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Yoshi's Woolly World review

One of the many things that Nintendo has fatally warped my understanding of is yellowcake, the milled form of uranium oxide that marks a crucial step in the business of processing uranium ore. That’s back in the real world, anyway. To me, alas, yellowcake will always look and behave like the material you get in some of the levels of Yoshi’s Island: the brittle, golden, biscuity kind of rock that you can bore holes through by chucking an egg or by ramming with your snout. No Geiger counters needed, but would it kill you to wear a hardhat?

The more I think about Yoshi’s Island, a 2D platformer in which Mario lets his dinosaur pal take the limelight for once, the more I realise it was defined by this stuff – or rather, by stuff in general. The fun emerged from the different materials that Nintendo relied on to make each new level delightful and surprising, the different materials that forced you to create parts of your own lexicon, like yellowcake. Everyone remembers the papercraft butterflies that flittered through the pastel skies overhead as you relayed your baby Mario and baby Luigi through ingenious 2D stages, but alongside them and alongside yellowcake, there was that sticky goop you could get your head stuck in, there were fat, sagging balloons, and there were the mines – those mines! – the walls made of razor sharp crystals and riddled with bouncy balls that would propel you from one impromptu playroom to the next, where something entirely novel no doubt awaited you.

This, I suspect, is a small part of why I’ve found myself getting a little bored by a game that ostensibly takes up the mantle of Yoshi’s Island and brings it into the HD era. Yoshi’s Woolly World is a beautiful game in which almost everything you interact with is made of thick, hairy yarn. It’s also a game, though, in which almost everything you interact with is made of thick hairy yarn. Prettiness isn’t the problem here. Cleverness isn’t the problem here either, because there are a few lovely design moments scattered across the campaign. The problem is variety. At a superficial level at least, Woolly World is a victim of its own gorgeous, eye-catching conceit, of its central material preoccupation.