Having never played or even heard of Yoshi's Island before, I honestly didn't know what to expect.
Super Metroid. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. These are just a handful of some of the SNES’s best games that I have never, ever played. Thanks to the Game Boy Advance, I can now cross one of those titles off my ‘list of shame’, as Nintendo has just recently released Yoshi’s Island under their Super Mario Advance label. So what does this certified old school newbie think of this lesser mentioned (comparatively) Mario title?
Beautiful. If you too are admittedly inexperienced in regards to some of Nintendo’s older titles, Yoshi’s Island is definitely a game one would buy a GBA for. Yoshi’s Island borrows a few similar gameplay elements from the original Super Mario World, brings some new mechanics to the table, and coats it with a lush coat of pastel imagery. The game is apparently a prequel predating all Super Mario games, as the objective is to guide Baby Mario (who inadvertently escaped kidnapping) to a castle in which Baby Luigi is being held. The very basic elements in YI are similar to the original SMW and pretty much every other basic platformer, in that you control a character which walks from left to right, jumping on enemies, avoiding pits, and so forth.
However, Nintendo decided to really alter many of the elements that had made SMW and its previous brethren overwhelming successes. The most notable change is definitely the implementation of Yoshi as the main (controllable) character. And unlike Super Mario Bros. 2, Nintendo has built the game mechanics and design around one of their mascots. Not only can Yoshi perform the simplest of tasks like running, jumping, and eating, but he now has the ability to spit out his enemies, swallow them (thus turning them into eggs), throw said eggs, and transform into multiple vehicles. The main focus of the game is to complete a stage with Baby Mario on your back. Should you get hit by an enemy during gameplay, Baby Mario will get knocked off Yoshi, and begin floating away in a bubble. It’s then your job to jump up and retrieve Mario before a timer runs out. While you start off with only 10 seconds to get the infant plumber back onto your saddle, this limit can be increased by collecting miniscule, jumping stars, which are often littered throughout each of the dozens of levels.
Though Yoshi’s Island is still a platformer at heart, much of the design of the game has been crafted around the ability to use Yoshi’s eggs. By swallowing enemies (by pressing B) and digesting them (similar to Kirby, press down), Yoshi will produce an egg (he can carry a total of six eggs at a time) that will hop along behind him until needed. By pressing the right shoulder button, an aimer will appear that will rotate on a semi circular axis for a maximum of 180 degrees in whatever direction Yoshi is facing. By pressing the same shoulder button once more, Yoshi will hurl the egg in the direction of the cursor. This function allows Nintendo to offer the gamer multiple ways to combat enemies (some enemies can only be killed with an egg), which adds a very nice dose of variety and challenge.
While the design is inventive and unique, what really has me high on Yoshi’s Island is the creativity. On the graphical side of things, the game presents an unparalleled beauty, as Nintendo has wrapped the visual experience with an effective “coloring book” art style. Backgrounds (and often foregrounds) look like they’ve been drawn using crayons and pastels, as dabs of colors are always streaked together in multiple shades, creating one of the most exquisite visual experiences I have ever witnessed in a video game. Multiple special effects have also been implemented into the title, as one will witness the screen warping, sprites rapidly changing colors, and, most noticeably, the huge warping enemies and seemingly 3D objects. Take a look for yourself in our screen index, the game is just a treat to look at.
The aforementioned variety and creativity in the title is also ever apparent. There are multiple puzzles in the game, which, while commanding you to platform, also insist that you study the environment in order to progress. More than once have I found myself contemplating how to move out of an environment, only to find great satisfaction when the solution became evident. The game also offers multiple challenges when it comes to the enemies as well. Some foes, such as Shy Guys, will feature multiple revisions of the character, forcing you to find new ways to defeat them. While it may be an effortless task to jump on or swallow and spit out a standard wise guy, you’ll later find Shy Guys holding shields (thus blocking any tongue lashes) or spears (which thwart any attacks from above). Other enemies may block your path entirely or even alter the ground on which you walk.
Though I am currently only halfway through the game, it’s easy to see why this game has seen such a hardcore following throughout the years. Everything about Yoshi’s Island is fresh, unique, creative, and fun, and you would be doing yourself a disservice by missing out on this game again, if you haven’t already played it. And if you have already played it, there’s really only one thing a guy can say. Touch fuzzy, get dizzy.