It's almost becoming cliché how Nintendo continues to dominate the platforming genre. Look for its best, and most will come from the same stable. One being the 1995 release, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. Proving there's no such thing as a straightforward Mario sequel, it introduced new ideas, quirky visuals and a lot of gameplay variety. To some SNES owners, it was the superior Super Mario World title.
This year, Yoshi is 20 years old. For the anniversary, there's no better gift for fans and Wii U owners, than Yoshi's Woolly World. It has all the great hallmarks of its ancestor; an old school platformer with that unique, and welcome, Nintendo warmth.
One reason why the experience feels so fresh has to do with the wool aesthetic. As with Kirby's Epic Yarn, it doesn't just impact the world's look, but your interaction with it as well. Swallowing and passing Shy Guys produces not eggs, but balls of wool. Firing them at Piranha Plants sees them unravel and wrap around their mouths, leaving them defenceless to a jump attack. If we see a loose piece of thread on a wall, it can be unraveled to open secret areas. Woolly logic is applied to everything, keeping the worlds consistent.
Those worlds are amazingly varied. Not just from a visual perspective (forests, beaches, fire and ice levels, cloud and underwater stages) but in terms of gameplay mechanics. You'll never know what you're in for from level to level. Running left to right, working your way from the bottom of a map to its top, exploring a Metroidvania-like area for switches, rolling (woolly) snowballs... Yoshi's Woolly World is a fertile playground of ideas. 50 levels, all containing their own fun quirks and challenges.
Yes, challenge. The biggest concern for the game prior to play was the difficulty. For all the loving attention to detail, the game does present itself as potentially being as much a walk in the park as Epic Yarn.
And yes, there's a relaxed mode that can be activated at any time. Difficulty is lowered and Yoshi's rocking a pair of wings. A traditional addition these days for Nintendo. Dispense these optional aids however, and the real game presents a wide range of elegant challenges. In each stage you can search for five flowers, five wool packs (to knit that level's Yoshi back together) and twenty hidden jewels. Their locations are far from obvious, and exploring every corner of each level to uncover its secrets - sometimes while simultaneously avoiding loss of life - makes for compelling play. Or you can just head to the end goal.
The idea is for the game to offer something for all, whatever their skill level. Good-Feel's trio of layers is a good approach. Sure, standard platforming may be simple, but it's conciliatory.
Two-player is well-implemented, supporting different skill levels as well. In difficult sections, one Yoshi can eat the other and carry them both through to safety. If one dies, they'll reappear as a winged egg ready to rejoin the game.
While Kirby's Epic Yarn charmed, it ultimately fell flat. Yoshi not only charms but soars thanks to fantastic visuals and a flexible difficulty that makes it a must for genre fans - casuals and pros.