This game has been a long time coming. Since Yoshi’s Island in 1995 there have been a number of competent sequels, but none of them captured that true magic. Yoshi’s Island remains one of the greatest platformers of all time not just because of its brilliant game mechanics, but the outstanding level design that took advantage of everything Yoshi could do. Furthermore, it was different to any other game at the time and made a big impact on the industry with impressive graphical effects that pushed SNES hardware to its peak. With such big shoes to fill, development team Good-Feel have taken up knitting and made some brand new fluffy shoes to climb into instead. Since Kirby’s Epic Yarn came out in 2010 they’ve done a bunch of side projects, but Yoshi’s Woolly World has been in development for all of these years and has become, by far, their biggest project yet. It’s the first time Yoshi’s visual style has really been changed up, with Yoshi’s Island DS borrowing heavily from original’s art style, and Yoshi’s Story and New Island adopting a half-arsed 3D look with no real identity. It’s also the first console Yoshi game since Yoshi’s Story on the N64, three generations ago. This woolly makeover was exactly what the Yoshi formula needed, because Yoshi’s Woolly World is an absolute triumph in game design. I got it when it launched in Australia last month, and I’ve already 100% completed it and replayed it multiple times. I love it for many reasons I didn’t expect. Not just as a worthy follow-up to Yoshi’s Island, but as an original game in 2015 that brings new ideas to the table and stands strong as an example of how much further games can be pushed.
First I’m going to drown this page in fluffy cuteness. Just LOOK AT ALL THE YOSHIS! This design is something I feel everybody appreciates, but it doesn’t get the recognition I’m about to give it. The character design here is brilliant and not accidental. I know Yoshi is not a new character, but the way they designed the woolly Yoshis to not just represent the theme of the game, but also look adorable would have been very hard to do. This is the foundation of the game right here. It’s easy to make something look angry, mature, or fill a hero cliche, but to tap into people’s hearts requires some real inspiration. Just look at LittleBigPlanet for an example of how fucked up and creepy these Yoshis could have been, or this abomination for an example of how Yoshi can go wrong. These little cuties are truly precious.
This is almost a new Nintendo character. The woolly Yoshis have fluffy round arms and you can’t see their hands or fingers, but that’s just classic Nintendo design where they don’t feel restricted by reality. Woolly World has its own laws of fluffiness and Yoshi can still throw eggs so it’s okay. Yoshis aren’t just cute and fluffy, but also brave, clever, loyal, thoughtful, and they even get scared. Yoshi’s Woolly World is not just a platformer but a JOURNEY and the curious, confused nature expressed by the woolly Yoshis plays a big part in the feel of the game. You can almost feel their woolly hearts beating when you perform a difficult jump. To be clear, there’s no dialogue or narrative in this game outside of a few lines in boss fights and Miiverse posts on the overworld. It’s just a very cohesively designed world that uses a lot of small details to make Woolly World feel like home.
Hi Yoshi! The level is starting so let’s get straight into the gameplay. Oh baby. I don’t know HOW they did it, but you can feel the fluffiness. I have wracked my brain and analysed all the animations and inputs very closely, but I still can’t figure out how the game feels so fluffy. You can tangibly feel the surface with Yoshi’s padded feet and it makes every jump a bit more comfy. The surface actually goes down when Yoshi stands on it, but jumps are still instant. This would be an AWFUL design choice in a skill-based platformer if it delayed your jump, but there is no input lag whatsoever. Yoshi’s fluffy feet cancel out the fluffy floor and they both coexist in woolly harmony. Movement is just as fast as Yoshi’s Island on the SNES and the speed of the egg throwing is actually improved. Another thing you notice when you start playing is Yoshi has different animations embedded into the core movement. Wheels will appear on Yoshi after running for a while, and when you ground pound Yoshi turns into a hammer. Wool is very much part of Yoshi’s DNA in this game.
A few levels into the game, I started playing with the settings and discovered a gameplay revelation; the Wiimote gyro can be used to aim eggs. Instead of waiting for the cursor to drag up or down you can now do INSTANT shots by tilting the Wiimote as you press the aim button. In my Wario Land review I explained how Wiimote aiming in that game worked on three points. In Yoshi’s Woolly World it’s the same process, except with complete free control. This makes egg throwing not just more accurate and faster, but SO MUCH more FUN! It makes a big difference if you want to play the game skillfully, because you can do perfectly aimed shots while walking backwards. This was already possible with Yoshi’s mechanics but when you don’t have to wait for the cursor to line up, Yoshi can keep walking while you take care of hard-to-reach items with precisely aimed egg throws.
For anyone who isn’t familar with Yoshi’s core mechanics, there’s a standard jump and a secondary flutter that gives you extra height and air time. You can do the flutter over and over to stay in the air, but you won’t gain any height unless you jump on an enemy. Egg throwing works by bringing up a cursor with A, and pressing the A button again to throw an egg. I understand that not everybody loves gyro, so you can still play this with a regular guided cursor and still get every collectible in the game (guided means the cursor will go up and down, and when it’s lined up where you want, you press the button again to stop it and fire). For some reason the GamePad doesn’t allow gyro aiming, so you have to use a Wiimote for this, but I’ve gotten very comfortable with the sideways Wiimote after playing Woolly World. It’s the comfiest game ever made.
Also new to the core Yoshi experience is the ability to create your own platforms using a mechanic introduced in Yoshi’s Touch N Go. This was a short score-based arcade game on Nintendo DS, and still one of the best examples of touch screen gameplay I have played. Instead of a guided on-rails tour, you had many things going on at once, making a very engaging and creative experience as you search for ways to increase your score. There’s no touch screen usage or combos In Woolly World however, the mechanic is implemented through a standard egg throw to keep things consistent. After eating these cute little fluffy birds, instead of throwing an egg you will throw a white fluffy trail you can walk on. You can use it to reach new places or just to get above the haters. Piranha Plants can’t touch my woolly feet. Don’t spend too much time being sassy though, because the platform fades eventually. I don’t know what happens to the lil’ birdies either, but it’s best not to think about that. I’m sure they are comfortably resting with all the fallen Yoshis underneath the stage. Each death adds to the pile and makes them a bit more comfy. Woolly World encourages happy thoughts.
Collectibles work a little different in this game, because you don’t have to collect them all in one run. This is the reason why Yoshi’s Island has such a notorious reputation for 100% completion, because if you make a single mistake in a level you have to collect EVERYTHING again and it treats collectibles as a “score”. Frustrating, but it made for an unprecedented challenge. Woolly World is more forgiving because it saves all your collectibles, meaning if you missed one you can still revisit the level and ONLY collect that one, and then you’ll have everything. This makes casual play much smoother, and for people who just like being completionists it’s a nice way to keep things organised. However I can’t help but feel a little disappointed there isn’t at least a mode to lock this option away. You can obviously still set your own challenge but it takes away some of that classic Yoshi optimisation.
So is the game easy? Fuck no. The difficulty ramps up at a gradual comfy pace through the game, until World 6 delivers some pretty tricky situations. This challenge in this game comes more from exploration than execution, and things are hidden with a lot of creativity. This is a major thing Woolly World does better than Yoshi’s Island, because the wool itself makes level interaction more interesting and logical. Instead of invisible walls, switches, and clouds in every level, you’re pushing fluffy platforms around and interacting with wool to reveal hidden paths. This means there are visual cues based on how the wool is laid out. For example if you see an isolated woolly pattern in a perfect rectangle shape, you can probably push it inwards, and if you can see string you can pull it out with Yoshi’s tongue. There still are invisible clouds, but that seems to be the norm in Mario and Yoshi games and they are always in obvious spots. Also present in this game are transformations. In key sections Yoshi turns into a Motorbike, Umbrella, Giant Yoshi or a Mermaid in a fast-paced sprint to the end. They last about 20-40 seconds, but mix things up quite nicely and they have GREAT controls. I’d buy an entire game of Moto Yoshi levels.
The SPECIAL STAGES in Woolly World are so good I’m dedicating this entire paragraph to them. Getting every flower in each world unlocks the S level of that world which is a bit harder than the rest. This has been a feature in Yoshi games since the original, but those special levels were simply new layouts and didn’t really change too much. The special levels in Yoshi’s Woolly World are WILD RIDES that’ll make you spill your fucken drink. The difficulty is the highest point in the game so they just throw everything into the level design, and the result is spectacular. The MUSIC in these levels is so good that I can hear it in my head right now at the mere thought of the levels. It’s an upbeat dancey pop tune that just cranks things up and gives much needed motivation to get to the end. When you die in Yoshi’s Woolly World the music continues as if nothing happened, and you reset immediately at the last checkpoint. Keep trying Yoshi, nobody saw you die, you’re doing great. In the special levels however, there are no checkpoints so you’re always starting over from the beginning. Rightfully so because challenge is what these are all about. It’d spoil the experience if I described exactly how they unfolded, but they all have unique approaches and they’re all ridiculous fun and satisfying to complete. I wouldn’t put them on the same level as harder games like Tropical Freeze, but I can guarantee you will die a lot. There’s also an additional challenge when you 100% complete the game which I enjoyed quite a bit. I highly recommend fully exploring this game, because you will be rewarded.
The music in the entire game is wonderful and uses many different instruments to create the sense that Woolly World is a very big place. Acoustic guitar plays cheerfully when you start the game and walk around the overworld, and each World has its own unique music on the map reflecting the mood of that area. Inside the levels light-hearted melodies will play in the sunshine, and the woolly bass will drop some sweet grooves when you go inside a cave or dungeon. There’s so much depth to this soundtrack, and many tracks that only played in one specific level or section that took me off guard.
One level in particular in World 5 almost made me cry. It’s become my favourite level ever in a videogame and one of the most powerful examples of game design I can present to anybody. If you don’t want to hear me describe (and potentially spoil) the specifics of this level, just skip to the next paragraph. Up Shuttlethread Pass sees Yoshi traveling upwards through the level, exploring two sides of it through doors and moving platforms to get higher and higher. The music opens with a big calm “space” inside it, as gentle notes strum a nice calm rhythm. The melody gradually gets higher until a new instrument kicks in and pierces through the space, sending chills through your body. Suddenly the big calm space fades and the melody is left there by itself, like a lonely Yoshi looking for its friends. It’s a spiritual journey. Yoshi’s been forced to grow up and travel through this harsh climate, but accepts it happily because that’s what Yoshis do. The top can’t be much further. Everything will be fine so we may as well enjoy it. The instruments in this song are never used again in the game, but they wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Without saying a word, Yoshi’s Woolly World gave me one of the most profound videogame experiences I’ve ever had.
The Amiibo feature is not something I found necessary to enjoy the game at all, but this is exactly how I think Amiibo implementation should be done. No major content, just a simple skin that lets you represent your favourite characters. I deployed Samus Yoshi to explore scary places, while Yoshi Kong tackled the climbing levels. The movement of the character does not change at all, it’s just an aesthetic difference. It might seem inconsistent to play as so many different Yoshis, but this is just how the Yoshis do things. They have been in it together ever since the Yoshis all worked together to carry Baby Mario through Yoshi’s Island. That’s ANOTHER thing I’m grateful for in Woolly World, there’s no baby screaming when you get hit. Only happy noises in Woolly World. Finding all 5 woolly capsules in each level will knit a Yoshi back together, and discovering new patterns is one of the delights of this game. My favourite Yoshis outside the Amiibo were Apple Yoshi, Trousers Yoshi and a few more I won’t spoil. As you progress through the game and unlock more Yoshis, they start to populate the overworld and it makes me so happy to see them all together.
Multiplayer is a big feature of this game, and I’ve never played it so I can’t comment. I can confirm that the level design never felt compromised by this. New Super Mario games sometimes gave you a bit too much room, but the design here remains tight and focused throughout the game. Mellow Mode is another thing I didn’t use much, but it was amusing to try out once. You lose the ability to flutter jump, but Yoshi gains wings and can float forever doing infinite normal jumps in the air. Yoshi’s sound effects are also much happier, as the flutter struggle “hnggennnngh” is replaced with a joyous “bapapapapatutum!”. It’s a very important change so kids trying to play this game will feel happy and encouraged. Mellow Mode is also great for game journalists who have no time to do their jobs properly.
The ending of each level has another nice touch. The camera pans to the side just so you can see the goal in 3D. This is important because you can fire yarn balls into the goal and finish the level in style. Okay, that does absolutely nothing but there’s ANOTHER reason! The ring rotates through the gems and flowers, and if it stops on a flower when you pass through it, you enter a bonus game. This means you have full control over whether or not you see a bonus game. Something a lot of people including myself found VERY annoying in the original game. The bonus game itself is also pretty fun, just a quick gameplay room where you collect fruit. In Yoshi’s Island you had boring scratch cards and slots you had to slowly scratch away, it took forever and added nothing. This is something you wouldn’t care about unless you’d played a lot of Yoshi, but I have played a lot of Yoshi so it’s important to mention here. Enemies also explode in the air (turning into health or gems) as you pass a checkpoint or jump into the finish line, a physical representation of your troubles disappearing.
I want to end this by talking about the significance of this game on a broader scale. There have been a lot of good platformers released this generation, by Indie developers and other companies, but nothing truly as polished as Nintendo’s efforts on Wii U. It’s a simple fact that this game was lucky enough to have a GREAT development environment. A big budget and long development time is not just for graphical polish, as much as Ubisoft and Rockstar’s shitty controlling games would suggest otherwise. With 5 years of development, Yoshi’s mechanics have been finely tuned to feel woolly, flexible, and unique. Instead of copying Yoshi’s Island mechanics, these feel like they’ve been built from scratch with the same core principles in mind. As a result it has that exciting “new game” feel even though I was comfortable with the controls straight away. For a similar example of this approach, look at how Retro Studios created a new feel for the Donkey Kong Country games, while keeping the roll jump and DK’s weighty walk. This is exactly how a sequel should be done because it draws from the foundation and gives the developers room to expand on it with everything they’ve learned in recent years, and utilise their own strengths when designing levels. It’s so rare to play platformers or 2D action games like this anymore, and Nintendo is the only big company taking them seriously. I am very grateful for that and I want to hug everyone on the development team for sticking with this. There are so many things about modern Nintendo games people take for granted, so I feel like this was an important point to bring up. They are keeping TRUE world class gameplay alive with games like DKC:TF and Yoshi’s Woolly World.
To offer final thoughts on this game, I’m just so happy it exists. It makes me happy. I look at the box and I’m happy. I see my woolly Yoshi Amiibo in the corner of my eye and I feel happy. Somebody makes a tweet about playing it, and I feel happy. It’s a proper sequel to Yoshi’s Island that brings those awesome mechanics into a whole new world. If you think Nintendo makes too many 2D platformers, then you’re missing out on one the best genres in gaming and one of the very foundations of console gaming. I’m so grateful for Yoshi’s Woolly World and will be playing it for years to come, much like I played through Yoshi’s Island to get hyped in the lead-up to this. I don’t know if this game will find sales success, but I don’t think it really matters. It’s the kind of game that connects with everyone who does play it, and will turn your heart to yarn if you play it through to the end.