For 20 years, fans of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island have been patiently waiting for a worthy successor. Though the floaty, egg-centric platformer has gone on to inspire an entire series of follow-ups, none have been able to recapture the precise chemistry of the original, until now. After decades of underwhelming ports, spinoffs and sequels, Yoshi has finally found another leading role that rivals his cherished solo debut.

Warning: The following text may contain certain terms (e.g. adorable, sweet, fuzzy) whose excessive use some readers may find objectionable.

Stuffed with detail

It turns out that Yoshi is a perfect fit for Nintendo’s recent art projects masquerading as video games. Kirby’s Epic Yarn on the Wii took the lovable pink puff and somehow made his world even more adorable and inviting than it’s ever been. More recently, he was molded into an almost tangible lump of clay in the visually stunning Kirby and the Rainbow Curse for Wii U. Despite the decidedly modest power of Nintendo’s recent consoles, these craft-inspired worlds are some of the most gorgeous of their respective generations.

In Yoshi’s Woolly World, Mario’s trusty sidekick (sorry, Luigi) is given the textile makeover. Leveraging artistic strength and the Wii U’s capable hardware, this plush aesthetic could easily be confused for a real craft table. Ambient light illuminates the frayed fuzz surrounding Yoshi’s knit body and the yarn balls that trail behind him. Pins hold platforms together, yarn shy guys wield crochet hooks and colorful buttons and sequins litter the world’s hand-stitched decor. You can almost feel Yoshi’s feet sinking into the soft terrain as he squishes his way through each stage.

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Being a plush toy made of yarn comes with some practical advantages for Yoshi, too. Parts of his body can unwind and reconfigure themselves on the fly, allowing him to adapt to various situations and terrain. He’ll become a literal mallet to perform a ground pound, produce a propeller to execute his famous flutter jump or swim, and even trade his fuzzy boots for ice skates on occasion.

In an era when gaming is dominated by dim color palettes, brooding characters and bleak narratives, Yoshi and his Woolly World stand in adorable defiance. They also illustrate that impressive visuals are as much a product of good art direction as they are horsepower.

Gameplay

Crafting a world that looks good enough to reach out and touch is one thing, but making that space fun and rewarding to explore is something different entirely. Thankfully, Yoshi’s Woolly World is easily as enjoyable to play as it is to fawn over. And with an optional ‘Mellow Mode’ that gives Yoshi extra health and wings, players of any age or skill level are welcome.

Yoshi’s signature sticky tongue and egg toss remain the game’s central mechanics. We’ve seen these conventions poked and prodded for years now, but they’ve never been so naturally and effortlessly evolved as they have in Woolly World. Colorful balls of yarn are Yoshi’s new projectile of choice, and rather than simply being a way to knock out obstacles and take down enemies, they’ve become a key to the game’s traversal and exploration. Throwing a yarn ball at a wireframe platform or warp pipe will speed-knit it into an interactive object. Conversely, Yoshi’s tongue can be used not only to slurp up enemies for yarn ammunition, but to tug at loose threads and unwind pieces of the environment to reveal secrets and collectibles.

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This exploration is a vital part of Woolly World, as the basic level progression skews a bit on the easy side. Most of the 60+ levels won’t take a platformer veteran more than a couple attempts each to complete. But in typical Yoshi’s Island fashion, every one of them is packed with collectibles, making Woolly World either a completionist’s best friend or worst nightmare. If you’re looking for a serious challenge in this sweet, lighthearted game, here it is. None of this collecting feels like a chore, though, because the game’s loose threads and crumpled fabrics are all just begging to be tugged and squished.

Collecting the jewels, yarn skeins and flowers hidden in each level yields a wide variety of rewards. These prizes range from secret levels and equippable power-up badges to Miiverse stamps and alternate patterns to customize Yoshi. Additionally, most amiibo can be scanned to unlock character-themed Yoshi patterns. (He looks surprisingly appropriate with overalls and a mustache.)

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Yoshi’s signature transformation sequences are back, as well, and they feel right at home in Woolly World. Some of the game’s most frantic, joyous and charming moments come when Yoshi is rewoven into a motorcycle or sprouts a fish tail to channel Sonic the Hedgehog or Ecco the Dolphin. There are plenty more of these transformations, but I’ll zip it, because the surprise is half the fun.

Every level of Woolly World brings some new, interesting mechanic or idea to shake up the gameplay. You may find yourself escorting a wayward chain chomp to destroy obstacles or clinging to a curtain as it sails through a waterfall-lined jungle. No two levels look, feel or play in exactly the same way, always making it exciting to see what new twist each stage will bring.

Bosses

Yoshi’s Island has long been revered for its creative boss encounters. Rocky the Raven– a dizzying duel atop a free-floating planetoid– is a tough act to top, but Woolly World absolutely holds its own on the boss front.

The dastardly Magikoopa, Kamek, reprises his role as antagonist-for-hire by capturing Yoshis and super sizing various enemies to stop our green hero– the one that got away. Kamek’s magic will have you facing off against giant Koopa Troopas and Monty Moles, as well as some completely new, and utterly adorable, challengers. One encounter in particular is a strong contender for my favorite in the series. For the sake of surprise, let’s just say there’s more than one little shop of horrors.

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Co-op

Co-op play is designed specifically to see who your real friends are. More often than not, I found myself deliberately sucking up my partner, turning them into an egg, and throwing them to their doom in a pit below. This may sound terrible, but I assure you it’s not a bad thing. Some of the most enjoyable moments in Yoshi’s Woolly World involve sharing the thrill of uncovering a secret with a friend or delivering the final blow to a massive boss while jumping up and down on the head of your partner. I’ve shared more laughs and sighs of anguish playing co-op in this game than any other Nintendo game in recent memory. As fun as it is playing the campaign alone, adding a friend to the mix makes it that much more enjoyable. Co-op play also makes some of the more challenging platforming levels in this game much easier. The game will continue as long as one Yoshi remains alive. With the ability to respawn after about ten seconds, I found many levels that I struggled with in single player to be a cinch with a partner.

For those people who are unable to play the game with a friend, tapping a Yarn Yoshi amiibo on the GamePad will grant you the power of Double Yoshi. While Double Yoshi does not have the same appeal as playing with a real person, it’s still fun to control two adorable Yoshi at once.

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Soft melodies

Woolly World’s soundtrack is as easy on the ears as the its graphics are on the eyes. From the mellow guitar and piano that greet you on the first loading screen, every moment is filled with melody that perfectly invokes its setting. Breezy beaches come with bright, sunny tunes, and spooky castles feature appropriately chilling orchestrations. And, of course, you’ll hear a handful of freshly rearranged series classics, as well. From start to finish, this adventure packs a huge assortment of incredibly thoughtful and beautifully performed arrangements.

Final thoughts

This series within a series within a series brings the best ideas of at least three fantastic platformers together in one fuzzy package. When you’re not smiling from ear to ear, you’re intently scouring every seam of this game for its hidden rewards. The look, feel, and sound of Yoshi’s Woolly World combine perfectly to bring the Wii U one of its best platformers yet, and to prove that there’s still plenty of ways to charm and engage players cut from every cloth within this well-worn genre.

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9.0
  • Irresistibly adorable
  • Packed with secrets
  • Great boss fights
  • A bit too easy

Written by Brittin Shauers

Brittin literally grew up with Link, Mario and Samus. These three characters and their worlds collectively capture everything that he loves about video games.

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