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It's hard not to love this game. It's also kinda hard not to hate it sometimes.

It should go without saying at this point that Yoshi's Woolly World is a beautiful game. Its visual style is consistent and extremely well-applied, lending the game's familiar objects and enemies an almost impossible level of charm and cuteness. The sound and music has been completely top-notch as well, standing on par with greats like Super Mario 3D World. This sort of polished-to-a-sheen presentation seems practically expected from most big-name Nintendo releases nowadays, but despite all of the attention that's been given to the game's presentation, I feel like some things could have been done a little bit better in terms of the actual game design.

I want to be clear up-front that I have generally loved my time playing this game. I will more than likely play it through to the end, which, being a very rare thing for me these days, should say something. I just think that it's much easier to enjoy when you're just "playing" it, solo, and not worrying too much about the collectibles.

The Good

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I've already said that Yoshi's Woolly World has an irresistible charm. It's far beyond played-out to gush about it so I'll spare you, but the game really does put a smile on your face as you play it. Meeting new (or familiar) enemies and exploring new environments is always a treat, if only to see how the game's aesthetic has been applied to them.

The core Yoshi's Island gameplay still generally holds up. I've never been a mega-fan of Yoshi's Island the way some people are, but I enjoyed it at the time despite disliking a few elements, such as the vehicle segments. Throwing eggs, platforming with the flutter jump, and shooting watermelon seeds are all still fun. While I have some minor annoyances here and there that I'll get to in the next section, overall, this is a game that is just thoroughly fun to sit down and play through. If you liked Yoshi's Island, you owe it to yourself to at least give this game a try.

I'm not going to spend much more time talking about what's good about the game, because it should be obvious. Not to downplay its positive aspects, but you probably already know whether you're interested in the core premise. So, let's move on to...

The Bad

The Collectibles

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This doesn't seem to be a particularly uncommon sentiment out there on the internet, but I think it really bears repeating. Unless you're a total fanatic, discard any impulse that you may have about wanting to 100% each level. Collecting all of the flowers and yarn balls is daunting enough, and going for heart and stamp collection in each level on top of that might actually drive me crazy.

Aside from the sheer number of collectibles is the matter of how you have to go about collecting them. If you're lucky, a collectible will be in a visible (perhaps easy-to-miss) but hard-to-reach area, leading to a fun challenge as you puzzle out how to reach it, especially if it involves tricky platforming that you wouldn't otherwise need to do. Those add a nice challenge, and are fun; I wish there were more of those. Too often, however, collectibles are hidden behind literally invisible "?" clouds that don't appear at all unless you happen to get close enough to them. Sometimes they're placed in spots that are obvious enough, but as soon as I stumbled into a few that were in an out-of-the-way area or floating high in the air in areas that I had no real reason to go to, I began to realize that hunting for all of these things was going to have to follow an utterly tedious "walk on every inch of ground, jump around on every platform, shoot every target" search routine. Even if there's seemingly nothing left to do on a screen and a more-exciting looking section beckons you up ahead, you'd better stop and check above, under, inside, and around every single inch of walk-able terrain, because if you don't, you're going to have to play the whole level again later to get the stuff you will undoubtedly have missed. (Similarly, if you want to get every stamp, you have to plan to get literally every gem in the level, because without using badges, you have no way of knowing which ones are special stamp-containing gems and which ones aren't. Luckily, stamps are much easier to ignore.)

At least in Super Mario 3D World's case, you were only missing out on a single challenge level at the end of the game if you weren't interested in topping every flagpole and finding every Miiverse stamp. In Yoshi's Woolly World, though, each of the game's six Worlds have an unlockable level that requires collecting all 40 Flowers in that World to access it, plus one more at the end if you've collected every flower in the game, making a total of 7 levels that you'll be missing out on -- which, in a game with 48 "normal" stages, is actually pretty significant -- if you don't diligently hunt for every last invisible flower.

The Co-Op Experience

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The way co-op play is handled in Yoshi's Woolly World is...interesting. It seems to generally follow the philosophy of latter-day Mario games, where you can fully collide with one another and generally ruin each others' day -- intentionally or unintentionally -- but player death is relatively low-consequence and you can continue on as long as at least one player is alive at any given time to bring the other player back into the game. My problem with the game's co-op so far has been twofold: first, the game's level design regularly seems blatantly at odds with the co-op mechanics. Second, Mario-style co-op is even more frustrating than normal when you add egg-throwing and enemy-eating into the mix.

Let's focus on the first one for the moment: the game's levels seem creatively designed and fun to play when you're playing solo. And another player, though, and it starts to feel like the co-op mechanics and level design were done in complete isolation from one another, only coming together at the very end of the development process. From the very beginning, a lot of the game's levels have quite a bit of verticality to them, thanks to familiar Yoshi's Island elements like springboards, bouncy balls, and secrets that are frequently hidden just above or below the main playfield. The way that the game handles the co-op camera is that whenever one player moves off-screen, they're immediately "killed," abruptly lose all control, and are transformed into a floating egg that follows the surviving player around, who can then free them by simply jumping up and touching the egg. In the process, all of the eggified player's eggs (or yarn balls, I guess) are lost.

In the absence of a proper split-screen camera, this method sorta works, I guess. But the frequency at which this happens quickly becomes maddening as the levels are often designed to bounce you high in the air, causing one unfortunate player to suddenly die, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. 19:26 in this video shows a comical example where a literally harmless bonus room with trampolines causes both players to die at different times due to the mechanics of the camera. It's not a game-breaker, but since control is yanked away from you whenever this happens, the frequency at which this occurs can quickly become aggravating.

One way to help combat the co-op camera issues is to stay close together at all times. This can even be helpful, allowing you to jump on each others' heads to each tall areas and generally do stuff that you wouldn't be able to by yourself. Unless you're strictly coordinating what your game plan is, though, more frustration abounds as you both become far more likely to accidentally eat one another, block your egg shots, or otherwise just get in the way and make basic tasks harder than they need to be. If you get frustrated when playing Mario games co-op, I think the odds are pretty good that you might find this experience even worse. It can be good casual fun if you just sit back and go with the flow, but if you're trying to put in even the slightest amount of effort towards playing well, you might end up frustrated. Maybe the flying you get in "Mellow Mode" could help alleviate some of these issues, but I haven't tried it.

Odds and Ends

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While most of the game performs well and looks great, the world map has a noticeably poor framerate, feels unresponsive to move around in, and looks worse than the rest of the game. I'm not really sure what's up with that, but it makes a poor first impression. I'm also not really a fan of all of the Miis standing around in-universe, but that's something that Nintendo has been doing for years at this point, so I'm willing to say that it's my own problem.

I'm also a bit puzzled at the lack of any option to aim eggs via the analog stick. The old-style control method doesn't really bother me, but it seemed like an obvious thing to include.

In Conclusion

Overall, I like Yoshi's Woolly World. It's a lot of fun, it's charming, and it's largely an enjoyable experience. I just think it's much more fun if you play it solo and don't worry too much about finding all of the hidden collectibles. If you want to play all of the levels that the game has to offer, you may want to stop hunting after you've uncovered all of the flowers and leave the rest alone.


Cynical marketing ploy or a quality game? My feelings on A Link Between Worlds.

When I was eight years old in 1992, my parents bought my brother and I a Super Nintendo, and one game each. The game I received was A Link to the Past, a game that went on to become not only one of the most well-regarded games of all time, but obviously has a lot of nostalgic significance for me as well. Like many kids who only owned a small number of games, I devoured A Link to the Past. I found every heart piece, found every last secret, and kept hunting for other secrets that could have been there. I faked illness to stay home from school to play it. I loved the music so much that I recorded the music coming out of my TV with a cassette recorder so I could listen to it later. In short, I loved that game; it's my favorite Zelda game, and easily in my all-time top 10.

Now, I normally don't like most straightforward appeals to nostalgia in media. They usually come across to me as a soulless, cynical money-making opportunity. Nintendo in particular has been pretty bad about doing that lately; Super Mario 3D Land's big advertising bullet point was seemingly just "hey, it's got raccoon tails! Like Mario 3! Remember? Mario 3? That one game you liked as a kid?" SM3DL was a damn good game in its own right, of course, but Nintendo was solely playing up the nostalgia angle pretty hard in its marketing. (The raccoon tail's even in the logo!)

As such, when A Link Between Worlds was first announced, I was pretty skeptical about it, because it seemed like just another one of those nostalgic cash-ins. Not only did it seem to be yet another cynical low-risk play by Nintendo by appealing to nostalgia for one of its classic titles, but it was particularly annoying to me because it was advertised as "a direct sequel" -- in theme as well as story -- to the original game, a game that came out more than 20 years ago! Imagine, for example, if modern-day Square-Enix decided to produce a direct sequel to Final Fantasy IV--Oh, wait. Bad example. In any case, coming out 20 years after the fact to announce a direct continuation of one of your most venerated titles is almost always going to come across as a quick cash-in on fans of the original, and at the same time, your new game automatically sets up some very lofty expectations for itself; a game that invokes such a name can't come out and be merely competent; it needs to be outstanding. (In Japan, ALBW was titled "A Link to the Past 2." At least the West was spared that extra bit of on-the-nose marketing.)

Having played the final product now, though, I think that A Link Between Worlds does a fantastic job of standing up as a great game in its own right, despite the laser-focused blast of nostalgia that it openly sets out to deliver. First and foremost, the game manages to play up its nostalgia without seeming cynical about it. While the world geography, monster designs, items, and music are all largely the same, all of the actual content has been changed. All of the dungeons -- though they take place in familiar locales -- play out completely differently, although they may contain small elements here and there that fans of the original may crack a smile at. All of this adds up to an experience that feels supremely nostalgic -- at times, I can almost remember feeling exactly what it was like to sit in front of my old TV as a nine-year-old, playing the original for the very first time -- while at the same time feeling distinctly new. When you're going to many of the same locations as in the original game, fighting the same enemies, listening to the same music, and using the same items, it's easy to get sucked into memories of the past, but you're just as quickly jolted right back into the present, because for as many things are superficially identical to the original game, there are even more things that are different. Using your knowledge of the original game can be at alternating times both a help and a hindrance, as the game seems to purposely subvert your expectations from time to time about what lies within a certain cave, or how you might go about maneuvering around a particular obstacle.

I'm not going to digress into an exposition of all of the things that the game does differently here -- there are enough ways to find all of that out if you aren't familiar with it yet -- but the one new mechanic that I'll actually touch on is the most significant one: Link's ability to turn into a painting and travel along walls. I will say that the fact that "paintings" are a central theme of the game has always seemed awfully arbitrary to me, and even after playing the game, it still does. As a gameplay mechanic, though, it works pretty well, despite the silliness of the concept itself. Being able to traverse the walls of any room forces you to think about puzzle-solving in a different way than the traditional Zelda formula, and it allows for more creative puzzle design as well.

In short, though I was highly skeptical of the design intent behind its conception, A Link Between Worlds is, in my opinion, a damn good game that not only manages to appeal to my nostalgia without feeling insincere, but also shakes up the series formula in some much-needed ways and provides an excellent Zelda experience from beginning to end. I'm glad I decided to put my shiny new PS4 on hold for a few days to play it, and I'm sure I'll be revisiting it again; it's one of my favorite games of the last few years.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll probably be listening to this on loop for the next week...