In 1995, Nintendo released Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and it’s been trying to recreate that magic ever since. Yoshi’s Island was the perfect confluence of artistic vision, technological innovation, and multilayered gameplay: it leveraged the added power of its built-in FX2 graphics microprocessor not to deliver cutting-edge Donkey Kong Country-style images, but to instead convey the tactility of a child’s crayon drawings on construction paper, creating a welcoming atmosphere that gently coaxed newcomers along while encouraging more experienced players to comb every inch of its secret-stuffed levels. Its cuteness belied its depth, and despite one notable design quirk—that damned crying baby—Yoshi’s Island remains one of the finest 2D platformers ever released.
For its 2015 followup, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Nintendo dropped the terrible baby and the over-reliance on familiar designs that characterized earlier sequels, then mixed the artistic integrity of the original with an abundance of unique ideas, creating one of the most purely joyful platformers of all time. Unfortunately, the fact that it was a Wii U exclusive meant that very few people who would have genuinely loved it ever gave it a chance. Thankfully, Nintendo rescued the game from obscurity with a 3DS port (re-branded Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World, mostly to sell more amiibo toys), and while the newer version is certainly compromised in some important ways compared to the Wii U original, it also adds some exclusive content to entice players who might have already played through the big-screen version. Whichever version you play, it’s a treat from beginning to end.
Yoshi’s Woolly World’s most obvious selling point on Wii U is its fabric-themed graphics: classic characters are represented in hyper-stylized yarn versions of themselves, ready to unspool at the tug of a thread, while stages consist of felt, spare buttons, stitching, and anything else you might find at a Jo-Ann’s or a Michael’s. While borrowed from developer Good-Feel’s earlier Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, this visual style is the ultimate evolution of the original Yoshi’s Island aesthetic, presented on Wii U with nearly photorealistic visual clarity—as if the entire game were staged on a stop-motion animation set come to life. The 3DS version, owing to its lower resolution, never comes close to achieving that particular feat of visual magic, yet Woolly World plays out across such vibrant landscapes that its graphics pop off the handheld’s screen in the same striking fashion as titles like Super Mario 3D Land and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Woolly World wasn’t originally made with the 3DS in mind, but it’s a fine fit for the platform regardless.
Bolstered by the graphics are some of the most unique and downright fun stage designs ever seen in a platformer. Among my favorites are “Walk the Chomp to Unwind,” which culminates in a downhill avalanche of yarn Chomps at the end of the stage; “Sunset at Curtain Falls,” which sends Yoshi hurtling forward on a rollercoaster-style ride across a series of drapes; and any of the Moto Yoshi mini-stages, which transform Yoshi into a motorcycle and have players performing high-speed, gravity-defying stunts while trying to beat a timer to the end of the stage. Like in previous Yoshi games, completionists will find ample rewards for collecting every doodad, from only-for-experts bonus levels to unlockable Yoshi designs to swap among at will (seriously, they’re all way too cute.) New to the 3DS version: Pencil Stamps, which replace the Miiverse Stamps found in the Wii U version, are used in a new Craft Yoshi mode that lets players create their own custom Yoshi designs to play as and share. Two words: Totoro Yoshi.
For players who aren’t artistically inclined but still want to rock those custom Yoshis, amiibo support is carried over to the 3DS: figures can be scanned to unlock Yoshi designs based on the characters you own, with a handful of newer figures (i.e. the Animal Crossing line) unlocking designs that weren’t included in the Wii U version. Additionally, Scanning Poochy or Yoshi figures will cause those characters to appear in-game, with the latter unlocking a Double Yoshi mode that lets you control two Yoshis at once—useful when you’re going back to previously cleared levels to collect trinkets you might’ve missed.
Not everything has been carried over from the initial release: the co-op mode has been nixed from this handheld port, which is an understandable but disappointing compromise—Yoshi’s Woolly World is one of the most rewarding games on Wii U to play with less-experienced players (which is, after all, a key portion of the audience for this series.) To make up for this, Nintendo has added some fun, albeit brief, new content in the form of Poochy Dash—a mobile-style runner that I’d be shocked not to see as a free download on iOS and Android in the near future. Levels are short, rhythmic, and entirely reliant on pressing the jump button at just the right time to maximize your score. There are a handful of mission objectives for each stage as well—to encourage replay, these objectives aren’t revealed until after your first play through—but with only six levels total, it’s over before it ever gets a chance to be good. There’s also a “Mellow Mode” for players who want to see everything the game has to offer without the platforming skills or nose for secrets of expert players: Yoshi can fly, and his yarn balls are replaced by Poochy puppies who will sniff out hidden areas and collectibles. I don’t normally play these “easy” modes, but I dipped into several levels this way just to see the cute little pups do their thing.
For 3DS owners who want a daily dose of cute, Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World has one more exclusive not featured in the Wii U game: a theater showcasing 31 short stop-motion films starring Yoshi and Poochy. Each day you play unlocks a new film (with a minimum of 24 hours between unlocks), and answering an easy quiz question at the end of each film rewards players with gems they can use to purchase helpful badges in the main game. These are the same gems that you’ve likely already collected thousands of during the game, so some players might not find this bonus all that useful. Still, it’s a nice reward for very little effort, which small children will appreciate.
It’s not difficult to recommend Yoshi’s Woolly World, either as a Wii U or 3DS game, but it’s hard to say that one is necessarily better than the other. The new content, while fairly light overall, makes the portable version an attractive proposition for players who want the most bang for their buck, but there’s also no denying that the Wii U version is a much more attractive game, delivering visual magic that’s unlike anything else out there. At the end of the day, it’s kind of a wash: you should play the game on whichever platform you have access to (or whichever you prefer if you have both a Wii U and a 3DS.) And if you’re one of the tens of millions of players who’s just now experiencing it for the first time, you’re in for a wonderful time: Yoshi’s Woolly World is delightful from start to finish.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World is based on a retail copy provided to us by Nintendo. The game launched on Thursday, February 2nd, 2017.