Over the past nine years or so since Kirby's Epic Yarn released on Wii, Yoshi and Kirby games have become something of an artistic testing ground for Nintendo to experiment with visuals that put style over raw processing power. From worlds made of string and felt, to claymation, we've seen numerous iterations of these two platformers push the physical craft aesthetic forward.
At a glance, Yoshi's Crafted World looks like just a natural extension of this design philosophy, but in practice it's often much more ambitious than that. It's a game that leans fully into tying its visual design and level design together in creative ways, and is all the more charming for it.
Yoshi's Crafted World is a side-scrolling platformer where you play as a brightly-coloured dinosaur whose jumps have a unique fluttery hover. By consuming small enemies and turning them into eggs, the player can throw projectiles to either defeat enemies, or progress through levels filled with just-out-of-sight secret collectables. Players move along a set path within a 3D space – it's a pretty-looking road with minor branches.
Whereas previous Yoshi games have had egg-throwing limited to a 2D axis, here eggs can be thrown into the foreground or background too by aiming a reticule with the analogue stick. The contextual depth is great, and hitting what you're aiming for is largely easy, with the only minor issue being occasionally not realising an obstacle has broken your path to the target due to the camera perspective.
Environments are 'built' out of household craft materials, and left me itching to try making my own level dioramas. Every level in the game, no matter how quaint or grand in scope, feels feasable to physically construct, to such a degree I wouldn't be surprised if Nintendo had a team working on physically crafting levels and props to help inspire their design.
With bamboo made out of green straws, rockets made out of fizzy drink bottles and paper cones, crocodiles made out of shoe boxes, and origami frogs and cakes made out of sponges, it's a world constructed by geniuses to look like it was thrown-together by children.
Considering how much of the game's appeal is its creative aesthetic, I'm relieved to say that the game manages to keep a very strong pace in terms of visual reinvention. Every world theme contains only a handful of levels, each with a unique gimmick, art assets, and materials it appears to be made from. No idea sticks around long enough to become too familiar, and Crafted World is constantly pushing players forward to see what new ideas it can show them next.
Thankfully, this creative design philosophy also extends to the gameplay, with unique ideas being constantly thrown around. While some short-lived mechanics, like riding Poochie, don't really work so well in practice, most of the "gimmick" level ideas are actually very well fleshed out.
Ideas like controlling a giant Yoshi mech to punch through a constantly scrolling obstacle course, or running around on a craft-made plane sound like distractions from the core gameplay, but they often ended up being some of my favourite levels to retry.
In terms of challenge, Yoshi games have never been the most demanding platformers around. Yoshi's Crafted World is certainly no Cuphead or Super Meat Boy, but it also offers a notable challenge for experienced gamers compared to previous games in the series. The game has two difficulty modes; the more simple of which allows Yoshi to fly by holding down a button to mitigate any risk of falling accidentally.
The game's classic mode, labelled as intended for those more competent at games, feels a little more challenging than expected with that same safety net taken away. While experienced gamers will likely be able to get through levels without too much problem if they're simply pushing to reach the exit, anyone hunting for collectables, secrets, and trying to complete challenges will likely face more than a couple of deaths along the way.
However, I do need to talk a little bit about the optional challenge design in the game, because it's one of the areas where I have some harsh criticisms to make. Every level features a number of optional side objectives, and completing a certain number of them will be a prerequisite to progressing through the game. These range from reaching the end of a level with full health, to finding hidden red coins in a level, to collecting flowers hidden around the world.
Some of these hidden collectables will be easier to find than others, but the ones I had a bit of a problem with were some timed challenges found toward the end of levels.
Several levels will contain hidden clouds with clock designs on them, which when activated flip the world around, putting the player into an egg throwing timed challenge. These challenges range from finding a hidden collectable behind moving targets, to essentially playing whack-a-mole, and in isolation are often quite fun. The issue is, they're generally found towards the end of lengthy levels, their time limits are often tight to complete the task, and you only get a single attempt at them.
If you fail, you need to replay a full level of the game just to get another crack. It's frustrating to miss out on a collectable by a matter of seconds, and have to replay a whole level to try again at this task which was clearly designed to be a challenge.
Thinking back to recent games like Devil May Cry 5, which allows you to retry challenge missions if you fail them, just reminded me that having to replay a full level just for one individual challenge isn't always the best option. In this case, it has really put me off the idea of trying to 100 per cent complete a few of the game's levels.
Every level of Yoshi's Crafted World also has a flip side version, where you can play through the level while looking at the back of sets. These are not necessary to complete the game; I played a handful of them through the entire game and felt no real need to play more. While you get an interesting view of the level, seeing the backs of boxes and the tape holding these creations together, every one of these flipped worlds is basically a time trial hunt for three hidden Poochie pups. Once I had done a few of them, I got the gist.
Additionally, playing levels backwards is not always a great experience, game design wise. The difficulty pacing is way off as levels start hard and become a cake walk, and signage not reversing to match your new progression direction can make it easy to get lost in some of the more complex levels. More than once I forgot the arrows were no longer pointing where I should go, and so accidentally looped around a level. These levels were clearly not balanced to be played backwards, and it just doesn't feel great. It's a fun gimmick, but not nearly as exciting in practice as in theory.
Right, let's talk about the co-op mode in Yoshi's Crafted World.
It's not good. Not good in the slightest.
Okay, that's perhaps a little harsh, but it's honestly how I feel after playing through several worlds with my partner over the past week. Here's the problem with the multiplayer support in Crafted World: levels simply have not been designed to properly accommodate more than one player, and the interactive features designed so co-op players could support each other are more often a hindrance than a help.
If both players are in the same area, particularly if they both have a full trail of eggs following them, action quickly becomes chaotic and cluttered to a confusing degree. The camera doesn't really pan out to accommodate players moving apart from each other, meaning players are constantly right on each other. It makes timed jumping challenges a real struggle as both players have to try and do a task at once, without accidentally interacting with each other.
If you get too close to each other in a jump, like a pair of magnets the two Yoshis will latch onto each other, one riding the other, affecting the jumping range of the ridden Yoshi and limiting their moveset. If a player uses their tongue too close to another player, they will swallow them, consuming all their eggs in the process.
Considering the fact eggs in Crafted World are an often finite resource, required for progression and not scaled up in availability for co-op, one player losing all their eggs due to a rogue tongue can be a disaster and ruin your odds of finding all the collectables. It's also just annoying when you're trying to do something and your friend gets in the way.
Seriously, this game is actively a lot less fun in co-op, and I would not recommend anyone play it that way.
But moving away from my criticisms, I think it's important to say that while I do think there are a few notable issues with this game, Yoshi's Crafted World is a terribly charming game. Seriously, for all my complaints, nothing beats winning a little cardboard outfit of a train after finishing a level. Watching my custom colour light blue Yoshi run around holding the box around his waist, with a cardboard smoke stack for a hat and crudely crayon-scribbled Yoshi drawing on the back, as he beats up a big bird made of a yoghurt pot and craft paper, is just a delight. The sheer adorable, tangible joy that this game oozes more than makes up for its occasional shortcomings.
In single player, Yoshi's Crafted World is a fun, creative, challenging platformer that mostly hits the mark when it tries creative ideas. The art design and core concept stays varied and believable throughout, and while it's not necessarily too challenging to get from A to B, you'll for sure die a reasonable amount if you're going for all of the challenges. Some of the timed challenges could do with the ability to retry without a full level restart, and the co-op simply isn't fun, but in single player, the game's adorable charm is impossible not to love.
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.