The console may be a car crash, but woolly Yoshi’s on cruise control

Yoshi’s Woolly World (2015)

It’s funny how a game can remind you of a particular time in your life. Some of the best nappies I ever wore came when I’d used to play Super Mario Kart, particularly when I’d turn our Super Nintendo on at full volume at 2 o’clock in the morning, awaking my brother with one hell of a start.

Then, at some point in the late 90s, I got some sort of horrific abscess in my mouth. Perhaps to placate me and my disgusting swollen mouth , my parents bought me GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64, which famously featured an abscess-afflicted Pierce Brosnan on the front cover. Well, OK, it was just a strange photo, but it’s funny how these things stuck with you. Funnier still how violent games like that make for a great childhood.

Moving on to those awkward early teen years, when I played a zillion hours of Super Smash Bros. Melee, which coincided with the time when I turned my back on my childhood friends and didn’t leave the house for about 18 months. Great times, they were.

When I went out and found new friends, and more importantly alcohol and women, then I needed a pre-drink game before a pre-verted fumble, so I went back in time slightly to Perfect Dark on the N64, a timeless shooter is ever there was one.

I used to love getting battered, while battering the AI Sims, or getting reamed in the single-player campaign on the hardest setting. Then I’d go out, get even more legless on a budget, fail to pull and then come home on the night bus to play more Perfect Dark, still getting blown away, still at maximum volume, still waking my brother up.

Then there was learning to drive, always a stressful few days in anyone’s life. What, did it take you longer?! Well, do me a favour please, and don’t clown around in your vehicle while I’m out in mine. Anyway, the game I associate most with that time, while it probably should have been Gran Turismo 5, or better yet F-Zero, it was actually Yoshi’s Woolly World on Wii U, of all things.

I don’t think it had anything to do with the delightful animation in this game where Yoshi’s legs turn into yarned wheels when he runs at full tilt. I just think that it was the right game at the right time, a nice little de-stresser. Better than a distresser, which learning to drive can be.

The car I practiced in was a 2000 VW Polo which boasted roughly 3 horsepower. Even that was too much power for me, trying to train my left foot to use a clutch properly – Christy Brown would have had smoother application. Actually my mastery of the manual car, and my ability to turn right, puts me well ahead of pretty well every pro driver in America, so you’d better listen to what I say.

My early driving days though, bloody hell. I put that piddly one litre engine through the absolute death rattles with the amount of times I stalled it. Another great trick of mine was shifting gears from first to fourth, which the gearbox just loved. I also remember lamenting at how low-tech a solution my little postage stamp mirrors were.

We still haven’t fully adopted cameras, either – even your highest spec Tesla has mirrors. How can you see anything in those? There could be some dangerous scumbag ready to run me off the road, and I’d barely even know about it. You have to remember that I’ve been conditioned by 30 years of F-Zero into believing that every rival car was out there to smash me off into the tarmac and explode in a hellacious wreck.

Clutch and brake, mirror signal manoeuvre, two second rule, and a million other things to remember. And when you got it wrong, you felt like the biggest pilchard in the whole wide world. It’s alright to flub something in work or say the wrong thing or forget your wife’s birthday, but get it wrong in a car and you’re thinking the worst case scenario, you could have a pile-up on your hands, the types you see in video compilations where you’re not sure if it’s better to die to avoid the embarrassment of it all, not to mention how insane your car insurance premium is gonna go.

I don’t know where people get the gall, or even the time, to do stupid things like texting while driving. It’s the last thing I’d ever do, tempting fate and the driving gods like that. I treat it as a non-zero chance that it’s gonna be a bloodbath any time I get behind the wheel – and that’s with my full licence.

In those novice days, when I was strong-armed by my dad into driving home for the first time, I thought “this is it, I’m about to die in the slowest traffic collision ever.” It wasn’t as bad as my best mate’s baptism of fire, where his dad cajoled him onto the motorway (like an Irish and British Autobahn, except it isn’t) in his 1990 Starlet. What is it with dads and trying to invite fatal road accidents?

After the stress of all that, you needed something relaxing and colourful to take your mind off the potential carnage, and I found just that with Yoshi’s Woolly World. Of course, we know the Wii U’s game selection was pretty woolly, slim pickings all round, but I’ll give anything first-party a try. The problem with Yoshi of course, is that if he isn’t being bolted onto the front of gimmick games, he’s being shoehorned into yet another attempt to capture the Yoshi’s Island lightning.

Well, Woolly World does have a familiar premise – no babies, thank God, but six worlds of fairly easy levels that are a right pain to finish 100%, and it’s Baby Bowser and Kamek at the end. You’ve got red coins, flowers and little stars that act as your health, since the baby is no longer around to grant you invincibility. You have transformations, mutating bosses, Shy Guys, all the old gang are here.

I’m being slightly tongue-in-cheek of course, but all of these lazy throwbacks would be quite fine but only if the gameplay is good. But thankfully, it is. Not up to Yoshi Island SNES scratch of course, but here’s a game that’ll help take the edge off after you’ve vehicularly manslaughtered a load of innocents.

My favourite feature, growing from the fact that Yoshi is made out of yarn, is that for each and every level you can unlock a delightful new yarn pattern for Yoshi to wear. Jesus, when did I get so soft? I suppose woolly yarn designs are my secret shame. You can even load up a few more designs if you have the requisite Amiibos, although I’ve criticised the Wi U before for having more action figures than games, so let’s just leave it at that.

Actually, you might be tempted to knock some points off Yoshi’s Woolly World for unoriginality, because really the whole yarn thing had already been done before, by Kirby’s Epic Yarn on Wii. But let’s be brutally honest, what are you gonna pick, Yoshi or Kirby? I know which side my yarn is threaded. And besides, I’ve always rated Yoshi as a better gourmand than Kirby anyway. I’ve even seen Yoshi devour entire dolphins.

None of that savagery in Yoshi’s Woolly World though, just a nice little wear of a woolly jumper that’ll graciously take about 10 hours of your time, plus a chunk more if you really want to get into the hard stuff, with a nice soundtrack all throughout. Most importantly though, it’s a game that won’t drive you crazy, drive you round the bend, or drive you up the wall.

28 October 2022

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