Please indulge me in what may be a tortured sports analogy about Nintendo. If Nintendo is an NBA team, then Zelda is the superstar, Pokemon is the reliable big man who can post up and get easy buckets, and Splatoon is the exciting young rookie.
That makes Kirby and Yoshi the bench players for Nintendo—the underappreciated reserves who can plug holes in the lineup while still scoring some points. They almost never get the star treatment of Zelda, Mario, or even Fire Emblem, but they nevertheless play a vital role in filling out Nintendo's release calendar. Kirby in particular often gets multiple releases per year, his last break being way back in 2013.
This year's entries from Nintendo's reliable bench players are Yoshi's Crafted World and Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn, which are coming to Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS respectively in March. Both are follow-ups to earlier games. Yoshi's Crafted World follows on from Yoshi's Woolly World for Wii U and 3DS, while Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is a port of the popular Kirby's Epic Yarn, last seen on the Nintendo Wii in 2010.
Both have a gimmicky feel to them. They rely on unique visuals and special mechanics for their appeal, with Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn in particular being a major departure from the familiar gameplay of the core series. Unlike the classic version, Yarn Kirby is unable to inhale or fly, and he uses a whip-like string to defeat enemies and steal their abilities. Meanwhile, Yoshi's Crafted World is set in a kind of paper diorama in which you have to manipulate the scenery to find special collectibles. Think of the famous secret in Mario 3 where you crouch long enough to drop behind the stage in order to access the warp whistle.
Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn and Yoshi's Crafted World, you might not be surprised to learn, share a common developer. They are both being made by Good-Feel, a studio based in Kobe that has regularly taken on Nintendo's properties over the past decade. It's in roughly the same category as Camelot Software; but where Camelot's portfolio is sports games and (rarely) Golden Sun, Good-Feel specializes in experimental platformers.
With Yoshi's Crafted World and its predecessor Yoshi's Woolly World, Good-Feel has basically taken on the legacy of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island—still regarded as one of the best Mario games ever made. (Poor Yoshi even tends to get overshadowed by Mario in his own games.) Yoshi's Island was known not just for its marvelous graphics which recalled a coloring book, but for the way that it completely revamped Mario's gameplay. Yoshi jumped differently and threw eggs, and his levels were built in large part on collecting items like Flower Coins.
A pair of sequels were later released for Nintendo DS, but both felt like pale rehashes of the SNES original, neither of them matching the sheer excellence of its level design. It was Good-Feel that hit on the idea of using the Wii U's HD capabilities to render Yoshi as a cuddly bundle of wool. In that, it was basically marrying Yoshi's Island with Kirby's Epic Yarn, which Good-Feel also worked on (in conjunction with HAL).
It wasn't that different from its 16-bit predecessor when it came down to it, but Good-Feel executed well on its familiar concepts, resulting in a platformer that was both pleasant to play and aesthetically pleasing. In reviewing its 3DS follow-up, Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World, Jeremy Parish lamented the loss of cooperative play, but otherwise praised its design. "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."
Yoshi's Crafted World, for its part, is even more of a step forward for the Yoshi's Island format, this time exchanging yarn for paper. I had a chance to play it just recently, and I was charmed by the way that the paper floor would roll up under Yoshi's feet, and the way the stage would rotate to reveal Poochie Pups and Flower Coins. The environmental puzzles are by most measures extremely simple, requiring just a couple steps to solve, but in some ways that's to its benefit. Yoshi's Crafted World won't challenge older players much, but with their simple puzzles and co-op gameplay, they're perfect for young children.
Out of the two Nintendo games being released in March, Yoshi's Crafted World has the greatest chance of breaking out, not the least because it's a new game on Nintendo Switch. Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is more of a stopgap for the Nintendo 3DS, which is truly on its last legs now that the Switch is firmly established. The original Epic Yarn was praised for its creative take on the Kirby formula, and the port will include new features like Devilish Mode, which features three devils wreaking havoc and making life hell for Kirby. But it is what it is: a port of a nine-year-old game on an eight-year-old platform.
In filling in for an otherwise quiet March for Switch and 3DS, Kirby and Yoshi seem unlikely to be remembered as the best games of 2019. But they are fulfilling the role they've had for many years now. They're the bench players that Nintendo can call up year after year while working on high-profile games for later. As deliberate throwbacks, they tickle the nostalgia center and bolster Nintendo's bonafides as a home for classic gaming. And while they aren't enough to carry a release schedule on their own, they nevertheless have plenty to recommend in them.
Yoshi's Crafted World will be out March 29 on Switch, while Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is set for March 8 on 3DS. Expect more coverage for both when they become available.