Review: Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World (3DS)

Spinning a good yarn

There have evidently been occasions in recent times when Nintendo started looking at sales figures and picking out projects that deserve a second chance on the 3DS. Yoshi's Woolly World, for its part, is one of a few elite-level 2D platformers on Wii U that stand out as top-notch exponents of the genre. Gorgeous visuals, charming whimsy and carefully constructed stages were part of the appeal on the home console. It's a title fully deserving of its opportunity as Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World on 3DS - thankfully the transition to the smaller screen(s) doesn't detract from the game's quality.

Among its peers of recent years Yoshi's adventure brings a slightly steadier and more relaxed tempo to proceedings. A spiritual follow-up to Kirby's Epic Yarn on Wii, Good-Feel nevertheless caters its fabric-based world to Mario's occasional sidekick by going for a broadly different feel to the controls. Gone is the slow pace and moon-like jumping of Kirby, and instead Yoshi has a little more speed and lightness in the air. The frantic flutter jumping remains, and it's a testament to how engaging the gameplay is that we became aware, at one point, of pressing the jump button far too hard while desperately trying to flutter to safety.

The tempo is higher, but Good-Feel still thrives in stage designs that encourage exploration and puzzle solving. It's a completionist's dream, as each level has five flower petals, five yarn balls and 20 crafting parts to find; the latter replace the Miiverse stamps of the original. Some hidden locations are dastardly, with a few item clouds in particular likely discovered by chance when jumping below a suspiciously high roof. It's a fiendish treasure hunt at times, to the point that the game will train you to search in a certain way, then trick you with those same expectations. A booster that reveals hidden items, bought with gems you earn through play, therefore becomes invaluable on a second play-through.

The core collection of stages may seem modest, with six worlds of eight apiece delivering 48 levels, but that delivers about the same runtime as a platformer with more levels on offer. You're looking at between 8-10 hours for an initial playthrough, and we doubt there's a single player that will collect everything in that run. Going back for collectibles unlocks challenging extra levels for each world, while the yarn balls bring more quirky Yoshi designs. The strength of the game is that its mechanics are so tight, and the vast majority of its levels are so charming, that it easily draws players back.

For those not interested in collecting extras, though, the levels nevertheless stand up well and can take a little while to work through - some will perhaps need more time than a quick bus ride to clear. Hidden exits need to be found, and in the latter half of the game some tough manoeuvres are needed. Good-Feel pushes the core Yoshi moveset - flutter jumping, eating and throwing yarn balls - through the motions, and in fact the game gets pretty darn tricky in the latter half. Unlimited lives mean this isn't an issue, though some checkpoints remain a little too far apart (an issue unfixed from the Wii U original), so that an unlucky death can mean repeating a rather onerous section. This is a rare problem, but it can be slightly frustrating when it occurs.

Level design is excellent all told, with many following a steady exploratory template and some also shaking things up. A couple of fast-paced scrolling stages are highlights, and in later worlds the puzzles and hidden areas step up a notch. On top of that a handful of stages have special transformational areas, where Yoshi becomes a bike, a dolphin, a giant Yoshi and more. It's worth finding these, as they're delightful interludes that pop up at least once in each world. Almost all stages get high marks, with just a few - in our opinion - falling a little short in terms of their design, layout or puzzles. It's an excellent collection of levels from Good-Feel.

Those that are less experienced gamers or simply want an easy time need not worry, either, as you can switch to 'Mellow' mode at any point. With this enabled Yoshi has three Poochy pups following him - they point out threads of interest and even jump ahead and take out enemies. Yoshi can also float indefinitely, meaning you can easily fly past the trickiest sections. It's a smart inclusion once again, as young gamers in particular can still feel like they're playing while having an easier time, and more skilful gamers can simply ignore it.

Beyond that are the aforementioned boosters, which range from simple objects that help you find secrets, to second-chances from falling in pits, powered up moves and more. Whereas you had to pick these carefully on Wii U, gems are a little easier to come by here (in extras we'll cover shortly) so that boosters can be used a little more frequently if you like. Scanning the Poochy amiibo, too, essentially replicates one of these support items, with the lovable pup joining you in a level to help with enemies or perhaps to take you to high points a little more easily.

Pleasingly, this 3DS iteration also offers equivalents to the Wii U control schemes, including the option to control yarn throws with the gyroscope; in a clever move the 3D effect is subtly stopped when you aim by tilting the device, before phasing back in once you're finished. We did stick with old-fashioned buttons, for our part, but the option is welcome.

That 3D effect takes us onto the 'what's different on 3DS' section. Reviewing on a New 3DS, which does boast of better performance than standard models, we played the whole game with 3D enabled and were impressed both by its effect - with a refined sense of depth on offer - and the stability of performance. The game is beautifully smooth on a New model, very rarely dropping below a peak performance of 60 FPS. It's certainly impressive in a technical sense, and Good-Feel has transitioned the engine with true expertise.

Let's be brutally honest, this portable version can't match the Wii U's visuals. On the home console this is a graphical stunner, with the arts and crafts aesthetic being beautifully reproduced - threads would flutter in a breeze, and soft floors would gently dip under Yoshi's feet. Those incidental effects are lost here, as is the fine detail of thread and the woollen texture. It's still an attractive game, however, with the smaller screen and lower resolution still serving up a pleasing look. The 3D helps it 'pop', and though detail is lower this is still a good-looking game - it's certainly one of the more handsome 3DS games we've played, and this is also a title to play with headphones, whether on the go or at home. The soundtrack remains a highlight here.

Also new on 3DS is a change to the overworld and user interface - the semi-freedom and 3D movement when selecting levels and so on is ditched in favour of a simpler 2D selection. The amiibo Hut returns for accessing and viewing Yoshi designs scanned in with various figures and cards; a huge number are supported, along with some better-known Animal Crossing cards such as Kapp'n. It's not universal support though, so those not included - such as Shovel Knight or lesser-known AC characters - simply produce a generic Yarn Yoshi character. As per the Wii U version you can also scan a Yarn Yoshi amiibo during levels to have a second character (a clone) join you in game. They mimic your every move and provide an extra projectile to gobble up and spit out in a pinch.

All new is the Poochy Hut, which is home to one auto-running bonus stage per world, unlocked with progress. These are fun extras, with Poochy jumping, bouncing and ducking as you try to grab gems, find the best route and pick up three Poochy pups on the way. One clearance unlocks three 'missions' to complete, you get graded on performance, and grabbing a flower petal at the end of standard levels also unlocks the option for doing these stages in a gold rush mode for extra gems. Finally, the Poochy amibo unlocks Time Trial challenges of these stages. These stages are a fun way to hoard gems, ultimately, which is certainly welcome.

The Yoshi Hut's big addition is one sure to entertain creative players, meanwhile, as you can design your own Yoshi. The 'Easy Mode' lets you pick from pre-made templates (unlocked with collectibles) and edit broad details such as the colour scheme. The 'Professional Mode' is impressively detailed, though, as you can effectively draw and create your own designs, even applying different work to Yoshi's key body parts such as his head, shell and body. In theory you should be able to create a Yoshi as detailed as those unlocked in the game, and then use it in-game or share via StreetPass.

Finally we have the Yoshi Theatre, which has some nice art assets and also serves as a showcase for 31 stop-motion animations by Dwarf; the downside is that these videos are on a timed unlock of 24 hours, so it'll take 31 days to see them all, and you'll need to open the game to trigger each unlock. They're delightful viewing, albeit in 2D, and each is followed by a question about what you've seen - a correct answer earns you another 500 gems. These are a fabulous addition, as they're entertaining and heart-melting to watch.

There's one more unlockable after beating the game, too, in the form of Boss-related challenges. It's another welcome inclusion, especially as it remixes these encounters - we'll let you discover more on this for yourself.

The core game is in place along with some lovely extras, then, but the 3DS does lack one key feature - local co-op. The Wii U game had one of the more enjoyable and well-constructed 2D platforming co-op experiences, and its absence here is certainly a pity if not entirely surprising. Technical issues may have been at the centre of this, as wirelessly communicating between two systems while running the game smoothly may not have been possible. It's worth noting its absence, nevertheless.

All told, then, Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World does a hugely impressive job of bringing an excellent Wii U game to 3DS. Local co-op aside, it delivers the same core experience and also includes some well thought-out extras, while also being nicely optimised and a pleasure to play on the portable. In fact, there are some occasions, particularly in boss encounters that utilise depth and multiple planes of perspective, that it feels like a game almost designed with the 3DS in mind. It's not a squashed down compromise - it's how a 3DS port should be.

Conclusion

While Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS was below the standards of its original in our view (and scored as such), the same can't be said of Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World. It takes fantastic original material and carefully adapts it for the portable, with extras compensating for one lost feature. In the process it becomes an elite 3DS 2D platformer, joining its Wii U predecessor in that company.

If you have the Wii U version it's a tough decision on whether to double dip; both versions deliver the same terrific core game. If you haven't played this on Wii U and like Yoshi, 2D platformers or charming games, though, then this is a must-have for the 3DS.