No-one makes platformers quite like Nintendo. From their humble Mario-based beginnings to the more recent amazingness that was the cat-tastic Super Mario 3D World and the clay-ful Kirby: Power Paintbrush, they consistently come out with some seriously solid, endlessly charming and fantastically fun games. Their latest? The seriously adorable knitted adventure, Yoshi's Woolly World.
It all begins when that nefarious witch Kamek, the scourge of the previous Yoshi's Island games, strikes again, attacking Yoshi's Woolly World and unknitting 99% of the island's population, turning them into wool balls and scattering them far and wide. As the only remaining member of the clan, it falls to you to chase after him, through five worlds and forty or so levels, unknitting enemies, solving puzzles and beating bosses - and of course, searching every nook and cranny for the skeins of your friends.
As you may have already guessed, Yoshi's Woolly World is a platformer staring the titular Yoshi, Mario's faithful green dinosaur friend, as he runs, jumps and stomps-on-bad-guy's-heads through each of the adorably bright and colourful knitted stages. But Yoshi has a couple of unique talents that make travelling from one end of a stage to the other a bit more eventful - his long, sticky tongue and unusual digestive/reproductive system. While leaping on enemies' heads is the tried and tested Mario method of dispatching them, Yoshi can 'lick them up' with his tongue and swallow them, at which point his lightning-fast digestive tract lays a wool ball, which can then be thrown at other enemies, used to destroy certain parts of the scenery or to reveal various secrets.
From blue skies and sandy beaches to lava filled castle dungeons to fluffy clouds and rainbow skies, Yoshi's Woolly World is a seriously good looking adventure, all lovingly crafted from wool, fabric and various craft supplies. Whether you're shimmying along a scarf-like climbing wall, pulling on stray threads to unravel secret areas or knitting in platforms, the idea of woolly things is more than just a graphical style - it actually plays into the game. Enemies unravel into piles of wool, piranha plants can be tied shut by bonking a wool ball off their head, and Yoshi himself, presumably thanks to the reusable power of wool, can transform himself into all kinds of things - umbrellas, motorbikes and mermaids - for some rather unique mini-game-esque sections.
Adding much more of a puzzley feel to the proceedings, Yoshi's wool balls are basically your bread and butter - particularly when it comes to finding the oodles of collectables hidden off the beaten track. A veritable treasure trove for OCD collectable hunters, each level in Yoshi's Woolly World has not one, not two, but three different types of collectables to find - some of which are seriously well hidden. First are the Wonder Wool items, a range of coloured wool balls, hidden in the stage - should you manage to track them all down, you'll unlock a new 'costume' for Yoshi, which range from watermelons to cow print, and even enemy-inspired garb, with many more in between. It's a pretty nice touch, and an extra incentive to explore every last bit of the level - and, as an added bonus, it makes it a lot easier to tell which Yoshi's which when you're playing in co-op.
Each level also contains five Smiley Flowers (technical term), which serve a slightly different purpose. Equally well hidden, usually with some sort of puzzle to solve (or secret entrance to spot) in order to find them, collecting all five flowers in all of the levels in a world will unlock a secret bonus stage - a bonus stage which is incredibly hard!
In fact, one of the best bits about Yoshi's Woolly World is the fact it has so many hidden parts in the levels - like many of the great Nintendo platformers of old, although perhaps in a slightly different way. There are pipes to go down, walls that can be pushed to reveal hidden items, and little "?" clouds that only appear should you happen to jump right past them (or fling an wool ball egg past). Equally, there's a refreshing change of pace here too - with no time limit on the levels, Yoshi isn't just a race to the finish - you can take as much time as you want to get to the end of each level, and with a more puzzle based approach, often, that's exactly what you're encouraged to do. Whether you can see a metal chain chomp, gnashing away behind a wall, but need to figure out how to bounce your wool ball over to him (turns out you can make use of a handy little tunnel), or spy a cheeky Lakitu baddie hovering overhead on a cloud, only to swallow him up, jump on his magical flying cloud, and use it fly up, above the top of the screen to find a secret, there's so much hidden in Yoshi's levels, you'll have to go through two or three times, at least, to find it all.
In fact, almost everything you do in Yoshi's Woolly World is a collectible of some sort - even the game's bead currency. Scattered around the levels are a number of brightly coloured beads, and collecting certain ones, defeating certain enemies or finding a hidden area will reward you with one of twenty "Stamp Patches" - which, in turn, will unlock a collection of Miiverse stamps once you reach a certain number. The game even challenges you to finish a level with full health - which is generally a lot harder than it sounds, particularly if you're playing in co-op with me, as I'm not all that great at aiming where my wool balls will fire, leaving me to keep pinging them off my co-op partner, often accidentally sending them falling to their doom.
Because one of the best bits about Yoshi's Woolly World is how you can customise it to how you want to play. Not only can you bring a friend along for the ride, thanks to it's two player co-op, but you can also choose which controller you play with - from a choice of the Wii U GamePad, the standard horizontal Wii Remote, or the Wii Classic Controller - you can choose between using the buttons or tilting to aim your wool balls, and, you can also switch between two different difficulties on the fly.Classic is your bog standard, regular, vanilla Yoshi experience - while Yoshi has a hovering jump, he's not the world's best jumper, and he can't jump all that high vertically. Meanwhile, 'Mellow Mode' is better suited to the 'less able' players, granting Yoshi a pair of wings, a longer, glidier jump and the ability to fly infinitely through stages, (hopefully) putting an end to all those accidental pit falls. Yoshi's Badge system lets you tweak things even further still, giving each player the opportunity to purchase (via the game's in-game bead currency) an upgrade of sorts, that lasts the length of the level - from ones which up your defence, to ones that grant immunity to fire, and another which highlights secrets. And, let's not forget our all-time favourite badge, 'Play Along With Poochy', which gives you an adorable ridable dog-like companion who'll bark out secrets, smash through enemies and generally lend a paw to your adventure. And occasionally get in the way and mess up your jumps, but... you can't really stay mad at his goofy face.
So, with all these concessions to try and make it easier for newcomers, it seems a bit odd that our only complaint about the entire game is one of it's difficulty. To be specific, it's less about it being hard in and of itself - generally speaking, outside of the secret stages, it's a pretty easy-going adventure - but more an issue with infrequent, and at times illogically placed checkpoints. Usually, games book-end more complex sections with checkpoints so that, should you muck up during or after, you're never sent back too far - but not so with Yoshi. On multiple occasions we've had to trek back through awkward segments having messed up in the mellower part that followed, cursing Nintendo's lax approach to checkpoints as we went. It's the same with boss fights too - most games have a checkpoint right outside the boss fight, so if you mess up, you'll be able to start again from just before the boss fight. Yet Yoshi seems to forego this, weirdly, and instead often sends you back to just before a rather tricky section, forcing you to replay that before getting a second shot at the boss.
But even so, we can't stay mad at Yoshi's Woolly World for too long. Packed full of co-op goodness, with an art style that'll make you go weak at the knees (or break out the knitting needles), music you'll be humming for days afterwards, and so, so much stuff to keep coming back for, it's everything we hoped it would be and more, full of adorable co-operative platforming goodness. In a nutshell, this is Nintendo at their cutesy best, and the sort of thing we wish they'd stick to over the "free-to-play" Pokemon things they've been churning out recently. Proving that Nintendo still have it - and that the Wii U has life left in it yet - you owe it to yourself to give Yoshi a go, especially if you have a co-op partner. You won't be disappointed.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U