Everything in Yoshi’s Woolly World is fuzzy. The ground, the characters, the lighting—yarn will do that, no matter if it’s digital. Their pastel colors are comforting. All of the hopping and bopping carries an infinite niceness, placed in a realm of the serene where video games’ fascinations with weaponry and competition are removed. Yoshi isn’t in a rush and Woolly World’s “mellow” difficulty mode is a misnomer; all of Woolly World is mellow. Modern games often stack complex gameplay systems on top of other complex gameplay systems; Yoshi just jumps and throws yarn balls.
With Woolly World, Yoshi is butting in on Kirby’s space. Nintendo’s pink puffball yarned out in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a 2008 gem for Nintendo’s Wii set in Patch Land. Kirby, morphed into an entanglement of yarn, whipped a sorcerer named Yin-Yarn and stitched Patch Land back together. Epic Yarn was adorable, like fluffy nursery decor given life.
Now it’s Yoshi’s turn to be that cleverly beautiful, graced with a visual pluckiness and backing from delicate piano keys. Both games play like gentle lullabies, delightful in their easiness and attractive in their quaintness. They’re seen through child-like vision—how could they not be? Ease of play is nostalgic, catchy stage themes recede into the vintage, and the aesthetic form feels built by physical hands.
“Death” in Woolly World is an adorable oops. The music doesn’t stop—no discordant themes play. How few games reach for such tranquility? Another Yoshi is waiting and a soft fade acts as a cushioned transition. All of those pitfalls are probably stacked with mattresses too.
Yoshi’s cute spectacle is made from ingenuity—and fuzz. Water is comprised of loose strands of blue yarn. Lava flows are orange scarves; reflective sequins give them a glow. Ice is clear, malleable crafting plastic. Clouds? Cotton balls, of course.
Woolly World reveals Nintendo’s Wii U as aesthetic-minded hardware, the console’s only defense. It’s “losing” a hardware battle, if sales numbers are the lone objective measurement. Sony’s PlayStation 4 doubles Nintendo’s install base. The Wii U is even set to be replaced in 2016 with a new Nintendo console, if the rumors are credible. Yet, squished between technical giants from Sony and Microsoft (dwarfing Wii U in processing prowess and physical size like corporate bullies), Nintendo’s hokey tablet console bests them both in scrappiness.
The console has an unlikely capacity to showcase esoteric ideas. It has generated an abnormally action-driven Legend of Zelda game called Hyrule Warriors, where Link slashes thousands of foes at once as opposed to the reserved adventures the elven hero is normally found in. A bouncy and rotund Mario game called Super Mario 3D World brought in tight levels that mimicked the familiar 2D viewpoints of the past. A plucky adventurer searched for riches through rotating, square playsets in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
And now a saga of wool forms. The odds appear insurmountable—except aesthetics can win hearts over realism. Wii U has aesthetics, like all of Nintendo’s consoles have.
Nintendo’s color palette and pixel graphics for the NES have become vintage pop art. So distinctive are those 8-bit blocks, fakes are readily spotted—either they show too much color, the wrong colors, or too fine of detail. Nerdy art company iam8bit spawned entire exhibits based on those ‘80s era looks.
Into the 16-bit Super Nintendo era, colors shined, reaching into a decade fond of neon and exploiting their brightness. Then Goldeneye’s blurry super spies and Star Wars’ sagas reigned on Nintendo 64. GameCube came to love color as popular World War II simulations on other platforms smeared screens in hues of brown—then Nintendo named one of their key Mario games Sunshine at a time when video games were avoiding rainbow hues. Then the Wii—muddy, but lovable. How personable the customized Miis were, in class with dazzling comic art (Wario Land: Shake It) and the plucky Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Wii U will be remembered as the artful idea machine.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is not new. It’s the same Nintendo, plucked from Mario’s famed Mushroom Kingdom locales (forests, lava, ice) with gameplay pawned from others (it’s the overdue and proper sequel to Super Nintendo’s Yoshi’s Island) and an antagonist who is nigh insignificant (screechy wizard Kamek, longtime villain and Bowser’s advisor). Craft Island, Wooly World’s setting, allows bobby pins, buttons, and fabrics to turn this all into a fanciful fairy tale. Those concepts make it seem renewed.
To play here is to relax. Stress free, worry free—assuming you ignore all the collectibles you’re meant to grab, which can induce some rage if taken too seriously. Smiling flowers and hidden yarn bundles seem devious in context and their locations are cruel. They’re not as mellow.
Otherwise, it has taken three decades for Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 sweet, catchy reggae ditty “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to finally have true visual representation. It needed something light and inoffensive to match. Woolly World has a strange media bedfellow, but their attachment is bound in shared serenity.
RELATED: The Gamers Next Door Play ‘Call of Duty’ Zombies with OMGitsfirefoxx at The Playboy Mansion