- A beautiful art style married to cohesive game design
- The gameplay is nearly perfect
- Easy if you want it to be, a challenge if you need it to be
- Lots of impressive little details
- Exploring levels is really neat
- Simple story
- Occasional autoscrolling levels aren't that great
- Sometimes items blend in with the backgrounds a little too well
- Constant progress checks feel unnecessary
Yoshi's Crafted World is easily the best in the series so far, and hopefully serves as a springboard for sequels to come.
The Craftaceous Period
The best way to describe Yoshi’s Crafted World is that it’s a 3D platformer trapped in a 2D side-scrolling body. It does things that a lot of 2D platfomers don’t. Levels are not so much mad dashes from left to right as they are opportunities to explore, get the lay of the land, and grab as many objectives as possible in one go. There are no ominous timers ticking down to the player’s doom. Death is a minor inconvenience because lives don’t exist. And there’s so much to see, the game finds all kinds of ways to dole out sidequests and other objectives. It may not seem like it at first, but Crafted World is all about giving people the opportunity to interact with it how they please.
Beyond player freedom and exploration, the reason I bring up 3D design when talking about a 2D platformer is because Crafted World is a 3D game – it’s just presented to the player as though it wasn’t. Why is this important? Think of it this way: most side-scrollers, like your regular Kirby or Mario, show the action from a fixed perspective. Everything beyond the edges of the camera might as well not exist, because there’s usually no wider area to explore. Changing the camera angle would break the immersion by showing this fact to the player.
Crafted World is different. Early on, the game introduces “flip sides” to levels, where the camera is placed in the background and players get a voyeuristic look at the other half of the level not normally shown. The backs of bushes and trees are exposed, giant walls turn into new areas, and hidden enemies don’t even know you can see them. All levels are thus thought and laid out in full 360°, even if players aren’t aware of it all the time.
It’s an effective design choice. It makes two levels out of one, and allows for clever ways to hide objects, so that if it’s not visible going one way, it’ll probably be clearer on the flip side. It would probably be impossible with the way Crafted World is built, but I’m curious how it could function as a full 3D platformer. If the camera was placed behind Yoshi’s back, could the two halves come together? Would it ruin the illusion? Probably not, but I’m not a designer, so I don’t know.
Regardless, what makes the idea of levels and flip sides so successful is the way Good-Feel’s art direction compliments their design. On flip side levels, you can see the string and tape used to hold cardboard clouds in the sky. Everything looks like it’s been handcrafted by a master, down to Yoshi’s vibrant felt. This isn’t much of a surprise, given the developer’s previous work with wool and yarn aesthetics, but it makes the game feel like a surreal diorama. Like you’re playing some interactive art exhibit and as soon as you step away, the artist is going to come up and ask how you enjoyed it.
The design is so good, it almost excuses the story for being a barebones shell about Yoshi’s struggle to get a bunch of magical gems back to his herd before Baby Bowser and Kamek find them first. The bar for Nintendo platformer stories isn’t very high, so it’s not surprising, but at least it moves the gameplay forward. That said, I did appreciate some of the detail Good-Feel put into the cutscenes. Dialogue choices are superfluous, silly, and usually at the expense of Baby Bowser, while each boss is lovingly introduced with beautiful stop-motion animation.
The game is full of charming things like this. There’s two-player co-op that allows one Yoshi to jump on the other’s back and focus on throwing eggs, which is perfect for any parent looking to play with a young kid. There are also capsule toy machines in each world that unlock dozens of cute Yoshi costumes, provided the player has enough coin. These costumes act as a layer of armor for Yoshi, and even have a rarity system that shows how much damage they take when you unlock them. None of these things necessarily have to be there, but they help the game feel fleshed out.
Should you not want to interact with any of that, you don’t have to. There’s very little that Crafted World forces on the player. As long as you complete the levels and collect enough flowers to please the NPC progress checks, you can breeze through it as quickly as Yoshi’s little feet can carry you. If you want a challenge, though, this game doesn’t disappoint. Getting all of the objectives stops being easy very early, and the bonus levels that unlock after beating the story present some true platforming challenges. I was happy to engage with these systems when I wanted, because they kept me curious and gave me the challenge I sought, but I can understand it’s not for everyone.
As far as I’m concerned, Yoshi’s Crafted World is the definitive Yoshi game. It’s a much needed revision to the series template that remains fun, without bringing up too many of its predecessors. It’s a 3D platformer in a 2D mold, and as weird as that sounds, it helps this title stand out in a crowded field on Switch. If you’ve already played Mario, Kirby, Donkey Kong, and even Hollow Knight, Yoshi’s Crafted World still offers you something different. It has brilliant level design, an effective art style, and remains consistently fun no matter what. It’s good to the point that I’m actively interested in the Yoshi series for the first time. I’d love to know where Nintendo goes from here. Whatever they do, hopefully it continues this positive trend.
This review was conducted using a retail copy of the game that I purchased. If you want to contact me about Yoshi’s Crafted World, I’m available in the comments below, on Twitter, and via email at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com.