Yoshi and Kirby showcase Nintendo's inventive art

By Steve Watts, Jun 19, 2014 2:00pm PDT

I've said before how important art design is to Nintendo games. Despite a relatively underpowered platform, both Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 rightly received praise for their lovingly rendered, playfully animated characters. Pushing polygons is one thing, but there's simply no substitute for bright and vibrant design work. With the addition of Yoshi and Kirby games to the upcoming Wii U roster, Nintendo is showcasing how it can take its already charming design and make it even more so.

Yoshi gets Woolly

Yarn Yoshi, as it was called when we first heard of it last year, was always a nice looking game. Seen as the spiritual successor to Kirby's Epic Yarn, it seemed Nintendo might be developing a sort of cross-franchise aesthetic that could be used for multiple series. All of that is still true, but the newly-dubbed Yoshi's Woolly World is already shaping up to be more epic than Kirby's yarn.

For one, the visual style is more cohesive. In my hands-on time at E3, I was surprised at how every little fiber and stitch seemed planned out. It was soft and adorable from top to bottom. Whereas Kirby relied on some plain backgrounds, Yoshi takes advantage of the new hardware power and makes absolutely everything feel like a physical object. It all creates a colorful world reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet, but without as many muted tones.

Better still, it feels right at home in the Yoshi's Island canon. The mechanics are straight out of the SNES classic, from egg throwing to swallowing up your enemies and popping out yarnball-eggs. With the two-player co-op mechanic, it gets a nice injection of the mad frenzy found in the New Super Mario Bros games. I would fall and drag my co-op partner with me, or save my fellow Yoshi will a well-timed tongue flick. Since this is a softer, kid-friendly series, even falling isn't very punitive.

My brief time wasn't comprehensive enough to let me know if this might avoid the pitfalls found in Yoshi's New Island, which Ozzie found disappointing. Between the art style and mechanics, though, it certainly seems like one to keep an eye one.

Kirby gets cursed (again)

Kirby: Canvas Curse was one of the first real showpieces for the DS' touchscreen capability. It came before the DS turned into a wunderkind best-seller, but it was well-received and inventive. So imagine my pleasant surprise when Kirby and the Rainbow Curse made an appearance at Nintendo's digital showcase. A quirky little game that had every reason to be a one-off was getting a real sequel.

One thing I didn't expect, though, was the new art style. Canvas Curse was more-or-less a straight-forward Kirby game, with the little pink puffball appearing in standard 2D art. Rainbow Curse, by contrast, takes on another texture the way Woolly World captures fluffy fabric: clay. Kirby and all of his surroundings are modeled like sculpting clay, with a real sense of weight and depth to the shapes. The trailer showed off the art style (it's especially noticeable with large objects like the Whispy Woods appearance), but I wasn't wowed until I saw it in person. It really does look fantastic, and shows again just how great Nintendo can be at pushing art in unexpected ways.

Like I'd hoped, it controls just like Canvas Curse. Drawing paths for Kirby and planning loops to gain momentum is exactly as I remembered, and the level layout was made in such a way that my time with the prior entry paid off. There's a certain graceful knack for creating paths in these games, and finding my groove again was like riding a bicycle.

My only concern is that the concept really only works with a stylus interface, so it will likely be GamePad-only. That makes the big screen a bit of a waste, other than to showcase the art that the player wouldn't get much chance to view anyway. It's a potential missed opportunity, but I'm not sure how this concept could work any other way. Maybe Nintendo will surprise me again.

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