In Yoshi's Crafted World, Nintendo has created its most gleefully fun Yoshi adventure since the N64's Yoshi's Story - though it's still no Yoshi's Island.
The shadow cast by Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2 is long. That game was good enough to carve Yoshi out a sub-series all of his own away from Mario, but since then Yoshi has always appeared to be chasing past glories.
While the Yoshi series has taken a tour of various arts-and-crafts inspired visual styles over its last few entries, the world of corrugated cardboard and haphazardly constructed platforms that makes up Yoshi's Crafted World feels like the most tactile, brilliant turn for the series for many years. Best of all, that look feeds into a play philosophy that works with that design to make each lovingly constructed level all the more fun to explore.
At heart this is still a 2D platformer with the same old egg-flinging mechanics and floaty jumps Yoshi fans will be well used to, but the design of this world encourages exploration and experimentation. Each level looks as though it's been lovingly created on some kitchen floor somewhere - a sprawled out mass of cardboard, empty water bottles, sticky-backed plastic and painted toilet roll tubes that parents have to tip-toe around to make dinner.
This world isn't just for Yoshi to run across, however, but also for interaction. Yoshi's eggs are still used for beating back enemies as necessary, but here they're also used for light puzzle solving and exploration out in the world.
A shaky-looking cardboard figure in the background of a stage might be toppled with a tossed egg, for instance, or a building off the beaten path could be entered, Yoshi heading into the foreground to explore inside. Sometimes these elements require Yoshi to bump something, or jump down on an item, and every one feels smartly designed where the solution and path forward is plainly presented for the player to decipher.
Every stage is littered with collectibles, and compared to a Mario adventure there's a solid emphasis on relaxing: there's no time limits, and enemies are never too plentiful or troublesome - instead, you're encouraged to explore, grabbing all of the well-hidden items tucked away in every stage. Alternatively, you can simply follow the main path, completing a range of levels with a wider variety of styles than you'd expect in a linear fashion.
Compared to New Super Mario Bros. with its traditional-yet-friendly level of challenge and the sadistic, hardcore Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi's Crafted World is without a doubt the most simple and friendly. It's ideal for kids, but also the sort of thing you could happily play with a non-gaming friend or relative, or equally the sort of thing that a more seasoned player might bust out to wind down or work through a hangover. There's a refreshing sense to the game's overly chilled-out tone, a breezy rhythm and attitude that is supported in all aspects of its design.
The problem with a lot of the recent Yoshi games has simply been that they've felt a little bit bland. A little bit stodgy; run-of-the-mill platform adventures with a cute, lovely-looking flair to them. It's fair to say that Crafted World is much the same. It controls well, has a fitting but slightly grating soundtrack and looks lovely in both docked and handheld mode with decent performance, but it also doesn't bring too much in the way of new or highly invigorating ideas. Unlike the previous games, Crafted World at least has one strong new idea it can really run with and focus its design on. That ends up being its salvation.
This is a game that's elevated by that choice of art and the way that design interlaces and works to create new play opportunities within the sweet sandbox of each level. The leisurely, plodding pacing of the game might not be for everybody, but it's committed to it, with Yoshi's slightly floaty and non-committal movement and platform placement in levels all working to underline that pace and tone. It's a leisurely, relaxing adventure that is absolutely confident in its abilities - and for those happy to have such an experience, a very easy recommendation. It's the best Yoshi game in years.