Yoshi's Woolly World has three big things in its favour: it feels fabulous to play, it looks sumptuous and it sometimes makes you feel like a genius.
Even amongst the generous array of mega-cute platformers on Wii U, it stands out as especially beautiful, especially sweet and especially eager to please. But it isn't especially inspired. Underneath that touchably lovely, knitted visual style, there are a lot of borrowed ideas: almost all of its cute little yarn gimmicks have been seen before in Kirby's Epic Yarn, it nicks a badge power-up system from Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, and the enemies and level design are familiar from (of course) the greatest of all puzzle-platformers, the original Yoshi's Island.
Its enjoyable but slightly conservative mash-up of tried-and-tested Nintendo designs compares unfavourably to the riot of inventiveness that was Super Mario 3D World, and to this game's 20-year-old inspiration. Functionally, mechanically, visually, Woolly World is an equal to the wonderful 1995 platformer - or at least, the closest thing yet. But it was not just how enjoyable it was to play that made the original Yoshi's Islandstick in the memory - it was its careening weirdness, creativity and variety. Woolly World has some great tricks, but before long you've seen them all, if you hadn't seen them before already.
They are such great tricks, though. Instead of eggs, the woolen Yoshis in this colourful playground are followed around by bouncing balls of yarn that can be hurled at knitted adversaries, bounced off the levels' cuddly geometry or sent flying through that strange, brittle foamy stuff that's always featured in Yoshi games. Sometimes a piece of fabric in the level has a thread loose, and it will unravel satisfyingly when Yoshi snags it with his tongue, revealing something hidden behind. Teensy little knitted Shy Guys wander dolefully around with crochet hooks; birds float past on wings made of yarn.
Hidden doors lead to bonus mini-levels where the wee dino transforms into a teeny little knitted aeroplane, or an umbrella, or a mermaid. These transformations last just long enough to thoroughly delight before they disappear again. The levels are compact, secret-stuffed romps through themed areas - a beach, the treetops, a desert palace, woodlands, what looks like a gigantic baby's playroom. Each of the 6 worlds has an overall theme, and as you unlock the levels, little knitted dioramas of them pop up from the quilt-stitched ground for you to admire before diving in.
It's just absurdly cute. It's so sweet that looking at it makes my teeth hurt. Hidden within each level, along with a raft of other glittering collectibles, are bundles of yarn that together form a new Yoshi pattern - there are hundreds of the buggers, all of which look believably knitted, frayed edges and all. (I was not remotely surprised to discover that the making of Yoshi's Woolly World involved the creation of dozens ofreal-world knitted Yoshis.) There's a watermelon Yoshi, a cookie-coloured Yoshi, striped and spotted and rainbow Yoshis. If you have an Amiibo collection, you canunlock Yoshis knitted in Mario or Link or Donkey Kong patterns.
Anything that isn't made of yarn is stitched together from colourful fabrics and decorated with ribbons, buttons and sequins, which made me feel like I was being comfortingly enveloped in softness. Every single thing in Yoshi's Woolly World looks like you could touch it, and like it would make a good pillow.
Some levels are more vertical, some are left-to-right, and some are dungeon-like, with interconnecting rooms and backtracking and hidden doors. There are one or two standouts for every world, some of which have game-changing gimmicks that would be worthy of a Mario game. Most of them, though, are more comfortable, more predictable, and fail to stick in the mind.
In multiplayer - two Yoshis can share the screen at any time - Woolly World turns into that familiar Nintendo co-op mixture of chaos and collaboration. You can gobble up your partner and turn them into a little egg with eyeballs - it's much easier to snag collectibles when you can chuck your partner up onto a distant ledge. It is a perfect family game, though younger kids will need a little help with the nuances of throwing eggs at angles. Yoshi's flutter-jump makes this quite a forgiving platformer on a basic level; you're more likely to die by running out of hearts than falling down an abyss.
Actually getting through the levels is relatively easy, but playing them well requires skill and brains (and an aptitude for calculating the angles of thrown yarn balls). Finding even half of the hidden things in any one level on the first play-through is unlikely. Badge power-ups can help out by making Yoshi immune to fire or falling, or highlighting collectibles with a sparkle effect, or throwing Yoshi's old friend Poochy in to make things easier, but finding everything still requires an inquisitive mind (and perhaps a slightly obsessive temperament). The rewards for doing so, however, aren't that brilliant: finding every hidden flower in a world unlocks a secret level and the new Yoshi patterns are fun to admire, but otherwise you're looking at Miiverse stamps.
I found deconstructing these levels a joy, most of the time. I was constantly prodding and poking at their beautiful fabric constructions, scanning for anomalies that might indicate a secret route or collectible or hidden cache of gems. When you suspiciously eye up an empty corner, throw a yarn ball at it and reveal an invisible ? cloud, you get a small thrill of discovery, like you've uncovered something secret - even though, of course, it was put there for you to find. It makes you feel clever. Yoshi's Woolly Worldlooks like the friendliest game in the world, but finding all its secrets and collectibles is a stern challenge both for the reflexes and the mind. Ferreting out every last coin, flower and yarn bundle from of these compact but dense levels is very satisfying.
The effect is diminished by repetition, though, and by about the fourth world I was getting bored with Woolly World, lovely though it is. This isn't a game to blast through in a weekend, it's one to settle into for an hour or two at a time. Barrelling through it feels like downing an entire two-litre bottle of Coke at once.
Yoshi's Woolly World is less inventive than it first appears, but every last thread of it looks and feels like it's been lovingly, carefully created to please you. It's a comforting, safe Nintendo adventure - and though its ideas are familiar to us from 20 years ago, they're new to a whole generation of young players.
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.