The Yoshi games have carved a niche for themselves as colourful, mostly frictionless experiences well-suited to younger gamers or anybody after some cute low-pressure platforming. Completionists may find challenge in hunting down every last collectible, but these games are built to be approachable and Yoshi’s Crafted World walks the same path that made the dinosaur’s last home console solo outing, Yoshi’s Woolly World, such a joy. It does feel, however, that the rich vein of charm found in these material worlds has been fully mined now.
Crafted World comes once again courtesy of Good-Feel, the developer behind Woolly World and the wonderful Wii original Kirby’s Epic Yarn (recently released in updated form on 3DS). For this particular low-stakes, high-colour adventure, the craft box has been raided for inspiration and as you can see from the screenshots, the team has nailed that junk modelling aesthetic just as it did the yarn-and-wool look in its previous games.
Once again, Baby Bowser and Kamek are up to no good, trying – however ineptly – to rob the Yoshi’s of Dream Gems shaken from a ceramic base called the Sundream Stone. With the gems scattered across the world map, it’s up to you to retrieve them all and get the Yoshi clan back to doing what they love – loitering around big stone on a small island.
If you’ve ever played a game in the series, you’ll know more-or-less what to expect. Each level contains three primary objectives – collect 100 coins, finish the level with full health and find all 20 hidden red coins. Completing each of them rewards you with Smiley Flowers, the currency that unlocks new ’worlds’ (there’s also a whole bunch of them to find in the levels themselves).
The overworld map may seem small to begin with, but it opens up with over 20 areas to unlock, each with 2 to 3 levels, plus a boss battle (entertaining, if predictable three-hit affairs) for each of the six missing gems and a gumball machine in each zone that spits out a total of 10 ‘costumes’ in exchange for coins. Costumes – cardboard constructions that Yoshi carries ‘around’ himself – provide extra protection according to their ‘rarity’, with amiibo costumes equal to the five extra hits of the Super Rare variety. Beyond looking cute, protection is their only function. The Super Mario and Woolly World series amiibo offer bespoke outfits related to Mario and the gang while any other figure gets you a generic amiibo ‘box’ that Yoshi hauls about around him in adorable fashion.
Half of the game’s magic comes from spotting the various household objects recycled and repurposed throughout the environment; it’s a joy to see plastic bottle rockets, bamboo made of straws and cardboard rhinos popping balloons. It channels a similar sense of scale to Pikmin, with each building, animal and contraption you encounter feeling like something that was physically created in Good-Feel’s offices and now occupies some vast lobby display case.
The glorious physicality of all those crafty objects goes a long way to obscuring the fact that, gameplay-wise, there’s not much you haven’t seen before. Some novel additions stand out, whether gobbling horseshoe magnets and depositing them on metal surfaces to climb or donning a giant Triceratops skull to barge your way through obstacles and enemies, but the aesthetic does the heavy lifting in terms of inventiveness.
Most levels feature multiple planes at certain points and some neat depth-of-field effects are employed, but again, it doesn’t alter much from a gameplay perspective. The paths to move between planes are set and only elementary puzzles are built around them – the game remains very much ‘on the rails’.
Everything about the world and gameplay is as reassuringly solid as you’d expect. All the stages are modelled beautifully in three dimensions and can be temporarily flipped by firing an egg at special clock clouds when you find them, although they’re almost exclusively used for timed egg-firing challenges. You’ll have 10 to 15 seconds to shoot some coin-carrying Shy Guys or spot the real Smiley Flower in a crowd of doppelgangers, but that’s it.
After completing a level, a second mode opens enabling you to revisit the diorama levels on the ‘flip side’, journeying from the end to the start in search of Poochy Pups. This lets you appreciate the 360° design for longer, but while Shy Guys sleeping behind scenery look cute, it doesn’t change the level in any fundamental way – you’re just going the other way now. The ability to flip the stage could have been a special, game-defining mechanic and feels like a slightly missed opportunity to give the game a strong identity beyond the art style.
Beautifully-rendered scenery and enemies in the foreground and background can be targeted, with egg-able objects outlined in yellow when the crosshair touches them. Bushes or dangling cut-outs may be hiding red coins or other goodies. The egg shooting is the same as previous games, available on the face or right shoulder buttons with one press activating the cursor and a second launching an egg. It’s possible to switch the configuration of the face buttons between three presets and egg-throwing can be sped up to a simple press-hold-release. You can also activate Mellow Mode, giving Yoshi a set of wings for unlimited flutter and reducing damage taken.
A breezy drop-in/out two-player co-op mode also makes things easier. One player can literally carry the other, making the combined pair more powerful; the ground pound creates a visible shockwave which will destroy piranha plants that would otherwise require an egging. It’s a fun way to pass the time, especially with kids or inexperienced gamers.
While the art direction is undeniably top-notch, the actual picture on the TV is a tad softer than we remember with Woolly World. Menus are immaculate (and navigable via touchscreen in handheld mode, where the softer picture is less obvious) but elsewhere there’s some noticeable dithering in shadows and a fuzziness to the visuals that appears to come from scaling – everything looks better when the camera occasionally zooms in.
We’re being extremely picky here – it’s a lovely looking game. Interestingly for Nintendo IP, this is an Unreal Engine 4 title and we get the impression that the team has struggled to get it running as smoothly as it would like. Crafted World certainly gets the console’s fan spinning and the framerate can dip a touch if you run flat-out through some of the more complex levels. The world map also cuts the framerate in half in the same way Splatoon 2 does in the hub.
Boss Challenges and other tougher tests await once you’ve beaten the final boss. There’s plenty to go back and find: cardboard inhabitants of the world map request souvenirs (collectables accumulate and needn’t be collected in one run) and there’s even a spot of hide-and-seek, all for extra Smileys.
The music is the icing on this particularly colourful cake, with an endearingly puffy and slightly out-of-tune pipe accompanying many of the ear-wormy tunes. It’s very pleasant, although perhaps a tad more repetitive than Woolly World’s soundtrack. Over the 8 to 9 hours we spent reaching the final boss, we started to crave a little more variety.
And that sentiment sums up the whole game rather well – lovely, but not quite as good as its predecessors. Don’t get us wrong, we went through the entire game wearing a big smile, but Crafted World doesn’t offer quite enough novelty to make us really grin like Woolly World or the unimpeachable Epic Yarn did; Kirby’s first venture into these material worlds remains the benchmark, the most coherent, satisfying game in the ‘series’. While this is still a fine platformer, we can’t help thinking that another game in the same vein – ‘Yoshi’s Beadwork Bonanza’, ‘Floral Fantasy’ or ‘Cartoon Caper’ – would need some significant mechanical innovation to avoid feeling like a retread.
If you’re new to the series, Yoshi’s Crafted World has colour and charm to spare, even if its inventiveness is largely limited to its looks. For Yoshi fans, it does exactly what you expect it to, which is perhaps the worst thing we can say about it; it contains few genuine surprises. It’s delightfully presented, though, and makes for another very solid entry in Nintendo’s ever-growing pantheon of material-based platformers – it takes extreme discipline to not overuse that word ‘charm’ while discussing it. So, if you’re looking to share a light-hearted platformer with the family, or simply relax in a big chair with a cup of something warm and a comfy pair of socks, be sure to have a spare pair ready – Yoshi's Crafted World will charm the ones you’re wearing right off.
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