Yoshi’s Crafted World feels like a game Nintendo found rattling around in the back of a kitchen drawer. It’s an ode to the things you ought to throw away: the empty battery, a broken straw, the Blu Tack turned Dirty Brown Tack.
Its levels are built from everyday domestic detritus, bodged together with sticky tape and string, like the Frankensteined horror shows kids bring home from playgroup and expect you to enshrine on the mantelpiece. To call it a ‘crafted world’ is overselling the workmanship, and underselling the charm.
And what better playground for Yoshi, the closest thing Nintendo has to the shiny penny it lost down the back of the sofa. A hero farmed out to third parties for a series of ever-worsening outings that made you question why Yoshi was ever elevated in the first place. And it was an elevation. It’s easy to forget that Mario’s dinosaur pal was the power-up that got lucky: going from simple steed in Super Mario World to Nintendo mainstay in the course of one game. One terrific game, admittedly – the sublime Yoshi’s Island – but why him and not, say, Kuribo’s Shoe or Starman?
It’s up for debate if Yoshi’s less-than-stellar career could be pinned on the dino himself. Arguably he’s the least appealing plaything in the Nintendo pantheon. His vague flutter jump lacks Mario’s acrobatic accuracy and his reliance on thrown eggs makes him a bit of a bystander in his own games. 50% of the action is lobbing eggs at enemies or winged clouds, the other 50% is trying to harvest enough eggs so you don’t have to impotently jog past these hovering prizes. Not to mention the sinister soundtrack of constipated ‘hynnnggs’ that accompany these moves.
This is true of Yoshi’s Crafted World, too. The twist is an ability to throw eggs into the back- and foreground, turning pretty backdrops into target galleries, and giving level designers more places to hide collectibles. Considering so much of Yoshi’s challenge stems from ammunition management – ensuring you have an egg for every occasion – the sheer number of bobbing targets adds noise that makes the completionist’s work that bit harder. Yoshi’s aiming reticule does light up any item he can interact with, but there’s still a lot of red herrings designed to sap your egg supplies.
On the strength of this alone, Yoshi’s Crafted World could have so easily been another of his post-Island failures. The meat of the adventure is hunting for collectibles, which sometimes slips into trial and error. Designers have a mean habit of using invisible items that only appear when Yoshi passes near them. Forcing you to scour every corner of the screen is more like busywork than clever deduction. But it becomes less noticeable as the game goes on and you begin to spot these ‘notably empty’ spaces a mile off, like Neo finally seeing the code of the Matrix.
The collectible hunt is more enjoyable when they introduce proper puzzles. Using Yoshi’s weight to seesaw giant mobiles to reach hidden heights, say, or throwing magnets against tin cans to build makeshift staircases to distant prizes. Other pick-ups are tied to bursts of arcade fun – winged clouds that trigger timed shooting challenges or litter levels with blue coins to be grabbed against the clock. It’s even better when combined with other mechanics: bounding Yoshi’s pet Poochy through a slalom of blue coins is a particular pleasure. Any challenge that gives you just one shot, and injects a bit of urgency as a result, is to be welcomed in an otherwise gentle trot from start to finish.
“What prevents Crafted World adding to his stinker of a CV is a sense of playful experimentation missing from his games since Yoshi’s Island”
What prevents Crafted World adding to his stinker of a CV is a sense of playful experimentation missing from his games since Yoshi’s Island. With Yoshi being a more physically limited hero, the levels have to do heavier lifting than they do for Mario or Kirby.
And like Island, Crafted World has no fear in introducing ideas for a five-minute level and then binning them off, no matter how strong the execution or the potential for further play. One second it’s magnetised weight puzzles, the next you’re on the roof of a runaway train or vapourising buildings with giant robot fists.
And while some ideas are less welcome – jumping across birds reminds you how imprecise that flutter jump can be – the ingenuity steadily ramps up as the game unfolds. There’s a tremendous solar-powered racetrack, where you try to nudge your competitors into the shadows to slow their progress. And a stage where axe-wielding clown maniacs attempt to kill Yoshi when he leaves the light is weirdly unnerving; almost like a Nintendo take on Five Nights At Freddy’s. It’s perhaps misplaced in a game that’s about as infant-friendly as they come, but it adds to the satisfying sense that you never know what you’re going to get when you press A to start.
This creative whiplash also pushes the game in exciting visual directions, as space rockets built from washing up bottles make way for a level played in silhouette behind sliding Japanese doors. The nerdiest twist – quite literally – is the option to replay levels from a 180 degree perspective flip. It’s a timed dash from the finish line, but played behind the scenes so you can see how the elaborate designs you explore on your first trip are actually constructed.
As a whole, Crafted World feels conceptually clever rather than pretty – there’s nothing here to rival the papercraft beauty of PlayStation’s Tearaway, for example – but seeing stages in a practical light injects does inject an ironic dose of magic. Someone went to great lengths to work out how these places could work for real, and wants you to appreciate it. And you will.
“Crafted World feels conceptually clever rather than pretty, but seeing stages in a practical light injects does inject an ironic dose of magic.”
Crafted World’s other attempts to pad out the world are less successful. The co-op mode is diabolically bad, hindered by a tight camera perspective that sees two heroes colliding and cursing. This is clearly a world made for one. If you are concerned about a younger player struggling alone, there’s a mellow mode offering infinite jumps, more health, more eggs and none of those irritating invisible winged clouds. It’s an exemplary easy mode.
A vast collection of unlockable costumes also makes a strong case for less being more – emptying coins into a gacha machine to unlock a reskinned box is not everyone’s idea of a good time, unless the idea of Yoshi dressed as a boat is a dream come true for you.
But maybe that’s the magic of Crafted World: a ticket to simpler times, when Pritt Stick and glitter equalled art, and not something that you were going to be hoovering off the car seats for months to come. And it reminds us of a time when Yoshi was deserving of his own games; not a Yoshi’s Island beater, but closer than he’s come in a long time. Nintendo should search around those kitchen drawers more often.
Not quite Yoshi’s Island beater, but closer than he’s come in a long time.
- A playful parade of level concepts
- Mountains of collectibles to keep you occupied
- Homemade aesthetic is a treat to unpick
- Co-op mode is a chaotic mess