The Yoshi series has always been pushing the visual envelope when it comes to creatively portraying its game worlds, something it began with the crayon-drawn worlds of Yoshi’s Island and continued with the pop-up book world of Yoshi’s Story and the odd watercolors and pastels of Yoshi’s New Island. However, no matter where these stories went, the beautiful set dressing seemed to be a stylistic telling rather than a true ingredient of the game world, but when Yoshi’s Woolly World hit the scene, Good-Feel gave us a beautiful world of wool that uses it as such an integral part of the design it would be hard to separate the gameplay and aesthetic.
It’s certainly hard to imagine how the story would work without the wool, given that it begins with the evil wizard Kamek literally unraveling the woolen Yoshis so he can bring back the yarn to his master Baby Bowser. The few yarn Yoshis who avoided such a fate pursue Kamek though, the koopa wizard dropping yarn in his escape that scatters all across the cloth worlds you’ll be adventuring through. Everything in the game is rendered to be believable as a real life object, the Yoshis at the center not just having the texture of wool but the odd fuzziness to them to that leads to small almost imperceptible fibers poking out from their bodies. The ground, due to its cloth nature, tends to have a little give when pressure it applied to it by new weight, clouds can be patches stitched onto a blue sky, water and lava are created with strings and folded cloth, and buttons and sewing needles are added to objects like trees and bushes to further cement this commitment to it all looking like a world a really devoted craftsman could make in real life. Backing this all up with a mix of calm and energetic music as the situation demands, and even before you factor in the gameplay, Yoshi’s Woolly World is full of wonderful sights and places you’ll want to explore just because of their commitment to having everything rooted in this design choice.
Even the gameplay evolves from the use of yarn and other craft materials. Yoshi himself carries over the skills he has had since his solo journeys began, the adorable dinosaur having a jump and a flutter jump that can be repeated to clear more distance and gives an initial boost of height. Along with that, you can expect a ground pound for dealing with more dangerous enemies or affecting the environment, but most enemies can be simply jumped on to dispense with them. The real way you’ll defeat most enemies though relates to a new take on the staple Yoshi game mechanic of eating enemies and converting them into eggs you can throw. When Yoshi’s licks something up with his long tongue this time around, it unravels them into balls of yarn that he can throw, these having a plethora of uses over the course of the game. It doesn’t have to be enemies you eat for these either, levels giving you boxes to get yarn from and environmental objects are sometimes available for unraveling as well, there even being large yarn ball variants that can continue flying after they’ve hit an enemy. While you can only have so many balls with you at once, their usefulness means you’ll always be looking for ways to use them and ways to replenish their supply, these not just being an arsenal but a way to influence the level. Wool can be used to stitch together new platforms, pop open clouds that will alter the level, collect items, and tying up stronger enemies so you can then squish them after. With the freedom to aim them, these are also perfect for the game’s more puzzling elements, making it a strong versatile mechanic the game can continue to imagine new uses for as you play.
The cloth world also influences many level gimmicks. Across the six worlds, you’ll do things like walk on cotton smoke trails made as exhaust by a flying bullet enemy, ride curtains as they slide along at high speeds down their rods, traverse mobiles as they tip about, and even interact with cookie platforms. The creativity in how to introduce new objects and then find uses for them in the world continues to impress even in the later levels, but then there are levels that just use normal gimmicks like ice levels or mazelike layouts to still feel distinct without playing too hard into the craft style. While most levels contain a final bonus level that is designed as the hardest of the bunch, most of these stages, despite some interesting gimmicks to their platforming, are pretty easy, but it is the bonus content that helps make Yoshi’s Woolly World into something a bit more meaty for those looking for a challenge. Each stage will have plenty of extra goals beyond completion, these being to collect 5 smiling flowers, 20 special beads, and the five bundles of yarn that will combine to form a new pattern option for your Yoshi. Some of these secrets amount to just finding invisible question mark clouds that contain items by jumping into every possible corner they could be hiding in, but most of these items are reasonably placed and just require a bit more adept jumping or use of wool balls to acquire.
Trying to get everything in a level turns it into a more legitimate challenge without detracting from the general happy vibe the game gives off, and even if you struggle, there are ways to deal with even the baseline difficulty. Mellow Mode is a mode great for young players, Yoshis getting wings to avoid platforming troubles and a co-op mode allowing a pal to come along and help out. Death in general can be recovered from with checkpoints pretty well, although having full life at the end of the stage is another challenge for more skilled players to pursue despite not providing true rewards like the flowers and yarn bundles do. While Mellow Mode might be a swing too far towards easiness for some players, you can also spend the regular beads that are floating all around the different levels to get special Power Badges to help you out for a stage. For people looking for secrets, things like the power to make the invisible question mark clouds appear can help you out, but you can also enter a level with a badge to make watermelons appear that Yoshi can eat to have a reliable seed-spitting offensive power. Power Badges can disable the damage you’d take from falling down pits or touching fire, can magnetize beads and items towards Yoshi, or even just have him be joined by the dog Poochy even though it doesn’t really do much outside of its devoted level areas.
While the levels continue to innovate and introduce new gimmicks that are easy to learn in the span of their brief appearance, the bosses are a stranger mix. Each area has two boss levels, the middle ones deciding to repeat the same two bosses in an alternating pattern. Big Montgomery the giant mole and the giant flying turtle Knot-Wing the Koopa keep serving as these midway bosses, and despite having a new trick or two on their repeat encounters, the battles don’t feel all too different and feel like squandered opportunities to come up with more enemies who can make creative use of the game’s cloth concepts. The more unique bosses like the fire-spitting Bunson the Hot Dog and the spiky plant Naval Piranha feel like more traditional boss battles as well rather than embracing the cloth aesthetic, but these end-of-world bosses at least feature different battle designs that make for decent fights. Even regular enemies like Pharaoh Guys who knit themselves together after being defeated or the Snag-Stitches who get embedded in walls when hit make more use of crafted concepts than the bosses, so much so that enemies can sometimes have their gimmick guide a whole level’s design if its versatile enough.
Transformations also seem to be more of a carryover from older games than something adjusted for this title’s world. In certain segments of the game, Yoshi will be restitched into a new shape such as a mole, mermaid, or motorcycle, gameplay shifting to accommodate that new shape’s controls. The mole needs to dig its way through spongy rocks, the motorcycle is a high speed platforming segment, and things like Mega Yoshi are just a supersized power trip, but these are mostly just diversions, sometimes not even being required and important collectibles often not too plentiful in these small segments. Like the bosses though, these are mostly decent but aren’t quite as creative with their designs, the extra options for challenge in the platforming segments rarely appearing for these bosses or transformations.
THE VERDICT: A creative and charming world was created for Yoshi’s woolly adventure, the cloth and craft materials that built the world also coming up as plenty of interesting level gimmicks and game mechanics to take the ball-throwing platforming to new and interesting places. Yoshi’s Woolly World crafts lovely levels that will please younger players and challenge those looking to get all the collectables thanks to strong fundamentals enhanced through the flexible difficulty options, but this delightful adventure isn’t all happy music and cute visuals. The boss recycling and straightforward designs of the transformation segments let down the other segments of play, but there’s still a journey here for someone looking for a relaxing platformer or one with plenty of extras to spice up the already varied level designs.
And so, I give Yoshi’s Woolly World for Wii U…
A GREAT rating. If it hadn’t struggled to include the Yoshi’s Island elements of mid-area bosses and transformations, Yoshi’s Woolly World wouldn’t have really had much holding back its wonderful mix of imaginative obstacles and creative action elements. It is easy to play if you’re focused on just beating levels, but the classic concept of including extra content to make things more challenging and adding more depth to a stage certainly makes the journey more exciting despite some of the simplicity to the base design. Every level is a different experience by bringing in new uses of the design aesthetic, and while that may make the lives of these formerly fleshy beings seem incompatible with the broader series, it definitely justifies it with the commitment to its theme. Throwing the wool balls would have already been a pretty versatile way to design the puzzling side of completing stages, but everything is taken further when enemies and environmental objects start having their own craft-related mechanics to figure out and engage with.
There is perhaps no better name for the developers behind this game than the one they have. Good-Feel has created a game that’s just a joyful little experience devoted to being fun rather than too tough, its levels designed to make you curious and excited for what might come up next. It’s a shame some of that stopped short when they had to pull in Yoshi series staples, but it’s not enough to weaken the good feeling the bright worlds, delightful sounds, and interplay of mechanics combine to make.