Maybe looks aren’t everything, but a new coat of paint can sure freshen a room up. The Yoshi franchise has been the subject of cute visual experimentation since the coloring-book aesthetic of the SNES’ Yoshi’s Island, but the little dino’s latest adventure for the Nintendo Switch might just be his most eye-pleasing yet. Sure, the platforming might feel a bit more cardboard than in some previous outings, but Yoshi’s Crafted World is nevertheless a joy to play from start to finish, if only to see what homemade delights developer Good-Feel has tucked around the next corner.
A barely-there story sets the scene, as a group of plush Yoshi’s gather around some gemstones that grant the owner whatever wish they may desire. Whether or how they were ever going to be used by these adorable reptiles never gets answered, however, as the arrival of Baby Bowser and his bespectacled wizard goon, Kamek, results in an accident that scatters the precious stones far and wide across a diverse arts & crafts landscape that wouldn’t look out of place on Etsy. So, it’s up to one (or two in co-op) Yoshi to volunteer for the hero position and track these gems down so that life on their idyllic island can return to normal. Of course, a bratty Baby Bowser and an enabling Kamek have other plans…
It’s just classic Nintendo window dressing used to move players along as they perform light platforming and exploration through a variety of fantastic and unconnected worlds; once the game begins, the plot thread can quickly be forgotten. But who cares? The real draw of Yoshi’s Crafted World is the levels themselves, which look like they’ve been built in someone’s basement playroom out of household materials like corrugated cardboard, paper plates, tinfoil, bendy straws, toothpicks, and plastic cups. The pure imagination on display in constructing environments ranging from palm-tree jungles to coral-lined sea floors is absolutely grin-inducing, with chugging locomotives and creaky haunted houses all lovingly pieced together with a handmade, toy-like feel that leaves an impression that the stages in this game are not meant to just be played through, but played with. Even boss fights get in on the act, with cut-scenes animated in a stilted, Lego Movie sort of way.
Gamers have always been drawn to shiny things, and for those who appreciate the whimsical, Yoshi’s Crafted World is one of the most glittering on Nintendo’s console. While a few sacrifices may have been made to keep the frame rate silky smooth, it’s the design that impresses the most — and inspires players not only to see what’s next, but to return to previous levels to see what charming details they might have missed. The appeal of this aesthetic cannot be underestimated in providing motivation, and revealing some of the more creative levels would spoil the surprise.
Of course, Yoshi’s Crafted World isn’t just for looking at. The gameplay will be familiar to fans of the series, with Yoshi’s classic tongue-snatch, flutter jump, and egg toss remaining staples of his current repertoire. These basic tools will usually be all that the daring dinosaur needs to traverse the various obstacles and suss out the many returning collectibles like red coins and smiley flowers. However, Good-Feel does throw in a few occasional curveball mechanics just to keep things sassy. The best ones keep the timeless exploration aspect intact, such as stages revolving around moon gravity, avoiding light, or being chased by a maniac clown (I’d rather not say more). Others, however, carry on the tradition of auto-scroll, asking players to control a giant, punching Yoshi robot, balance atop a plane, or run from a massive rampaging skeleton. While these latter sections may provide a nifty break and a little more challenge to seasoned players, they also have a tendency to feel stale and less rewarding than those which allow players more freedom to snoop amongst the scenery.
The reason the exploration matters so much is that the platforming keeps pretty much on the safe side, so the amount of interactivity Yoshi can have with his surroundings is vital to the fun. Eggs can be tossed into a multitude of elements in order to create stairways or open doors, but not just on the path ahead. This time, players can also pitch fastballs at objects in the background and foreground thanks to a flexible and intelligent reticle. These cardboard shrubs, seagulls, or planets might just reward coins, but they’re also used to hide secrets or be the goal of a scavenger hunt. Yoshi’s Crafted World is at its best when encouraging this type of observation and puzzle solving, so stages that deny that are a bit of a let-down.
Regardless of some misses to go along with the hits, few will have trouble moving on and finding something they like. There are 40+ levels are scattered across an easy-to-navigate overworld, and though progress is occasionally gated by a robot who for some reason converts flowers to energy, collecting enough of these shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Those having trouble finding the flowers in normal stages can also get them via side quests, such as the above-mentioned scavenger hunts, or by playing “flip sides” of any completed stage. These bonus levels see Yoshi traversing previously traveled territory, but with a reversed point of view that gives a different perspective while hunting down three lost Poochy Pups. While not quite the equivalent of wholly additional levels, the flip sides are a great excuse to revisit the stunning environments, as well as wring some more mileage out of the generally pleasant level design.
Yes, it’s fairly easy to find the finish lines and beat bosses in Yoshi’s Crafted World, but this accessible series has always reserved its challenge for collectibles, and here is no different. Tracking down every flower or red coin will take some time for completionists, as many are quite well-hidden. Whether the effort is worth it or not will depend on one’s tolerance for repetition, especially for those stages that don’t grant freedom to roam. I knew immediately after playing certain levels that I would never be back, wouldn’t care about finding items missed the first time through. Still, a great many more I was happy to revisit; results will vary. Good-Feel also included dozens of costumes for Yoshi to win from coin-slot prize machines. These cardboard clothes not only look cute (even if they give off a hobo vibe) but also act as a sort of armor that absorbs extra damage, with their strength dependent on their rarity.
However, that sort of content is merely a carrot dangled as a lure, enticing a return trip to those wonderfully playful worlds. The safe, solid gameplay doesn’t quite reach the heights of previous entries, but because of its delightfully whimsical visuals, Yoshi’s Crafted World is rarely less than absorbing.