The Yoshis are back, and this time they've brought the whole nursery along for the ride.
Yoshi’s Island is easily one of the greatest platformers of all time. After disappointing “sequels" such as Yoshi’s Story and Yoshi Topsy-Turvy, fans were excited to hear about “Yoshi’s Island 2" and then disappointed to hear that one of its flagship games wasn’t developed by Nintendo. Thankfully, however, Nintendo worked closely with Artoon this time around, and if the Artoon logo didn’t pop up when starting the game, you likely wouldn’t have questioned the game being developed by Nintendo itself. While not a superior experience on all fronts, Yoshi’s Island DS does equal or improve upon the original in many ways.
Much of Yoshi’s Island DS was cloned directly from Yoshi’s Island. The rotating island title screen, map screen (and increasingly complex music), bonus games, and level goals are identical except for some graphical alterations. Many of the same enemies are back. The story is similar, beginning with Kamek and his toadies kidnapping babies. The Yoshis still carry the babies on their backs, and the babies still float away with an annoying cry if Yoshi is hit. Yoshi can still eat enemies, lay eggs, and target them at enemies and items. Despite all of these elements, the game is far from a “same look, different levels" type of game, nearly akin to Super Mario Bros. 3 versus the original Super Mario Bros.
Like Sonic Rush, gameplay in Yoshi’s Island DS takes place on both screens. There is a gap in between the two screens equal to the missing portion of the screen. While this works fine for larger boss levels, it’s mostly just disorienting in normal levels where items and enemies may hide in this blind spot, though it isn’t a huge issue. Of course, the Yoshis retain their trademark tongue reaching and egg laying capabilities. Controls deviate slightly from the original, but are generally better once you get used to the timing differences.
The primary new feature in Yoshi’s Island DS is the addition of different babies. Instead of only Baby Mario, baby versions of Peach, Donkey Kong, Wario, and even Bowser come along for the ride. Yoshis can carry only one baby at a time, and the other babies are carried by a stork. Babies are switched at “stork stops." With Mario along, Yoshi gains the ability to run, and “M" blocks, which act like the traditional “?" blocks become activated. Peach has a parasol, like her previous game, which allows the pair to fly in the breeze. When DK rides, he helps the Yoshis dash charge as well as climb vines. Wario packs a large magnet, which is used for moving metallic barriers and attracting coins. Finally, Bowser can spit fire to melt ice. Eggs also act differently when thrown depending on the current rider. Many levels require the use of multiple babies, if not just to complete the level, then to collect all items. This diversity generally adds to the fun and challenge of the game and rarely feels gimmicky.
Yoshi’s Island DS includes all types of levels from outdoors to caverns, platforming levels in the sky to frozen lands, from Shy Guy-controlled pirate ships to castles with their characteristic giant bosses. Missing from the game are the 3D Super FX polygons (which were out of place anyway) and disappointingly, levels featuring the famous “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy" LSD trip. Each level includes the familiar five flowers, twenty red coins, and thirty stars that must be collected in order to achieve 100%. Additionally, there is one character coin in each level, which is only activated when a particular baby is riding. Some levels are based on standard platforming, while others are mazes where players must collect certain items in order to escape.
Shy Guys make their return, with an exclamation of “Heihoo!" (their Japanese name) upon entering, as well as many other familiar enemies. There are plenty of new enemies as well, though the newer designs often seem out of place compared to the older characters. Kamek once again sends off giant enemies to square off against the Yoshis after every four levels. Compared to the rest of the game, bosses are pretty easy, though they occasionally require a bit of thinking to figure out how to defeat them.
The levels in Yoshi’s Island DS are much more expansive than those found in most prior Mario games, and they encourage exploration over a straight run to the goal ring. Though the map screen itself is linear, levels often have multiple paths, some of which can only be accessed by a particular baby or after a puzzling sequence of item acquisition. Some levels seem to be made of what would normally be separate smaller levels, punctuated by multiple save-point rings. Some levels are truly ingenious while others are plain frustrating; 100% completion is truly a formidable task. There are also some in-stage bonus levels, which involve events like flutter-jumping the farthest or laying the most eggs in a short amount of time.
Challenge progressively increases across its five worlds. On the first world, it wouldn’t be out of the question to obtain 100% on the first pass through. However, about half-way through the game, the challenge starts to ramp up, and in the later levels, players will become far more concerned about simply surviving the level than trying to get all of the items. The game is harder than the original Yoshi’s Island and, when attempting 100% completion, it is even harder than the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 (a.k.a. The Lost Levels).
Item cards are missing from Yoshi’s Island DS, making it even more difficult in later stages to achieve 100% since players can’t boost their star count using items. Special attack items such as watermelons are also absent, likely due to the character-specific abilities like Bowser’s fire. 1-ups are far, far too common to the point of being worthless; besides the plethora found in-game, bonus games can be played as often as the player likes. I think the only reason they still exist is because of tradition.
Almost taunting players, completion of the game yields five even more difficult levels. 100% completion unlocks yet another five levels. There is also a time-trial mode, where players can perfect their 100% speed-runs. On top of that, there are also bonus games and, in what seems to be the latest trend, an enemy museum, which is a level featuring caged versions of every enemy that the Yoshis have defeated. Yoshi’s Island DS is truly a game meant for Yoshi’s Island fans, and shows how Nintendo is still willing to cater to traditional gamers.
This year has been especially great for those long yearning for classic Mario platformers. Yoshi’s Island DS may not be perfect, but it is still a great game, even by Mario standards, and should leave a grin on your face as big as Yoshi’s.