And so, here we have Nintendo continuing its strange new habit of destroying any hope of playing a single definitive edition of its games.
We've seen it a few times before, e.g., Super Mario Maker and Hyrule Warriors Legends: Nintendo takes a Wii U game and ports it to 3DS, where it presumably will sell better if only due to the enormous difference in the two systems' install bases. The problem, of course, is that 3DS (a six-year-old handheld that was already a bit underwhelming back when it debuted) offers only a fraction of Wii U's power. It has a punier processor, less RAM, smaller pixel resolution... it's inferior in every way. Yet you can't just shrug these technically diminished versions away, because they don't entirely reflect the weaker hardware they've ended up on. Yes, sometimes they lose critical features — such as basic sharing in Super Mario Maker for 3DS — but they always end up with new material. Some of it quite good, such as the massive Nintendo-developed set of single-player stages in Super Mario Maker for 3DS.
As such, it's difficult to call either version of these games truly "definitive." The Wii U release looks far better, but the 3DS remake sees play refinements and additional content. Granted, it would be easy enough for Nintendo to patch in those extra perks to the Wii U version, but why offer a free update when they could use those improvements as a carrot to dangle in front of fans, sweetening the appeal of the 3DS port for the fencer-sitters?
So it goes with Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World, the handheld rendition of 2015's painfully adorable Yoshi's Island-style 2D platformer for Wii U. This new release perfectly embodies the Wii U-to-3DS adaptation trend: It looks quite a bit less impressive than the console version, but it has just enough new stuff inside that a die-hard fan might have a tough time turning up their nose at it.
While Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World doesn't offer up nearly as much unique new material as Super Mario Maker for 3DS, neither does it suffer from that game's burden of absent critical features for which it needs to compensate. This 3DS adaptation contains all the same material as the Wii U game: Six worlds with eight levels apiece, plus a ninth bonus stage in each world as a reward for total completion. Many of the additions here are small and insignificant, such as what appears to be support for a wider array of amiibo character (including a new Yarn Poochy amiibo, available with the game in a bundle), but they all have their appeal.
The new version does include its obligatory, single, surprising omission: Despite bearing a title that suggests a team-up, Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World lacks the two-player mode of the console version. I don't know that many people will miss it, but I've spent many hours nudging my preschool-age nephew through "Mellow" mode and helping him learn the game's ropes, something we've both enjoyed. The Wii U game is one of the better simultaneous cooperative 2D platformers I've played, so this loss constitutes a small but disappointing excision.
Otherwise, though, it's the same game, minus the visual fidelity. Which is actually kind of a big deal. Far be it for me to obsess over a game's visuals, but the high-definition detail of Yoshi's Woolly World was one of its key selling points. The tactile quality of the game, wherein every character is constructed of craft supplies that unravel in combat and explode into sparkly plastic beads when struck, was one of its key selling points. Nintendo has been dabbling in unique, hand-crafted visuals for the Yoshi series ever since the crayon-like Yoshi's Island more than 20 years ago; Wii U marks the first time the series has benefitted from the hardware power to really make it convincing. The 3DS, not so much.
However, if you can muscle your way through these compromises, Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World has a pretty decent amount of worthwhile new material for fans — all of it centered around Poochy, per the game's title. Some of it's merely for fun; there's a month's worth of short claymation cartoons featuring Yarn Poochy and Yoshi (one unlocks each day) which are absolutely charming and guarantee that anyone still in possession of a human soul will keep the game in their regular rotation for no less than 31 days. The cartoons also give a helpful clue as to the target age group for this game: Each one ends with a very simple, elementary-age quiz about the events of the cartoon. It's almost an educational game.
You can also unlock several bonus stages starring Poochy. Yoshi's canine companion made his debut, of course, in Yoshi's Island's unlockable bonus stages, which (like the unlockable stages here) were insanely difficult. These Poochy-specific levels, on the other hand, are something different altogether: Mobile-style runner stages. They're simple, one-touch challenges complete with basic goals (collect beads, find all of Poochy's puppies en route) as well as a checklist of special objectives revealed only upon completing the stage... the better to encourage replay, my dear.
The Poochy runner levels are nicely designed, but they don't hold any surprises for anyone familiar with the genre. I suspect that's the point, though: Between the visuals, the cartoon quizzes, and the one-touch play bonus stages, Nintendo really seems to have aimed this game at a younger audience. I came away with the same suspicion about Yoshi's New Island as well, but here the focus appears even more specific. And that's no bad thing. I like the fact that when Nintendo aims young, it doesn't do so by condescending to its audience.
Honestly, outside of its tactile graphics and baby-voiced dino star, the Yoshi's Island template seems a pretty bold choice for a kids' franchise. Unlike the simple run-and-jump action of the Mario series that inspired it, Yoshi's Island derivatives like this are fairly complex. Yoshi's ability to gulp enemies and toss eggs requires far more intricate an interface than B-dashing into a jump. Factor in the need to calculate trajectories for egg rebounds and the complexity of the multilayered, secret-riddled design of stages and you have a formula that really asks a lot of humans whose hand-eye coordination skills are still in their development phase. But that's good. The addition of Mellow mode (which makes dying a near-impossibility) and the simple Poochy stages give younger players a great point of entry for the overall package. It's a shame about the loss of cooperative play, which is a perfect tool for introducing kids to the complexities of Yoshi's world, but the package holds up well without it.
So, no, this isn't the definitive edition of Yoshi's Woolly World. And neither is the Wii U game. Each has its specific charms — better visuals and simultaneous play on Wii U, more content and cute bonus elements on 3DS — so ultimately, it's a question of personal preference. That said, Yoshi's Woolly World is by far the best direct follow-up to Yoshi's Island Nintendo has ever made, with better design than Yoshi's Island DS and more creative ideas than Yoshi's New Island, and that makes it a must-play for fans of the 1995 classic. Whether here or on Wii U, it's a great little platformer with a brilliant visual style... even if that brilliance does end up muted by the 3DS's limitations.
As with many Yoshi games, this is a slower, more intricate kind of platformer — but it works.
Per usual, each level is crammed with secrets to uncover, for which you're rewarded with brutally difficult bonus stages. Plus, there's a month's worth of cartoons! Lots to do and see here.
The music alternates between chirpy and funky, but it's always upbeat. The childish character noises can be tough to stomach at times.
The wonderful visual style (everything, and I mean everything, is yarn!) suffers a downgrade in the move from Wii U to 3DS. But it's still adorable.
While the core game has changed very little since its original appearance on Wii U a little more than a year ago, Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World giveth, and it taketh away. If you don't mind the visual downgrade and the loss of cooperative play, you'll probably enjoy the new additions on tap here (most of which, unsurprisingly, revolve around Yoshi's canine companion Poochy). At its heart, this is the best follow-up to Yoshi's Island to date, so it's absolutely worth your time if you missed it on Wii U.