Friday, July 24, 2015

Yoshi's Woolly World

When did knitwear become desirable? The cooing that Yoshi’s woolly look elicits from even the hardest of games journalists (the bar is set low) is at total odds with the fear normally conjured by granny’s annual Christmas jumper. Wool belongs in the domain of the elderly, those with the leathery skin capable of withstanding its scratchy strands. It certainly doesn’t scream embraceable platformer.

Any itching feeling here is one of over-familiarity. Where Kirby’s epic Yarn was a bespoke adventure that jettisoned his trademark power absorption for a game about lassoing enemies to unravel them, Woolly World is a more conservative return to the core ideas of Yoshi’s Island. Our purled protagonist arrives with his moves intact: the elastic tongue to yank in smaller enemies, the giant gob to spit them out, and the digestive tract to recycle them as projectiles. Okay, they’re pooped out as yarn balls instead of eggs, but are aimed and chucked using the same swinging cursor. Throw in that straining flutter jump and it feels instantly familiar to our SNES-trained digits.

Red thread redemption

These skills, in turn, power Yoshi’s distinctive brand of exploration and puzzles, far more sedate than Mario’s whooping acrobatics. Combat is methodical as you calmly line up yarn missiles to shred Shy Guys on the spot, or bind a Piranha Plant’s snapping maw to open it up for a crushing stomp. But yarn can also collect hard-to-reach gems and activate winged clouds, revealing hidden jewels or secret routes. With balls often in short supply, every lob becomes an anxious decision – waste all seven trying to thwack a monkey attacker and you’ll have to let nearby secrets go by undiscovered. Mario never dealt with such frustrations; one of the benefits of owning an infinite butt.

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Woolly World does add extra threads to the formula. Wrapping Yoshi’s tongue around chunky knots lets him unwind parts of the scenery like a jumper snagged on a nail, revealing hidden areas and popping out an extra-powerful – and cloaca-destroying – yarn boulder in the process. Such acts of destruction are balanced out by chucking wool at wireframe pipes and platforms to knit them into existence. In a delightful touch, these missing objects appear in the color of wool you throw – it would have been great to see this used more often, leaving us with kaleidoscopic levels of our own creation. Alas, it never goes beyond "see the pipe, shoot the pipe".

One benefit of Yoshi’s string skeleton is the power to morph into new forms. This manifests in cute touches, such as his sprinting legs turning into trundling wheels, but is largely kept to bonus rooms where he changes into rockets, umbrellas and motorbikes to tackle an obstacle course. most are simple variants on scrolling shooters, but placed amongst hours of gently paced platforming, they burst with life. Pulling off insane leaps and screeching up vertical cliffs as a bike is way more fun i need to knoW than forcing scratchy yarn out of your bum. Who knew? Alas, his alter-egos live fast and die young, appearing for a fun-drenched minute before unravelling into the night.

Vehicles aside, the best levels take the wool concept and run with it. One pairs you with a wireframe Chain Chomp that you knit into existence in order for him to chew through obstacles. Of course, Yoshi’s just a dino-flavoured obstacle to the greedy fiend, forcing you to unravel those gnashing teeth to protect yourself. A level in the clouds replaces yarn with cotton wool that leaves a cloudy trail you can run along. Creating a platforming level on the fly, or using makeshift ramps to send spiked balls slamming into their masters, is the kind of ingenuity you’d expect from the progeny of the endlessly experimental Yoshi’s Island.

Yoshi's Woolly World

Problem is, that original design is almost too potent, and Good-Feel too in thrall to its wonders, for Woolly World to leave its well-trodden path. many levels feel like Yoshi’s Story with a tea cosy stretched over the outside: all the familiar enemies, elements and pick-ups, only rendered in fuzz tech. If it wasn’t for the texture, many stages would feel no more sophisticated than Yoshi’s New Island – that game just didn’t have the artists to pull the literal wool over our eyes. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about pushing rock Chomps through barriers, or dodging flying fish – but there’s nothing cutting edge about it, either.

Knit picking

Good-Feel may not have many ideas of its own, but it knows how to render others’ out of craft goods. Like the way fiery Blargg emerges from lava (red cloth) as a tangle of threads, or how the froth of raging river rapids is made from strips of doily. Instead of chainlink fences, Yoshi can climb giant scarves and jump like Tarzan between unspooling cotton reels. Our favorite touch is the way that you can throw and embed yarn balls on the end of Shy Guys’ spears, rendering them furiously impotent. And at the heart of it, you have the gorgeous knitted Yoshi, with each stage spitting out a new pattern for him for collecting hidden wool. It’s hugely easy to drink in.

And, unlike Kirby’s epic Yarn, it doesn’t use those welcoming looks to give us a cakewalk. This is no Lost Levels, but it has bite, especially for treasure hunters out to swipe the hundreds of doodads in every stage. even if you do manage to find the hidden wool, smiley flowers and 20 Miiverse stamps in a level, you still have do it with a full health bar for a 100% completion. It can be a considerable ask.

rather than tone down the difficulty, Good-Feel gives us a mellow mode, where a winged Yoshi can flap over threats, and the option to buy buffs for any given level. Opting for the power to bounce out of otherwise bottomless pits is hugely helpful – the sheer amount of item-gathering busywork, and some stingy checkpoints, means that death can easily set you back by several minutes. Throwing in a second player can also soften those defeats (see Say Hello To my Furry Friend), or you can summon a support dino with a tap of an amiibo.

What emerges is a generous, if conflicted game: a rare bit of style over substance from the big N, a company that traditionally champions ideas above all else. And while the style is a treat for the eyes, the fingers will occasionally begin to lose interest. It’s a better fit than grandma’s jumper, for sure, but not without its own irritations.


Conclusion

Yoshi's Wooly World is a great pick up and play game with the quality you expect from Nintendo. A MUST BUY

We Love:
It’ll take a heart of stone not to go gooey over yarn Yoshi.
Jaunty jingles will plague you for weeks. Is that good?
We Hate:
Lets a 20 year old SNES game do the heavy lifting.
The endless hunt for collectibles messes with level pacing.
Better than:
Yoshi’s New Island
New Island baffled us by behaving much like Old Island, only with seriously ugly 3D sprites, and some ear-gougingly bad music.
Worse than:
Super Mario 3D World If Woolly World is lacking in ideas, it’s only because Mario’s latest adventure ate them all. One of the most ludicrously fun platformers around.

By Matthew Castle

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