The diorama-like design of Yoshi's Crafted World falls somewhere between capturing how a child might imagine a world and being a joyful expression of imagination in its own right, with washi tape snails, cardboard cows, and fish made from paper planes set among carefully laid-out stages. Each set of two or three levels introduces a new theme and its own quirks to discover, from the various ways everyday objects are recycled into art to how those crafts might be concealing the collectible you're after. While the best ideas mostly stay in their own levels and don't really build upon themselves or each other, each area is a delight to explore on its own.
Crafted World plays largely like other Yoshi games. You gobble up enemies to get eggs, throw the eggs at stuff, and maybe find some friends and secrets along the way, all with unlimited lives and very little to pressure you. The big change in Crafted World is the addition of a dimension--while you still mostly move left or right in 2D, some paths allow you to move forward or backward onto a separate left-right pathway, and you can throw eggs forward and backward, too. Aiming into the foreground or background shifts the depth of field so you can better see what's around you, with the added effect of making the levels seem even more like 3D, handmade dioramas.
Because coins, collectibles, and other points of interest are scattered throughout the foreground and background as well as your immediate path, you're encouraged to engage with the environment in every direction throughout a level. Finding a secret can mean spotting a suspiciously empty space and hoping an invisible winged cloud is there like in previous games, but it also means keeping an eye on the horizon for collectibles poking out from behind background decorations or moving Yoshi forward a bit to get a better look through a cardboard building's window. It's hard not to wonder what might be behind a bush or off in the distance, and Yoshi's Crafted World fosters that inherent curiosity with small, endearing details.
Each set of levels has its own theme, from the jungle to ninjas to a haunted house. The 16 different themes comprise a wide variety of cute and creative takes on the craft aesthetic; the jungle's frog platforms jump using folded-paper springs, the ninja Shy Guys throw origami shuriken, and the haunted house features a large cardboard puppet Shy Guy that wields a cardboard scythe and chases you through a graveyard. Inanimate crafts are frequently juxtaposed with a moving or puppeted version--childlike bird cutouts in the background with 3D bird enemies in your immediate vicinity, for example--which only enhances the feeling that the levels are imagination brought to life.
Some levels have not-crafty additions to round out their themes, many of which provide interesting wrinkles to the standard Yoshi mechanics. One jungle level is an on-rails shooter that tasks you with throwing eggs at animal-shaped targets to score points; one of the ninja levels is set behind a moving shoji screen so that much of your platforming and collecting is done in silhouette, forcing you act quickly when the path to a collectible is revealed. Nearly every area has at least one non-standard level, and the variety helps break up the slower, more deliberate pace of the typical Yoshi levels.
Some ideas, like the shoji screen, make sense as one-offs, but most of the areas exist disparately from one another, and the most interesting ideas are never developed beyond their original incarnations. The ninja area (a clear highlight) has rotating doors that turn 180 degrees when you shoot them, revealing platforms you might need to progress or moving Yoshi to the other side of a wall where treasure awaits. They aren't tricky puzzles, but the front-to-back movement of the doors plays off the 3D and visual depth effects especially well, and it's disappointing that they aren't used more and to greater effect as the levels progress.
The levels are designed to be replayed, though. After completing certain levels, you'll unlock the "flip side" version, which gives you the simple task of finding three Poochy Pups (as opposed to dozens of collectible items). The flip side gives you a closer look at the construction, from the tape holding things together to a pair of scissors left among the crafts in the background. While totally optional, the flip side has a different layer of detail that is charming in its own way--especially when you realize that the hard-to-reach tower that housed a collectible you're proud of getting is actually a milk carton.
The Yoshi games' usual relaxed approach suits this well. Breezy platforming allows you to put all your focus on taking in the scenery and keeping an eye out for hidden collectibles, and by extension, you can replay levels with a purpose--like seeking out an item you missed, which you know is somewhere in the middle--without having to slog through a frustrating or tedious beginning. By the same token, finding collectibles is a matter of being curious rather than completing difficult maneuvers. It's certainly not a cakewalk to find everything, but if you know what you're looking for and you're patient, it's satisfying and never so challenging as to disrupt the atmosphere of the game.
Breezy platforming allows you to put all your focus on taking in the scenery and keeping an eye out for hidden collectibles, and by extension, you can replay levels without having to slog through a frustrating or tedious beginning.
There are a number of ways to make the game a bit easier or more laid-back. The returning Mellow Mode, which gives Yoshi longer air time and more damage resistance, and two-player co-op are basic options, but I found myself gravitating toward Yoshi's costumes, which you can unlock using the coins you collect normally. The crafted costumes--favorites include a trash bin and a dinosaur skeleton--function as armor, giving you a few extra hits before you start taking damage. In addition to being adorable and fitting the overall vibe nicely, they're a good middle ground for those who still want normal jump distances but the freedom to walk into a few Shy Guys on accident.
Yoshi's Crafted World is at its best when it's relaxing and pleasant. The 2D-to-3D level design keeps you curious while the go-at-your-own-pace approach keeps the pressure off and leaves you to appreciate the small, imaginative details. Its most interesting ideas never evolve past their first introductions and are frequently confined to one or two levels, but individually, those levels both reward your curiosity and your willingness to slow down and look at what's around you--and it's those simple pleasures that provide the most joy.