Yoshi’s Woolly World

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What are all these gems do­ing here? These sparkly pick­ups surely have no place in a world whose ev­ery fi­bre and in­hab­i­tant is made of craft ma­te­ri­als. Yet here they are, glim­mer­ing invit­ingly, sug­gest­ing routes be­tween plat­forms and tucked away be­hind knit­ted false walls. They’re not just aes­thet­i­cally in­ap­pro­pri­ate, but me­chan­i­cally irk­some, with one gem in each large group con­tain­ing one of the 20 Mi­iverse stamps wo­ven through­out the level, stamps be­ing one of four item types to be fully har­vested from each stage if you want a 100 per cent rat­ing.

With no way of know­ing which gem holds the stamp un­til you col­lect it, all you can do is seek out ev­ery last crys­tal. Yoshi’s games have long played at a more leaden pace than Mario’s, and they tend to prize me­thod­i­cal ex­plo­ration over a sprint to the fin­ish line. In 1995, as a novel twist on plat­form game con­ven­tions, it worked. Here, a slow pace feels more en­forced than en­cour­aged, and the knowl­edge that miss­ing one col­lectible brings the same re­sult as miss­ing the lot of them pro­vides less and less in­cen­tive to ex­plore as things progress.

That’s largely be­cause the process of ex­plo­ration it­self is un­sat­is­fy­ing. You must jump at ev­ery wall to see if it’s a false one. You need to hold the but­ton down to gain a lit­tle bit of lift and ex­tra air­time, bump­ing Yoshi’s head into ceil­ing af­ter ceil­ing as you search ev­ery cor­ner for a hid­den cloud with a ques­tion mark on it. When an arrow tells you to go up, you must first go left, right and down, leav­ing no thread un­mo­lested, no po­ten­tially break­able sur­face not ground-pounded, no woolly wall not licked, no nook or cranny un­ex­plored as you seek out yet another thing to tick off a list. And you’d bet­ter do it all with­out tak­ing a hit, too, since your stock of hearts will be tot­ted up at level’s end and fac­tored into your rat­ing as well.

These el­e­ments are, ad­mit­tedly, in­her­ent to the Yoshi de­sign doc­u­ment, and dic­tated in large part by his moveset. Those stubby, scrab­bling lit­tle legs that slow an al­ready leisurely jump arc; that ground pound; that ex­tend­able tongue gob­bling up en­e­mies to be turned into throw­able eggs: Yoshi has never been built for grace or speed, and the ab­sence here of a run but­ton fur­ther takes the lat­ter out of the equa­tion. But here that fa­mil­iar moveset sig­nals a missed op­por­tu­nity. Yoshi will al­ways be Yoshi just as Mario will al­ways be Mario, but Yoshi’s Woolly World’s aes­thetic presents its de­vel­op­ers with an op­tion to freshen things up. It’s an op­por­tu­nity squan­dered more of­ten than cap­i­talised on.

Yes, ev­ery­thing in the world – those pesky gems aside – is made of wool. And it looks sump­tu­ous, a riot of fuzzy colour that’s al­most cloy­ingly cute at times, its an­tag­o­nists and their wan­der­ing minions beg­ging for a cud­dle even as they bear down on you in the hope of ru­in­ing your chance of a per­fect rat­ing. It’s a con­cept that’s put to de­li­cious aes­thetic use through­out an oth­er­wise vis­ually tra­di­tional plat­former – ice, desert and lava worlds formed of coils of yarn – and there are some de­light­ful touches, such as the way gob­bled-up en­e­mies are not killed so much as un­rav­elled.

How­ever, this aes­thetic de­vice presents me­chan­i­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties, and it’s hard not to think of Tear­away, which em­bed­ded the theme of its world de­sign deep in its me­chan­ics, and in the process made rare use of its host hard­ware’s con­vo­luted fea­ture­set. The GamePad touch­screen, de­spite its po­ten­tial to deepen the con­nec­tion to this tac­tile world, is en­tirely ig­nored for the sake of sup­port­ing dif­fer­ent Wii and Wii U con­trollers. For too much of its run­time, Yoshi’s Woolly World is happy to sim­ply be Yoshi’s Is­land with a pretty aes­thetic in de­li­cious HD.

It’s at its best when it tries to be some­thing more. In one stage, you must guide a Chomp through a tightly de­signed cav­ern; in its de­fault, wire­frame form, the Chomp will bite you, but can also jump up to higher ground. Fling an egg at it and it’ll be­come the inan­i­mate boul­der of past Yoshi games, killing en­e­mies it touches and pro­vid­ing ac­cess to high ledges. You’ll kite the beast into the de­sired place, throw an egg and use its woollen form to de­stroy the scenery block­ing the way, then tongue loose its coat and lure it to the next ob­jec­tive. One ghost house level sees you use eggs to turn Boos into slowly ris­ing bal­loons; else­where there’s a fine nod to DS launch game Yoshi Touch & Go, where thrown eggs leave woolly clouds in their wake to serve as plat­forms.

There are times, too, where the leisurely pace is used for more than just ar­bi­trary ex­plo­ration of ev­ery cor­ner. Some smartly de­signed puzzles, typ­i­cally in­volv­ing a cen­tral room with a door chained up with sev­eral pad­locks and mul­ti­ple routes off it lead­ing to keys, lend welcome con­text to that pace. And there are mo­ments where the ob­vi­ous de­sign flair of a clas­sic Nintendo game shines through. It says much that a level where you leap be­tween mov­ing cur­tains – a de­li­cious take on the con­cept of an on-rails plat­former – is one of the most sat­is­fy­ing in the game, and also the paciest.

In the con­text of Yoshi’s re­cent past, Woolly World does a lot right. Bar that ab­sent run but­ton, ev­ery­thing feels right. It looks de­light­ful, es­pe­cially when com­pared to the lack­lus­tre Yoshi’s New Is­land, and when it’s us­ing its aes­thetic as a me­chanic, or its pace as a game­play de­vice, it sings. But these mo­ments are the ex­cep­tion, rather than the rule. The best Nintendo games use fa­mil­iar trap­pings in a suc­ces­sion of new ways, the com­pany’s spirit of rest­less in­ven­tion pro­duc­ing a se­ries of ideas formed, used and flung away. It is Woolly World’s fail­ure to do that – de­spite the pos­si­bil­i­ties for play af­forded by its de­light­ful aes­thetic – that keeps it from the up­per tier of plat­form games on a sys­tem that hardly lacks for them. Too much of it is cut from old cloth in­stead of wo­ven from its own loom.

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