The invitation to write a review of Yoshi's Island is simultaneously
heartwarming, because I enjoyed the game, but also unnerving. I've
never played the original Yoshi's Island. Nor did I play Yoshi's Story.
Nor do I truly remember when Yoshi came into being in the Mario world.
There, I have said it. I welcome all flame e-mails to criticize that I
haven't played forwards and backwards a hundred times one of the
definitive canons in the annals of all gaming.
Disclaimers aside, the past decade has really been a blur to me. To
think that Yoshi's Island on the SNES was released so long ago is
something I cannot fathom. My colleague, Jeff "Linkphreak" Haynes, said
in a recent piece, "If you're old enough to remember the original NES."
Wait, stop there. You mean, not everyone can remember the old gray NES?
Or for overseas players, the red and white Nintendo 'computer'? Am I
really that old? At any rate, Yoshi's Island is geared towards people
who do remember games from the NES onwards: the 'old' ones, as Jeff
described himself and I, and I'm sure many others as. But the great
thing about Yoshi's Island on the Game Boy Advance is its ability to
rise up as a platform title that everyone can enjoy. Truly, after
playing, I'm surprised why it wasn't the first Mario convert put on the
Game Boy Advance. Marvelous in all aspects, it is everything a game
from this genre should be.
One thing I find frustrating about playing platform titles is the fact
that I die a lot. A quick brush against an enemy and I could be sent to
the can and have to restart the level. My skills don't guarantee I'll
get better on the second run either. But Yoshi's Island is obviously
made for me. A little about the story first: a bunch of Yoshis (I
thought there was only one but no matter) have gathered to help a baby
Mario go see a baby Luigi and they have divvyed up the whole journey
between different Yoshis. Each Yoshi will carry the baby for one
segment and transfer it to the next one. Instead of laying down death
as the rule for getting hit, Yoshi's Island has you giving up your baby.
Providing you catch the baby after it is, shall we say, dislodged,
you'll be able to resume play. It's a small but brilliant gameplay
device, all the more appreciable because it's actually worked into the
context of the plot. This minimizes a lot of the frustration I had
earlier, although you can still die by jumping off cliffs. But at least
one avenue of frustration is gone.
Does it make the game needlessly easier? Not particularly. All of your
exploring, special skills and secret areas are still present in the
game, providing people with ample challenge. Combat is handled by
sucking away enemies and spitting them out. For more fun, you can
encase them in egg (don't ask how this works in real life) and then use
your chain of eggs as ammunition against enemies and obstacles. Almost
everything about Yoshi's Island is imaginative and nearly every facet
takes into account we're facing younger versions of the Mario cast,
including the villains, bosses and allies.
Perhaps the most original part of the game is the overall visual motif.
Reflecting the child metaphor, what we have here is a set of graphics
that look like they are drawn with Crayola. You could easily envision
some of this artwork posted on a wall in some elementary school with
everything from shape structures right down to the amateurish shading
reflecting the baby motif. In an age where most games are going for a
photo-realistic look, this is relief; a timeout or a recess from
over-emphasis on realism. I applaud to whoever made this decision for
the artistic direction. It's a daring gamble and obviously paid off in
Every nostalgic Mario title that Nintendo releases comes with a
multiplayer capable Mario Bros. game. This is, perhaps, the most
unimaginative part of Yoshi's Island. Every other portion is brimming
with creativity. If you have never played a Mario title before, this
one provides an excellent introduction into the mechanics of one. So
good are the developers at their craft, I don't believe there will be
platform titles that will be much better than this one for the remainder
of the year. Inevitably, I have compressed much of this review, briefly
summarized or even omitted the amusing boss encounters and hilarious
moments I had babysitting Mario. This may be an aged title based on a
stodgy genre but it pulsates with ideas that even some modern developers
have yet to grasp.