Sometimes, as an adult games critic, it’s easy to forget that games are meant for kids. Sure, the medium has moved on from its initial roots as a toy and there are a lot of mature titles that are clearly not to be played by children. But while we ‘80s kids have grown up and taken the videogames with us, there’s still a lot out there that is meant for the generations that have come up behind us, an audience with different preferences and sensibilities, who are shaping the future by building the memories that will one day inform their own sense of nostalgia.
Last week, I got a reminder of that with the Nintendo Direct announcement of Yoshi’s Crafted World. Coming out this spring, the new Yoshi game will be a sidescrolling platformer set in a world of toilet paper rolls, pipe cleaners and other childhood art supplies, a visual theme that first popped up in Yoshi’s Story on the N64 in 1998. As the sequel to Yoshi’s Island, Yoshi’s Story was a disappointment, but it set into motion a trend that is now seen across other Nintendo titles as well, including Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Wooly World. Along with Yoshi’s Crafted World and Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, it’s safe to say that the arts and crafts aesthetic is here to stay.
While Yoshi’s Story was poorly reviewed upon its release (and hasn’t fared much better in the reviews of its online rereleases), I have a soft spot in my heart for it, as well as the other games inspired by its look. It was one of my favorite games on the N64, and I’ve bought it three times since I became an adult, including twice digitally on the Wii and the Wii U, because I refused to go through the process of transferring my purchases. And while the disparity between how I feel about Yoshi’s Story and how it was critically received is vast, I can’t help but defend it. It’s one of the only games I choose to absorb passively and without criticism. The terms under which I first fell in love with it are different than the one I observe and play videogames in now. And with the announcement of Yoshi’s Crafted World, I realize it’s not just the memory of the game I’m trying to preserve.
I was only 10 when the symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome first started showing up, but it wasn’t until I was 14 that I was admitted to the children’s hospital for physical therapy. My mother and I (along with my youngest sister, who had also been diagnosed) were given accommodations at The Bowling House for Kids, a facility where families could bunk together during long term care at the hospital. The treatment plan was designed with the aim to force our nervous system into working properly by putting us through as much physical pain as possible. So each night, we would limp back to The Bowling House and try to recover from a grueling 10 hour day of exercise, often in too much pain to even sleep.
It’s hard being away from home, especially when you’re sick, but in a weird way, I loved it there. With its open kitchen and big screen TVs, there was a certain luxury I wasn’t used to. My mother, in a rare show of maternal instinct, would spoil us, making us our favorite comfort meals and snacks. I binged on chicken alfredo and Breyers chocolate rainbow ice cream, and sucked on tropical Jolly Ranchers while she rubbed my tired ankles with a towel to relieve the pain. But the best part about that place was the videogames. Of the two TVs, one was dedicated just to the N64, and we could check out games from the lobby, like a library. And I quickly fell in love with Yoshi’s Story. Unlike most of the stuff I usually played, it was cute. Not just cute— adorable. Its visuals, with their puffy fabrics and bright stitching, reminded me of crafting, which was among my few hobbies, and the babbling and cooing of the baby Yoshis was soothing. Somehow, the game felt safe, not just physically but emotionally. It made me feel like it was okay to be a vulnerable kid.
Decades later, I’ve made a career of writing about the therapeutic value of videogames. I’ve seen how they positively affect people’s lives. But it was at the hospital where I learned that firsthand. Whether I was playing Yoshi’s Story at the boarding house or putting in a few minutes on Super Mario 64 on a waiting room TV, it was like getting a day pass from Hell. And while as an adult I still struggle to cope with my illness, there are certain things that work no matter how self-punitive and abusive my brain can be. Slamming a copy of Yoshi’s Story into my ancient battered N64 still works every time.
So with the release of Yoshi’s Crafted World next year, I know my fellow critics may say the same thing our predecessors did all those years ago: it’s for kids, it’s not challenging, it lacks depth, it “isn’t for me”. But I don’t care. Yoshi’s Story is my safe space, and I look forward to feeling that again. For that, I love Yoshi’s Crafted World already.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.