Yoshi's Woolly World Review
A stylish and charming platformer that essentially feels like Yoshi's Island with yarn
Yoshi’s Woolly World is another in a long line of recent platforming nostalgic throwbacks that have become somewhat of a trend for Nintendo games in recent years. And much like many others of its ilk, it reminds us why we enjoyed these classics back in the day, with its majestic fantasy setting that transports us to another world, and its focus on pure gaming fun, rather than gritty realism, overly complex control schemes, and/or endless narratives riddled with a bombardment of dialogue.
Though with that said, just because Yoshi’s Woolly World largely resembles and emulates memorable games of the past, doesn’t necessarily make it one itself. The attribute of nostalgia certainly has its positives - after all, the game that Woolly World tries to imitate so much, Yoshi’s Island, was a Super NES classic and is still a blast to play. And much like that game, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t somewhat enjoy playing as Mario’s dino companion once again as I ventured through mystical settings, eating up strange looking enemies and converting them into deadly egg arterially, which I used to fire at other baddies that stood in my way. However, Woolly World perhaps tries a little too hard in catering to the old Yoshi’s Island fans, rather than act as a unique, standalone game. Many of the elements throughout, from the familiar quirky enemies and bosses, to some of the platforming elements, to the overall feel of the game, come across at times as more like an homage to the 90’s classic with a new twist rather than a truly unique game.
This notion may come as a surprise to many, since the game at least appears to be unique at first glance, with cutesy and stylized aesthetics that center around the idea of the characteristics of yarn. And indeed, this visual style is quite charming and overall a joy to look at, with vibrant colors and surprisingly crisp detail that appears to come straight from a children’s storybook. Yet, once you’ve unraveled and stripped away the artistic fluff, the core gameplay is essentially Yoshi’s Island with a few added gimmicks here and there.
What we’re left with is largely a nostalgic throwback which, when boiled down to its gameplay essence, is merely “ok” and mildly enjoyable, at least when ruling out the simultaneous multiplayer co-op, which I will delve into later. Even as a major fan of the aforementioned SNES classic, I found the moments of boredom outweigh those of joy and exhilaration. This is perhaps because of the simplicity of the gameplay, coupled with the overall slow pace throughout, which slows down even further when attempting to engage in the scavenger hunt of gathering all of the items carefully hidden and scattered amongst the stages. The quirky graphic style attempts to compensate for the familiar, and at times dull gameplay, and much like developer Good-Feel’s other Nintendo platformer, Kirby’s Epic Yarn on Wii, feels like it is largely adhering to the recent Nintendo trend of style over substance.
This is not to say that Yoshi’s Woolly World isn’t enjoyable at times, or that it doesn’t do its own thing in certain aspects when it comes to gameplay mechanics - it is just that they generally feel a bit gimmicky and tacked-on. The yarn concept does make for some interesting ideas, which are utilized creatively here and there, though more often than not I felt them to be unnecessary and forced. Among these new mechanics is the ability to shoot yarn balls (which, for all intents and purposes, essentially act in the same manner as the eggs from Yoshi’s Island) to “fill up” the outlines of certain platforms to progress. You can also yank pieces of loose string in key areas to “unravel” certain yarn-knitted walls and unveil hidden passageways which are often rife with more collectibles. Finally, shooting yarn balls at certain enemies, like the piranha, will not instantly take them out, but rather tie them up in a tangle of yarn and leave them vulnerable. While these elements succeed in making for some creative puzzle elements, they achieve little in terms of providing much enjoyment or real depth to the gameplay. There is also the obligatory amiibo support, which merely provides you with some amusing Yoshi skins, and allows you to essentially play as two Yoshi’s, which doesn’t really help much anyway as your amiibo companion mainly just mimics the moves you make.
The stages themselves often feel a bit tedious and uninspired as well, once you’ve gotten over the aforementioned gimmicks. There are some exceptions of course - including an exhilarating fast-paced stage which has you swinging around and traveling on a single string of yarn, a trippy experience that forces you to travel across smoke trails left by bullet bills, and a ghost house that only reveals platforms and behind moving curtains. Though, a good portion of the stages felt a bit shallow and uninteresting, and most of the overworlds familiar to even the casual platforming gamer. In all fairness, the game does get more exciting and interesting as you progress, and begins to show some semblance of difficulty too.
Much like Epic Yarn, throughout the vast majority of the game there is a lighthearted, almost serenading feel to it all, as it is quite easy-going on the player for the most part, offering little in the way of obstacles and danger. In this sense, the cutesy visuals, along with the cheery and simplistic tunes, certainly complement the gameplay. As long as you’re well stocked on eggs, er.. “yarn balls”, just fire away, and you’ll likely have very little that stands out as a genuine threat. This simplicity is further driven home by the addition of “mellow mode”, which is essentially the same experience as classic mode, aside from the fact that Yoshi is granted wings, which provide him with the ability to literally breeze across the stage. It is a neat idea I suppose, if you want to make an already simple game even less stressful, though it seems a bit unnecessary as the elements within the stages do not change, and you can still be killed. It also doesn’t particularly make the often tedious task of gathering collectibles that much easier anyway.
Indeed, the aforementioned collectible items are where the vast majority of the difficulty in this game comes from - and even then, it tends to be in the form of head-scratching puzzle elements rather than traditional adrenaline-pumping platforming gameplay. They generally require a very keen eye from the player, and a whole lot of patience as you often find yourself backtracking, amping up the frustration levels by a surprisingly large amount. On a positive note, Nintendo has given at least some incentive to seek these treasures out, as most of them offer some sort of fun use within the game aside from just bragging rights.
Each level comes with five flowers, which are put towards unlocking a noticeably more difficult secret stage in each of the six worlds, as well as stamp patches - basically the Woolly World equivalent of red coins, that help you earn stamps which can be pasted onto miiverse posts. There is also the neat feature of unlocking a plethora of colorful and unique Yoshi yarn “skins” by means of collecting five yarn rolls per level. Finally, there are the seemingly randomly earned “power badges” which you can purchase via gems, acting as a sort of powerup or cheat code that can make it easier on Yoshi to complete a course and/or effectively gather more coveted collectibles. These elements help to flesh out an overall simplistic 2D platforming experience, and add a little variety. Adding further to this variety is the occasional portion of certain stages that transforms Yoshi in one way or another, ranging from an umbrella that can float about, to a mermaid that can swim and spiral his way across underwater depths. Just like in Yoshi’s Island, these sublevel portions help break the tedium and present the player with unique gameplay, almost acting as separate mini-games.
At the end of the day, I did have a good time with this quirky platformer overall. It certainly does a lot of things right, from the pretty and unique visuals, to the tight and responsive controls that are relatively easy to get acquainted to, to the memorable enemies both old and new. At least if you plan on gathering items, Yoshi’s Woolly World will provide a relatively nice balance of simplicity and depth. While it can feel like a bit of a chore to backtrack to prior levels gathering these collectibles at times, it nonetheless helps to flesh out the game and boosts its difficulty by a wide margin. Yet, when playing through Woolly World, I often couldn’t help but find myself simply yearning to go back and play the Super NES predecessor from which this is largely centered around, and that usually isn’t a great sign in a video game.
The true saving-grace of Woolly World, however, is its co-op multiplayer. One of the few attributes that this title actually excels in over its SNES predecessor (aside from the welcomed absence of that insufferably annoying baby Mario), is the ability to play simultaneous multiplayer with a friend. I found this to be a noticeable leap in fun over the single player campaign, and it adds a heavy dose of both excitement and replayability to the experience.
While I was initially a bit bummed that the game only permits two players rather than four, I quickly realized why the decision was made, and it was probably the correct one. For as much as having a Yoshi companion at your side can help you in taking out enemies and snatch items up more quickly and effectively, they can also tend to get in your way more often than you’d like. The stages often feel a bit cramped, even for two players, and it seems apparent that most weren’t particularly designed with multiple players in mind. This can lead to sometimes humorous, but nonetheless frustrating incidents of one player being killed or letting key items fall out of reach as a result of the other (either maliciously or accidentally) sabotaging them, by smacking them with an egg, converting them into one, or even the mere act of bouncing off their head. Still, the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to the multiplayer, and you probably won’t care much about progressing very far anyway, as you’ll be getting some laughs and having a good time in the process.
The addictive multiplayer is certainly a great feature that helps give the game some more life, and even the more minor additions like the unlockable Yoshi skins in each level make a somewhat dull experience more amusing. The yarn graphic style is pretty to gaze upon, and the yarn-centered gimmicks add a degree of uniqueness to a genre which has gotten a bit stale. You will likely find at least some joy in this one if you’re a diehard Yoshi’s Island fan or a 2D platforming buff, particularly if you are planning on burning through the multiplayer with a friend, yet it is difficult to recommend to most gamers outside those key audiences, at least at full price.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is a decent game in its own right, though it relies a bit much on nostalgia, is lacking somewhat in the depth department, and tends to feel either too simple when disregarding the somewhat unnecessary collectibles, or too frustrating when seeking them out. The ways in which the game does truly excel (the multiplayer, the vibrant art style, and the collectible Yoshi skins) are more peripheral aspects rather than the core of the gameplay itself. Opt for the original SNES classic first, but if you’ve already played it to death and are seeking a similar experience with a new overlay, perhaps you will find some enjoyment in Woolly World.