UPDATE March 17, 2021 – I was informed by friend and fellow game designer (thanks, Joey!) just a couple days after I wrote this blog post way back in 2018 that the mechanic I talk about here is a “gacha system”. I had no idea what it was which I will chalk up to my complete lack of experience with Japanese games outside of Nintendo at that time. Thankfully, I’m better educated and more well-rounded now, having gotten much more experience with diverse Japanese titles and mechanics since. I want to leave this post the way it is though (ignorance and all) because it’s a reminder to me that I can always learn something new, even as a professional in the field.
I recently purchased Yoshi’s Crafted World and I’ve been having a lot of fun playing it these last few weeks. It’s a beautiful game and the creativity of the levels is really refreshing. One of the biggest draws for me though is the cute namesake, Yoshi. Yoshi has always been a favorite Nintendo character of mine and Yoshi’s Island was one of my favorite DS games growing up. So I was really excited to see this new take on the beloved character and especially to try out the new costumes the game was marketing.
The costumes are basically a defense system for Yoshi and were featured very prominently in the Nintendo Store’s marketing of the game with new sneak peaks of the over 173 in-game costumes you can collect. With Nintendo really pushing this mechanic, above all others, I was curious to see what the hype was about. I ended up finding some weird issues with the costume mechanic that didn’t feel quite right so I want to explore why the costume mechanic and economy feels off to me and try to surmise why it’s designed the way it is.
To start exploring this topic though, you need to know what the costumes are. Each area of the game has its own, themed set of 10 costumes that you can buy reflecting the enemies, props, scenery, and characters found in that area. Yoshis that wear costumes will not lose hearts if they get hit, but the costume will fall off if the maximum number of hits has been reached. There are three levels of costumes: Normal (offering 3 hits), Rare (offering 4 Hits), and Super Rare (offering 5 hits).
The look and complexity of the costumes also increases as their defense power goes up with Super Rare costumes being quite elaborate and aesthetically representative of the area. It should also be noted that in each area, you can purchase 6 Normal costumes, 3 Rare costumes, and 1 Super Rare costume. The catch is that you can only get costumes by inserting coins (100-300) into a gumball like machine which randomly spit out the number of costumes you paid for. So you often do not acquire Super Rare costumes until much later.
I quickly began to notice a potential problem with the costumes though. Once you had any Super Rare costume, it made sense to only play with that. Why would you accept a worse defense with the Normal and Rare costumes if you had a Super Rare costume that was much more effective as well as looking much cooler? What would incentivize someone to buy any more costumes once they already had one that offers them the best protection? In this scenario, the rest of the costumes become virtually worthless.
But okay, let’s consider more of a Collector’s approach to costumes. Well, the Super Rare costumes are pretty cool looking so you may just want to collect the Super Rare ones in each area so you can just update your old Super Rare costume for one that better fits the environment. But wait, you can’t even unlock the ability to purchase costumes in an area until you’ve played each level once so the costume will only be relevant for replays or in future worlds. In this scenario, the Normal and Rare costumes are still virtually worthless, but now they’re acting as obstacles to get to the Super Rare costume (i.e. you have spend more money to increase your chances of getting a Super Rare costume, which means accumulating lots of Normal and Rare costumes you’ll never use).
Finally, let’s push the Collector approach even further. You want to collect all of the costumes just for the sake of having all the costumes and completing the game 100%. Even here, if your goal is to collect all costumes, you will almost assuredly be using just the Super Rare costumes (because again, they are objectively better in terms of defense and style, regardless of aesthetic preferences within in this category) leaving about 90% of the costumes totally unused.
So where does that leave us? If even a hardcore collector will only take advantage of 10% of the costumes, why are so many extra costumes? What’s their purpose? Essentially, why have costumes at all?
Well, for one, they’re fun, cute, and match the aesthetic of the game while providing something more the Collector player-type. You can dress up idle Yoshi’s in them if you want or just flip through the different costumes and see how they look on your current Yoshi. But that provides only about 30 minutes of interest, tops.
Another reason the designers might have included them in the game is because it gives players a way to spend coins. And coins are needed in the game because 1) It’s a staple icon and object of basically any Mario universe game and 2) they are a good medium of indirect control. They show you where to go and provide necessary feedback of your progress through a level. But if you have coins, you need to have a place to spend them. That’s where costumes come in. A single token, which gets you one costume, can cost anywhere from 100 to 300 coins. That’s a lot considering that the early levels only give you about 100 coins total a level. As you progress farther along, the levels get longer so the number of coins you get per level also increases. But so does the token price. So the costumes offer a scaled incentive to spend your coins and give you a reason to keep collecting them with such excitement.
Additionally, by making the costumes in each area different, the player is encouraged to keep spending their coins to get the most relevant costumes which, in turn, encourages you keep getting more and more coins. It’s almost as if the game doesn’t want you to hoard coins. Because once you have enough, you lose incentive to replay—the delightful collection of coins now means nothing.
I got further confirmation of this when I reached a limit that I didn’t think I would reach. Not because I couldn’t but because I didn’t think the game should have had this limit. It was the dreaded (or maybe exalted) 9999 coins. I was actually kind of surprised that it was this low. But given the cost of the costumes, it seems fairly balanced. And if the limit is as low as it is, it encourages you spend money on costumes so that your coins have more value again. Because I really found coin collection to be a bit meaningless after reaching this limit whereas, before, it was run to get as many as I could. Good sound design, animation, and game logic made the coins a very important aspect of the game.
I started the early stages of this post still wondering why costumes were even a thing in Yoshi. They didn’t appear to offer any real boost to the player once the first Super Rare costume was acquired. But I soon realized that the costume system is a counterbalance to the coin collection system and they work together to encourage replay and keep the player moving through the game with increasing interest: players want to unlock the next Super Rare costume and they’ll spend coins (by collecting coins) to do that. It helps with flow and incentive in the micro (i.e. within levels) and macro (i.e. within the world) to keep the player engaged and playing.
All in all, I now find costumes to be an important mechanic in Yoshi’s Crafted World and I appreciate the subtle, but extremely big, reason that they are included in the game the way they are. I highly encourage anyone who was on the fence about this game to check it out and decide for yourself if the costumes are truly worthless or not!
Screenshots from the game are taken by me. Featured image courtesy of Nintendo.