From the minute Yoshi’s Woolly World started, I couldn’t stop smiling. That smile didn’t leave my face until I stopped playing, and even then a genuine feeling of joy and comfort that few games this year can match stayed with me. It isn’t because the game does anything drastically different or introduces anything new with its gameplay, but rather it’s absolutely adorable presentation. The interactive equivalent of a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate on a cold night: it’s simple but damn is it comfortable.
The story is pretty standard. Kamek has captured all of Yoshi’s friends, and so it’s up to the little green dinosaur to travel across several worlds to rescue them. The major twist to this conventional, whimsical adventure is that the entire world is made out of yarn, buttons and wool, which explains the otherwise gruesome fact that Kamek broke up the missing Yoshis into several pieces and scattered them across the levels. So get ready for an oddly charming odyssey where lava and fire looks adorable but scissors and thread needles are the scariest things you’ll encounter.
Make no mistake if you have played any 2D platformer before, Yoshi’s Woolly World will be very easy to pick up, especially if you have played any game starring the egg-throwing protagonist. You’ll jump, ground pound, and unravel enemies into yarn balls with your tongue as you collect jewels and other hidden collectibles while heading for a goal at the end. For longtime fans, if it wasn’t for the large visual change, you could be forgiven for thinking the game is a remake of an older title, from the standard enemies like Shy Guys and Piranha Plants to the way Yoshi grunts and squeals when doing a flutter jump or aiming and throwing a yarn ball.
But it seems making a challenging platformer wasn’t the intention in Yoshi’s Woolly World. An odd omission from the game is a lives system, if Yoshi dies he just goes back to the last checkpoint with the only things lost being any collectibles found up to that point. There is also a system where you unlock a badge for every level you clear, which you can spend jewels on to give you a special ability in each level. Some of these include stuff like supercharging your yarn balls into big yarn balls, which keep flying even when they hit a target for some physics fun, and goes as far as making you immune to fire or lava damage and not dying from falling into a bottomless pit. These power-ups can render a lot of the more intense levels pretty tame if used properly as you can only equip one at a time, but if you find enough jewels and are willing to pay it is something that can happen.
Which leads me to one of the game’s greatest strengths. While the levels do continue to get more complex, introducing new elements and enemies regularly with a difficulty curve polished to a mirror shine, this is a first-party Nintendo title after all, the people at Good-Feel have lived up to their namesake in every other regard. The atmosphere just radiates with a pleasant, almost dreamlike sense of tranquility, from the warm musical score to the world design you would absolutely love to cuddle. Furthermore, while the traditional challenge of surviving harrowing precise jumps and overwhelming enemies can be seen as ruined by the badge system and lack of a traditional failure state, the real engagement of each level is exploration.
There are five rolls of yarn, five happy face flowers, and twenty hidden stamps in each level. Collecting all the rolls of yarn helps Yoshi put together one of his friends, which have a unique visual style to them like Skeleton Yoshi or Hot Cocoa Yoshi, which you can then play as in any other level. Find the hidden stamps and you’ll get access to special pictures for Miiverse posts which pepper the loading screens of the game. Finally, the happy face flowers help you unlock bonus levels. And if you want to find them all, you better pay attention, because the game pulls out all the stops with hiding them behind hidden areas, hard to reach places, and spots that require some very tricky jumps.
But while any other game can make all of this feel like an exercise in tedium, the visual design in Wooly World not only removes this feeling but makes you want to look for secrets. Discovering you can scrunch up some fabric by pushing on it because you noticed it was ruffled, finding a hidden room because you noticed there was a hole in that stuffed block, or even discovering an invisible switch activated by a thrown yarn ball was exceedingly rewarding. In fact, it is so well done the game was still pleasantly surprising me even after over twelve hours of play.
This isn’t to say the game isn’t without some small issues. Past Yoshi installments had some extra element in their simple narratives to make them thematically interesting, something curiously absent in this outing. Yoshi’s Island had Baby Mario, as annoying as he was it added a wrinkle of protecting a child as well as giving the iconic plumber an origin story. Yoshi’s Story was simpler, the game was about a hungry dino getting back his favorite food source afterall, but introduced Baby Bowser, confirming that even when in diapers the Koopa King was rotten. By comparison, Woolly World just treads already well-tread water, albeit with a very impressive paintjob. Also, while the gameplay is unchanged since the times of the SNES, certain modern changes like being able to manually aim yarn balls with the control stick would have been welcome.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is one of those games where its style helps elevate its substance. The gameplay is traditional Nintendo fare, and its concessions to a more casual audience might get some sneers from those more skilled. But, for a game that sets out to keep a smile on your face for as long as it can while keeping you unraveling and discovering, it is absolutely fantastic.