Mario’s countdown to abduction (don’t be fooled, though — some enemies take a big chunk of that 20-count). Coins are replaced by jewels, and instead of red coins hidden among them, you have stamps for Miiverse to find.
Finally, there’s the Wonder Wool. In addition to the starting green/pink/light blue (depending on which file you choose) and red Yoshis (which I happily switched to for the duration of my play) and the virtual army unlockable by tapping an amiibo figure to the Wii U’s GamePad sensor, each stage contains five bundles of Wonder Wool. Collect these in order to restore a Yoshi back to their normal form after being transformed and spirited away by Kamek during the game’s opening, and you can swap out with them whenever you please by going to their stage and “speaking” to them.
It takes the aspect of multicolored Yoshis from previous games to a whole new level, as you’ll want to free them all so you can see them all — and perhaps even play as them all, too.
Unfortunately, if there’s one area where Yoshi’s Woolly World falls short, it’s in the bosses. One of the most appealing aspects of the original game was seeing which new enemy Kamek would make grow into a giant form and finding how to beat him.
For the most part, this aspect remains intact: Kamek still causes grunts to grow and sics them on you. And while each battle is different, the irksome Magikoopa seems to be drawing from a much smaller pool this time. In other words, expect to see encore appearances from several enemies throughout with new tricks each time. Sadly, none are as inspiring as Prince Froggy, Roger the Potted Ghost, or the awe-inspiring Raphael the Raven.
Incidentally, there was one other thing that was disappointing to me personally. While I’ve long thought that Yoshi is quite overdue to have a new nemesis to face, some recent promotional material from Nintendo themselves led me to think we might at least be in for a small shake-up. Sadly, that’s not the case here.
What is here is good and a little bit different from before, but still. Maybe I’ll talk about that a little bit more sometime elsewhere.
It’s taken some time — in fact, it’s the series’ 20th anniversary this year — but the results were absolutely worth it: Nintendo has finally crafted a worthy sequel to Yoshi’s Island.
While I’m hard pressed to say this is better than the original title, I feel that for every shortcoming that keeps it from being as such, there’s something else that helps elevate it, bringing it about as close to neck-and-neck as we might ever hope to get. In that regard, it’s almost like a new beginning for the series, and if Nintendo and Good Feel can keep up this level of quality and improve, we may have much to look forward to in years to come.
Plus, though the original game had a rather biting edge for difficulty, I dare say that this one is far friendlier to platforming newcomers. With the 2-player option, a more experience gamer can help a younger or newer player to get the most of the core campaign, while the hunt for every last trinket to unlock the (probably) more challenging bonus levels and the post-game boss rematches offer veterans something to sink their teeth into as well.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.