Thanks to Kirby, Pikachu, Toad and a dozen or so other characters, Nintendo has cornered the market on video-game adorability. But none may be more endearing than Yoshi, the spunky dinosaur who's been pals with Mario since 1990. A Yoshi made out of yarn? Now that's so sweet it could cause tooth decay.
"Yoshi's Woolly World" (for the Wii U, $59.99) will probably sell well to people who just want to get their hands on the cuddly, crocheted amiibo figurine that it's packaged with. But even if you don't want the doll (you can buy the game alone for $10 less), you get a rock-solid romp that fully exhibits Nintendo's expertise at building vivid imaginary playgrounds.
The plot is the usual Nintendo silliness: The evil Kamek visits Yoshi's island, kidnaps his friends and separates each of them into five spools of yarn. Those spools are hidden across 50-some levels; each time Yoshi finds all five in an area, he can reassemble one of his buddies.
"Woolly World" may look a little familiar to Nintendo die-hards: The developer, Good-Feel, also created the excellent "Kirby's Epic Yarn" in 2010. Yoshi, like Kirby, can turn his enemies into balls that he can fling at other obstacles, and he can tear apart pieces of the landscape by pulling on threads. The dinosaur also occasionally transforms into more powerful creations, like the Moto Yoshi motorcycle or the Sky Pop Yoshi fighter plane.
So it's not the most original concept. Still, "Woolly World" adds enough twists to Nintendo's classic two-dimensional, side-scrolling formula to make the adventure worthwhile.
It may be the easiest game Nintendo has released in years. Experienced players will be able to make it through most of the levels on their first try, and newcomers can switch to a "mellow mode" that makes matters even less perilous. You can even boost Yoshi with badges that, for example, make him fireproof or save him from falling down pits.
But the point isn't to race through the game. Instead, you'll want to take your time exploring all the nooks and crannies in search of those yarn bundles and other goodies that open up bonus challenges. The emphasis is less on testing your reflexes than on using your brain to figure out how to gather all the hidden collectibles.
The worlds within "Woolly World" are lovely throughout. You get the kinds of environments any Mario veteran would expect - slippery ice fields, lava-filled caves - presented with a handmade-looking aesthetic that wouldn't be out of place on Etsy. A fast-paced roller-coaster ride, for example, is navigated by hanging onto curtains as they zip along curling runners.
Even at its most hectic, "Yoshi's Woolly World" is an amiably soothing experience. And fans of the little green dinosaur will relish the opportunity to fill an island with dozens of multicolored Yoshis. It's his best game since the 1995 landmark "Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island." Three stars out of four.