Yoshi’s Woolly World is a decided triumph of aesthetics over innovation. That sounds like a negative, but I don’t really mean it that way. Woolly World doesn’t really do anything new; it is essentially the same as Yoshi’s New Island which was essentially the same as Yoshi’s Island. Even its look is not wholly original; it is the same as Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, which was also developed by GoodFeel. While the gameplay doesn’t push any boundaries or even attempt to do so, the yarn aesthetic goes far beyond what was done in Epic Yarn.
The biggest and most effective change from previous Yoshi games to this one is that it ditches baby Mario. That is no great loss, baby Mario was terrible. With him on Yoshi’s back, the game stops gets significantly less frustrating. Now a hit is just a hit, not an excuse for to hear the only noise more terrible than Yoshi’s own cry. Other than that change, Yoshi’s Woolly World sticks pretty close to what Yoshi’s Island did.
Woolly World’s brilliance is how it reinterprets every element of the game to fit into its yarn aesthetic. Yoshi and most of the enemies are made out of yarn. Instead of eating enemies and turning them into eggs, they become balls of yarn. That yarn can then be used to fill in platforms and hidden pipes. The Koopa Troopa’s shells are made of buttons. How effective the game is in making each of its enemies fit into the game’s look is astounding.
It is not just the enemies, though. The whole world is made of yarn. Clouds are cotton balls. Other objects are made of wooden spools and towels. It makes for a world that appears completely thought out and crafted. The game is just a joy to look at. Whether or not the WiiU is underpowered, Yoshi’s Woolly World is one of the best looking games of the year.
While the most striking part of the game may be the graphics, it plays good as well. It has a nice smooth difficulty curve, starting out fairly easy and working its way up to maddeningly difficult. All the stages have a handful of hidden items to find that gives the games several levels of challenge without having express difficulty level. Getting through each stage is rarely all that difficult. What makes it hard, and satisfying, is trying to find the five hidden flowers and yarn spools hidden in each level, let alone the twenty hidden stamps. Some of the game’s tricks for hiding things are not particularly enjoyable, but the game is mostly a joy.
Nintendo pumps out these nearly great platformers as a matter of form. Yoshi’s Woolly World isn’t great. It’s not Super Mario 3D World or Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze. It is more on the level of New Super Mario Bros. This is a game made by people with a strong understanding of how this genre works. It isn’t pushing the genre forward; it is content to merely be an outstanding example of this kind of game. In a very slow fall, that is all it needs to be.