Yoshi’s Crafted World: an epic yarn for Switch?

On the face of it, Yoshi’s Crafted World may not seem like the kind of game we usually cover on Digital Foundry, but there’s actually a lot of interesting things happening here from a technical standpoint. Foremost amongst them is that a Nintendo first-party title is coming based on the ubiquitous Unreal Engine 4 middleware. We know that Epic’s engine can produce some fantastic visuals, but is it a good match for Nintendo’s unique style of presentation, not to mention the 60 frames per second performance typically associated with most first-party Nintendo releases? The answers are pleasantly surprising.

In checking out Yoshi’s Crafted World, we had access to the playable demo available to all Switch users now – along with an extended version, with additional stages. Following in the footsteps of Nintendo’s yarn-themed games also created by developer Good-Feel, Yoshi’s Crafted World relies on everyday objects and materials used to build stages, with the new game delivering a presentation that’s a perfect continuation of the series’ stylised approach.

What I like about the visuals is how the developers have integrated many of Unreal’s features into the mix, which complement and can even enhance the series’ signature style. This includes an offline approach to global illumination – which means that light bounce can be observed in certain scenes. This plus the materials created by the artists results in something that feels almost tangible at points. Modern rendering and materials are a perfect fit for a game like this, which tries to simulate real-world objects and materials. The game also makes use of an aggressive depth of field effect designed to lend the action a tilt-shift appearance.

The result is a tiny diorama of sorts with little figurines running around the world. You can even swish the camera around from one side to the other, which is a nice touch. Imagine a rendition of LittleBigPlanet that trades ambition for visual polish and you get an idea of the kind of package delivered here. Of course, that’s not the only game that Crafted World recalls. One of the cool features in the game is the path system – you can move in and out of the world based on defined paths, while aiming your eggs within 3D space. While it’s still a 2D platformer, there are sections of each stage with multiple paths within the Z-axis. You can never roam freely – at least not in the demo stages – but it allows for some clever level design tricks, similar to Bug on the Sega Saturn, if you can recall that.

A quick look at the video embedded on this page will confirm that we’re looking at a very attractive game here with a unique sense of style, and in common with many Nintendo releases, frame-rate is highly impressive – with just the smallest of hitches, the vast majority of Yoshi’s Crafted World plays out at 60 frames per second. This is no mean feat for a game that looks this good, and it’s all the more impressive bearing in mind that Unreal Engine 4 delivers the visuals here. But Switch does operate using a mobile chipset, so some kind of compromise is inevitable.

As you might expect, resolution is perhaps the most noticeable trade-off – Yoshi’s Crafted World employs a dynamic resolution scaling feature, which sees pixel counts vary during gameplay according to GPU load. In general, the game seems to average around 576p when docked but we noted some pixel counts above including 1152×675 as well, so it’s not entirely limited. The pixel steps are certainly obvious, that much is for certain, and presumably, in the right situation, it may even reach 720p. Jumping over to portable mode, the resolution drops further with a range that seems to vary between 704×396 and 880×495 or thereabouts. Again, it’s dynamic and could both go above and below those resolutions, but that’s the range where the demo levels we’ve played tend to occupy.

The game is reasonably clean, mind you, but it’s obvious that resolution had to be sacrificed and image quality isn’t exceptional and the end result can be blurry both in docked and handheld modes. Resolution cuts also apply directly to other elements of the rendering pipeline. The ever-present depth of field is also reduced in resolution as is the ambient occlusion pass. Basically, the developers seemingly had to reduce many rendering features to reach the performance target and honestly, I feel they made the right choices, bearing in mind how silky smooth the vast majority of the action is whether you’re played portably or docked to your living room display. Also commendable is that Crafted World loads quickly and features responsive controls.

The move to Unreal Engine 4 does have implications, however. With prior titles, Good-Feel has ported some of its work over to 3DS, while Nintendo itself ported over games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker to brilliant effect. Moving to Unreal Engine 4 drastically limits the scope of any potential ports to non-supported systems, and the shift itself to a third party engine is a fascinating move by Nintendo. I wouldn’t expect to see it become a standard for the firm, but it works well here.

Based on what I’ve seen and played so far, this is shaping up to be an impressive title – though not quite the complete package. For me at least, the soundtrack is terrible, to the point where it drags down the overall experience. From my perspective, a great soundtrack is critical for a platform game. While not quite as aggressively awful as Yoshi’s New Island, it’s dull, grating and borderline annoying. It’s even more of an issue when everything else about the game is shaping up so well.

Overall though, Yoshi’s Crafted World is looking impressive, and in terms of mechanics, this is the most enjoyable Yoshi game I’ve played since the original Yoshi’s Island on Super NES. Whether it successfully manages to match up to that classic remains to be seen (and it’s a big ask, to be sure) but it’s clear that Good-Feel has made huge steps here and this could be its best game yet. Regardless, in the here and now, the Crafted World playable demo available on the eShop is well worth checking out.

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