For many years now fans of games in the Yoshi series have been clamouring for a successor to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, yet the games Nintendo has presented us with so far haven't quite hit the mark. Yoshi's Story ditched the somewhat irritating Baby Mario mechanic much to the delight of many, but overhauled many other gameplay elements to the point that its resemblance to its predecessor was lacking. Yoshi's Island DS and Yoshi's New Island have attempted to recapture that magic, but Baby Mario's return - coupled with gameplay that was just 'okay' - meant that a majority of fans have been left hungry for a truly wonderful follow-up. Can Yoshi's Woolly World match the original's ingenuity and playful charm?
One of the most obvious things about Yoshi's Woolly World is the new art style. Everything in the world is made of wool, except for certain geographical elements and some more powerful enemies. Due to their wool-less appearance, these enemies cannot be simply unraveled with Yoshi's tongue, but instead have to be bested by first being bound in wool and then jumped upon. Many of the smaller, standard enemies are veterans of the Yoshi series, with the likes of Shy Guy, Nipper Plant, Lakitu, and Gusty; every enemy has been rendered beautifully to reflect the artistic style whilst retaining the look and feel we've come to expect.
Every single part of this game bursts with colour and detail to the point that it's almost a sensory overload. This writer found himself on many occasions just running around a previously completed work just to have another look at its splendour, something that can't be said about most platforms, woolly or otherwise. This is a style developer Good-Feel coined back on the Wii with Kirby's Epic Yarn, and bringing it into full 3D with Yoshi in HD is even more of a treat for the eyeballs.
From the moment you enter the first level you'll (likely) immediately breathe a sigh of relief, as Baby Mario is nowhere to be seen; Yoshi instead has a more traditional health bar and takes damage as you'd expect him to, only being able to recover health by collecting hearts that have a distinct resemblance to the jumping star collectables from previous Yoshi games. It handles essentially identically to previous games in the series, with Yoshi's iconic tongue being his primary method of despatching enemies. This time however, due to the woolly aesthetic, Yoshi doesn't consume enemies and turn them into eggs, rather he unravels them and turns them into balls of wool. These then function in much the same way as eggs have in the past, only their applications are more varied. They can be used to bind larger enemies made of materials other than wool, create warp pipes, boxes, platforms, and many other parts of the world to help Yoshi achieve his goal. You can also uncover hidden areas simply by unraveling them via a loose bow, revealing secret passageways or hidden items.
That's actually one of Woolly World's most notable aspects: there are dozens of hidden items scattered all throughout the level including the traditional Flowers, as well as some new items such as Beads that have replaced the traditional coins, Stamp Patches that are hidden within certain Beads, and Wonder Wools. Flowers, for example, allow you to achieve 100% in a stage and access a mini-game to garner more Beads. Beads are used as a generic currency and can be used to buy special badges that can assist you in a level, while Stamp Patches are used to unlock Stamps to use on Miiverse once a certain amount have been collected.
Wonder Wools are the most exciting of the collectables - if you manage to collect all five within a level you can unlock a new Yoshi design to use throughout any and every level should you so desire. These designs vary enormously, ranging from colourful Flower Yoshi and Circus Yoshi to one that's based upon the Shy Guy enemy. This gives a real sense of reward from completing a level by giving you something tangible to use rather than just the acknowledgement that you have done more required for standard progression.
Another gameplay mechanic (as odd as it is) is Yoshi's ability to transform, and given Yoshi's new malleable form it'll come as no surprise to learn that these transformations return in this entry. Yoshi can transform into an umbrella, a mole, a giant version of himself, and a motorbike to name a few, the latter being one of the most fantastically out-of-place moments of the series thus far. These transformations occur a few times per world and task you with reaching a goal within a certain time limit, or face having to restart it all again. These really help to keep the experience fresh and exciting; you never know what transformation is going to happen next, and every single one of them is an absolute riot to control.
A new feature known as Mellow Mode also makes its début in Woolly World and, despite what many assumed upon its announcement, it doesn't remove all the challenge from the game. The only difference in Mellow Mode is that you control Winged Yoshi whose Flutter Jump is replaced by the ability to float at Yoshi's current height indefinitely. It's certainly easier to play in this mode, but you'll still take damage and failing a level is still a very real possibility. It's interesting to see that despite its child-friendly graphics Woolly World is a difficult game even with this additional mode to help you.
If you're still having trouble you can always have a friend join in the fun as a second Yoshi. You both run around simultaneously in an effort to reach the goal, and should you run out of balls of wool, one Yoshi can be used as a short-range substitute.
Yoshi's Woolly World is shaping up to be an absolutely stellar entry in the Yoshi series. It's ditching unwanted gameplay mechanics and introducing new ones that reflect the woollen style help keep the experience fresh, interesting, and more importantly bags of fun. This could well be the sequel Yoshi fans have been waiting nearly 20 years for.
Yoshi's Woolly World is out on the Wii U on 26th June 2015 in Europe. The North American release date is TBA.