Yoshi’s Island is one interesting game. It’s great, yet about as far away from its namesake as you could get. When you consider the fact that it likely has more in common with Nintendo 64 platformers like Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie than it does with Super Mario World, it seems strange that they would even put it under the same name. Regardless, Yoshi’s Island is one of the finest and most polished outings that you are likely to find on the SNES. Funnily enough, it all started with the Donkey Kong Country series. After its runaway success, Nintendo wanted the sequel to Mario World to be in the same vein as Donkey Kong Country’s pre-rendered graphics. But Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto wasn’t sure about this direction. So a little ways into development he came up with the idea of using a coloring book style reminiscent of a child’s drawings. Inspired by this new art direction, the team created a prequel story about baby Mario, with Yoshi taking center stage.
The difference from its predecessor is immediately felt, giving item collection and exploration of levels precedence over arcade platforming. That’s right, Yoshi’s Island is the system’s collect-a-thon experience (This is what I mean with the comparison to N64 platformers). To this end, the timer present in most platformers has been removed. Trust me when I say that replaying these levels can become compulsive, as the reward for completing each of the six world’s eight levels with 100% is a bonus level. You can only do this by finding all of the level’s collectibles and keeping baby Mario safe throughout. You WILL want to make sure you are trying to do this because baby Mario is annoying as hell. What the were they smoking when they came up with this idea? Nobody wants to hear this crap. Thankfully this is only a small blemish on an otherwise satisfying experience.
As for the levels themselves, It’s hard not to admire their design despite it being a collect-a-thon. During this time it is said that Miyamoto’s philosophy on game design was that each game should be a toy box. If that is true then Yoshi’s Island is BEGGING to be played with! Almost everything and everyone can be interacted with in one way or another. Yoshi himself is able to throw eggs, swallow, spit out enemies and butt-stomp. There are also times when Yoshi will transform into a vehicle such as a helicopter or sled. Even baby Mario will redeem himself and carry Yoshi a time or three!! This entire interaction and exploration aspect makes Yoshi’s Island a much more deliberate experience than its namesake which is much more twitch action oriented. Stages are enormous with many different branching pathways, and there is always something you missed the first time around. There is also an almost constant variety of enemies, locales, and obstacles that make you want to play on just to see what comes next!
Things you will do in Yoshi’s Island:
*Get dizzy by touching spores that send you into a psychedelic trip!
*Sled down Icy Mountain while dodging enemies and getting big air!
*Run for your life from an indestructible gold tack through a fiery cavern!
*Protect baby Mario from some thieving monkeys while traversing a lake!
The game’s castles are also a revelation, each requiring you to solve its mysteries in order to move onto the boss. From a haunted fortress to a castle that has you operating inside the pipe system, each fort puts its own stamp of creativity onto the game. Then there are the boss fights, which are without a doubt some of the most inventive of any platformer. Whether you are ground pounding poles into a giant raven on a planetoid or attempting to penetrate a gooey slug’s defenses, the bosses deliver a shot of life into a series that usually recycles boss encounters. My personal favorite: The Giant Boo that you cannot hit unless you are looking away from him! I can safely say that you will not soon forget any of these encounters, as every single one is eventful and different.
As a final note, it is illustrative to compare this game to another oddball sequel: Super Mario Bros. 2. Note that I am not just talking about how both sequels differ from the traditional Mario gameplay. Each has an emphasis on throwing things, and both games have a lot of exploration in each level. They even share enemies that were not seen in any other 2D Mario games! I found it interesting that after Yoshi’s Island brought back forgotten enemies like the Shy Guys, they became Mario canon when before they were not given a second thought. I don’t know, just something to think about …
Graphically the game is a technical marvel that is admirable yet misunderstood. As part of the ‘games are art’ argument, this is a release that you could hold up and be proud of. Super Mario World 2 utilized the Super FX2 chip to take the SNES experience to a whole new level. Backgrounds are vibrant and alive with detail, and everything from enemies to obstacles animate with pristine detail. But in the bigger picture I think it is safe to say that its visual design backfired on Nintendo, especially considering that the entire 16-bit console war was about the 90’s rad factor. Forgive me, but Yoshi’s island WAS NOT RAD, and it wasn’t even what customers were asking for at the time. The end result was a confused Nintendo fanbase and smug Genesis players with yet another “kiddy” title to hold up and mock.
So in the end we are left with a game that sold well enough yet never lived up to Super Mario World or even Donkey Kong Country’s sales figures. Still a majority of gamers today can look back and appreciate Nintendo going out on a limb with this title, as it served as the DNA for much of the N64’s platformer genre. So please don’t let baby Mario scare you away! This is an adventure well worth having. The graphics are beautiful, the animation is amazing, and the gameplay is inspired. I still wonder how many Fuzzies Nintendo touched in order to come up with this game. Though I was always sore that we never received our REAL Super Mario World sequel, I’m glad Yoshi’s Island was created. From getting dizzy in Fuzzy Forest to sledding down Icy Mountain, this single game is packed with more creative content than most developers come up with in a lifetime. As hard as I am on deviating from what the fans expect, Yoshi’s Island is proof positive that there ARE such things as a good surprise in the game industry.
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