Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release: March 29, 2019
Since the release of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1995, games carrying the Yoshi moniker have enjoyed mixed results trying to live up to that game’s high calibre of artistic vision and platforming mechanics. Far more than a run-of-the-mill nostalgia trap, Yoshi’s Island is even today widely considered a platforming triumph, setting a precedent for adventurous level design and the playful, toy-box approach to gameplay that would go on to become the blueprint for Nintendo’s signature style of game design. Not to mention its beautiful hand-drawn art style, which has aged gracefully.
While latter games in the Yoshi series, such as Yoshi’s Story and more recently Yoshi’s Woolly World, have confidently exhibited their own unique art styles in the same vein as Yoshi’s Island –– the former, a dioramic, pop-up storybook, and Woolly World, a yarn and sequin wonderland –– none have come close to matching its status as a platforming masterpiece. Now, the eighth mainline Yoshi game, Yoshi’s Crafted World for the Nintendo Switch, has followed suit with its own cardboard cutout aesthetic, complete with some new ideas for the series. But next to the incomparable Yoshi’s Island, and even the sleeper hit Woolly World, how does it make the cut?
Developed by Kobe-based studio Good-Feel, responsible for other arts-and-craft-inspired adventures Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World, the iconic green dinosaur’s latest outing doesn’t exactly have the catchiest title, nor does it break any new ground in its genre. Instead, Yoshi’s Crafted World offers a pleasant diversion from some of the more difficult and competitive games presently swamping the market, and it further solidifies the Yoshi series as a wonderful set of games for young children with some optional depth thrown in for more competent players.
Players control one of eight colourful Yoshis as they waddle and flutter through imaginative vistas composed of cardboard animals, shoebox houses and all manner of things made from miscellaneous household items like plastic bottles, cereal boxes and aluminium cans, sometimes with price tags and barcodes still intact. Good-Feel have an unmatchable talent for crafting a DIY home project and meticulously incorporating it into one of their game worlds, like a family garden, outdoor pond or child’s bedroom.
I adore Crafted World’s presentation; every stage implies its own story about a child building tiny obstacle courses from their imagination and envisioning a cheerful dinosaur exploring their nooks and crannies. Sony’s LittleBigPlanet may have offered a similar experience more than a decade ago, but Yoshi’s presentation is less exuberant and far more modest. The “Nintendo charm” in Yoshi’s Crafted World is about inspiring the player to build comparable dioramas from their own household objects with relative ease. This “handcrafted” design philosophy, as seen in Nintendo Labo, echoes the company’s mission to bring people together both inside and outside of their games, and it’s nothing if not wholesome.
In parallel with Crafted World’s humble art style, its gameplay tends to resist turning up the ante too much. As Yoshi, players can lick up weaker enemies and gestate them into eggs, which can be thrown at other, more formidable foes, or at secrets that reveal themselves around the stage, sometimes in the background and foreground. True to Yoshi’s Island and almost every platform game Nintendo has released since, each level in Crafted World features its own unique gameplay challenge –– from navigating bouncing flowers, using bombs to clear out a mine cart passage, or luring a large snake up a tall tree.
Unfortunately, Crafted World’s challenges, already relatively simple, rarely reach their true potential, often failing to demand more complex applications and solutions à la Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong Country. Unlike those games however, Crafted World’s straightforward design makes it a great game for children under seven, and its fairly laidback, forgiving gameplay can be valuable in the development of their hand-eye coordination and puzzle solving ability, as well as fostering an interest in arts-and-craft and their own creativity. A two-player option further complements Crafted World’s potential for parent-child interaction.
That’s not to say that Crafted World can be enjoyed only by children however, as while it is a wholly unchallenging experience, it occasionally delights with levels that are comparatively more outrageous in concept. Among these, the player could be tasked with controlling a boxing cardboard mech, outrunning a skeletal dinosaur, adjusting the altitude of a biplane or racing in a solar-powered remote control car. I was particularly fond of the game’s later, darker stages, some of which forced Yoshi to bypass large samurai, escape a Shy Guy grim reaper and even –– in what might push the boundaries of how suitable Crafted World is for toddlers –– run away from hordes of axe-wielding clowns in a dark, dank backstreet. Yeah. Creepy.
The only other noteworthy game mechanic tucked into Crafted World are its “Flip Side” stages. Similar to other screen rotation games like Fez, Super Paper Mario and And Yet It Moves, players may replay stages in Crafted World by travelling from the level’s endpoint back to its beginning, albeit viewed from the other side of the two-dimensional plane. This appeared to be a prominent part of the game’s design when it was revealed at E3 2017, where the “flip side” could be activated at any time. It’s since been dialled back however, now limited to an optional game mode where players search for adorable “Poochy” pups in clever hiding spots. Cute as those puppies are, it’s a shame that Good-Feel made a half-measure out of an interesting game mechanic that could have helped to solidify Crafted World’s individuality.
Yoshi’s Crafted World is a cute, delightful adventure among the Nintendo Switch’s already wealthy selection of platformers. It’s also a contender for the most beautiful game on the system, with an art style crafted from love and care that never fails to stimulate the imagination. It’s a great game for parents to play with their toddlers, while also posing a decent challenge for completionists and players who venture past the game’s endpoint. It’s just disappointing that Crafted World doesn’t develop its many quirky game mechanics into something more fruitful.