The best way to describe each new installment in the Yoshi’s Island series is that it’s “the same but different.” The basic conceit of each game is identical: Yoshi flutter-jumps through a series of platform-heavy courses, occasionally using his digested foes as egg-shaped ammunition. The 2015 Wii U title Yoshi’s Wooly World unabashedly adopts this model but uses a yarn-based aesthetic to provide some artisanal flavor. Poochy & Yoshi’s Wooly World, a handheld port of that game, doesn’t try to break that mold, though it’s certainly cuter. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t new features; they’re just tangential to the main game, and they all cater to young audiences, which is a bit of a missed opportunity to flesh things out for longtime fans.
The game now includes 30 stop-motion-animated films. Sweet, funny, and all under a minute long, they have absolutely nothing to do with Yoshi’s quest to rescue his fellow Yoshis from the magician Kamek, who’s transformed them into Wonder Wool. These clips aren’t even unlocked by progressing through the game; instead, each one is released a full day after watching the previous one. And because it doesn’t even take a single day to beat the game, unlock the bonus stages, and clear the Boss Rush mode, it’s hard to imagine players returning to the game each day just to watch a 30-second clip.
The six new bonus levels in which players directly control Poochy the yarn-dog are more interactive, but only just: Instead of allowing players to attempt to tackle familiar challenges as Poochy instead of Yoshi, these levels limit players to guiding Poochy through a series of light auto-runners that are far more in the vein of Super Mario Run than anything in Yoshi’s Wooly World. Like the videos, these stages lack any connection to the main game.
The final addition to Poochy & Yoshi’s Wooly World is also its most heartbreaking, with AI assistance added to the game’s easy Mellow Mode now that co-op is no longer an option. Experienced gamers, or those looking for a challenge, will never even activate this feature, and will therefore never encounter the three Poochy pups who faithfully follow Yoshi around each course, serving not only as an inexhaustible form of ammunition, should Yoshi run out of yarn balls, but as guide dogs who literally sniff out the game’s many invisible objects and obscured passages. There’s already an option to equip Power Badges that provide infinite ammunition (in the form of watermelon seeds) or reveal hidden objects, so while this feature adds a layer of cuteness to the game, it also largely strips it of any challenge.
These three, thin new features, most of which are unlikely to be utilized by anybody who actually wants to play the core game, are nothing more than fluff. Thankfully, none of them stands in the way of enjoying Yoshi’s Wooly World on a 3DS, which means that a great many more players now have the opportunity to visit every one of the adorably lethal locales found in the game, be it a cloudbank strewn with cross-stitched candy or a bunch of decidedly un-abominable yarn-men found on an icy plateau.
Whereas the original, hand-drawn Yoshi’s Island operated with a whimsical logic in which eggs were weapons that inexplicably triggered hidden objects, the yarn in this game changes the way in which players interact with enemies. For instance, in a labyrinthine, ghost-filled pyramid, wire-frame Boos transform into silken balloons when given a more corporeal form. Elsewhere, Chomps will chase you once sheared of their wool. Bosses also require careful thought; Burt the Bashful, a staple of the series, grows vulnerable when Yoshi unravels his pants, and a fire-breathing newcomer, Bunson the Hot Dog, can be tricked into burning his own mouth once muzzled with some string.
In these moments, the yarn is more than an aesthetic choice, more than just a means for this game to differentiate itself from its predecessors. Throughout, Yoshi doesn’t just reveal invisible platforms so much as he knits them back into existence, and the occasional wrinkle, crease, and fray in the patchwork scenery is the telltale sign of a hidden secret. Within this wooly world, it makes perfect sense that the game’s protagonist might have to navigate a tricky sequence of swinging curtains or clamber across an oscillating ribbon. These choices don’t feel commercially designed so much as lovingly hand-crafted, and that’s the real appeal of Poochy & Yoshi’s Wooly World.