All images are courtesy of Nintendo.
The central character is one of Nintendo’s most playful creations and, aside from Yoshi’s New Island for the 3DS, hasn’t had a game to himself for several years. Hence, Yoshi’s Woolly World marks a welcome return to the forefront of major console gaming for Mario’s delightful dino pal.
Nintendo’s decision to darn Yoshi and give his world a knitwear aesthetic means that the game’s appearance, while not unique (Kirby’s Epic Yarn, originally released for the Wii, is set in a fabric universe), is distinctively charming. If Yoshi’s Woolly World doesn’t get your grandma to pick up a controller, nothing will.
When the game starts you are asked to specify whether you are playing with the Wii U GamePad or a Pro Controller. Classic Wii remotes are also an option but not recommended because of the awkward arrangement of buttons. You also get to pick whether you want to play as a pink, green or blue knitted Yoshi (other colors are available in the game if you have amiibo toys).
The game has two difficulty settings called Classic Mode and Mellow Mode. The latter is essentially an Easy setting and accordingly provides advantages for less capable players, such as giving Yoshi small wings that allow him to fly further. Yet, because platformers are as much about a player’s ability to solve puzzles as their agility with a controller, Mellow Mode doesn’t make it substantially easier to progress.
Once you get into the game itself, a short 3D intro sets up the adventure. The evil Kamek, minion of Bowser, comes to Yoshi’s knitted island, turns most of his friends to balls of wool and makes off with them. Yoshi sets off in pursuit. To recover the yarn and save his friends, Yoshi must travel to several islands, each of which has an entrance to one of the game’s 2D levels.
Within these levels, gameplay conforms to the standard side-scrolling platformer format. You guide Yoshi between levels by jumping on, or flying between, stationary, moving and bouncing platforms. Along the way Yoshi can eat enemies - of which numerous will be familiar to fans of Mario-related games - by shooting out his tongue. For every enemy he eats, Yoshi can poop out a ball of wool. His balls (of wool) can then be used as a projectile to put Piranha Plants to sleep, shoot down targets and solidify nebulous platforms. Additional balls can be collected from baskets along the way.
In order to get maximum points on any level, Yoshi has to collect gems, release and collect tiny white chicks, find yarn and open up secret or locked levels. Sometimes gems are hidden behind woolen walls that Yoshi has to push or pull open. Spotting these and the tricks that reveal bonus achievements generally provide the game’s biggest challenges. Most of these puzzles and the physical obstacles blocking Yoshi's path will not be difficult for the casual gamer to overcome. There are several head-scratchers, however, and kids will find the game provides an education in co-ordination, timing and geometry.
Although, the gameplay in Yoshi’s Woolly World is conventional stuff, it’s never boring thanks to the wonderfully imaginative and colorful faux-yarn environments in which the action takes place. The music can get tedious if you are not the one playing and it would be nice to have some way to turn it off. When you are focused on the game itself, though, the tune's repetitiveness makes it easy to ignore.
Yoshi’s Woolly World also offers the options of co-operative play with a partner and amiibo compatibility. These both open up additional features that help Yoshi along. The adorable Yarn Yoshi amiibo that Nintendo has released to accompany the game, for example, unlocks Double Yoshi mode, while amiibos of other characters give Yoshi a skin consistent with the chosen character’s coloring.
Unfortunately, there is no real advantage to playing with a Wii U GamePad because the accelerometer in not employed. This is not surprising given that Yoshi’s Woolly World takes place largely in a 2D landscape. Nonetheless, it would be nice if a developer could find some new spin on the genre that takes advantage of the Wii U’s motion detection capabilities. Nor does the GamePad offer other benefits, such as the ability to quickly review achievements while the game world is showing on an external display.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a family-friendly video game better suited to the coming winter than Yoshi’s Woolly World. Its visuals will brighten up even the dullest days and gameplay mechanics are well within the capabilities of players young and old. If you are looking for something to do when the cold keeps you indoors, Yoshi’s Woolly World should give you a warm feeling.
TMR Rating: 4/5
NOTE: A copy of Yoshi’s Woolly World was provided for this review by Nintendo upon request.