|By Zach Patterson||Monday, 29 Oct 2007|
I write this review with an extremely conflicted viewpoint. On one hand, Yoshi’s Island DS is essentially a direct followup to one of my favorite platformers ever, the original Yoshi’s Island. It uses much of the same designs and physics of the original and adds some twists here and there. On the other hand, the game also feels so similar, yet inferior, to the original in many aspects, and it is hard to pinpoint exactly why. The art direction, while not exactly the same, is strikingly similar. The menus and level progression are the same. The game feels the same as the original, control-wise. The bosses are big and screen spanning, just like the original. So why does the game feel inferior?
If I could sum it up easily, I’d just say that more of the same in this case was not a good idea. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was a very fun, imaginative game that varied so much from the original Super Mario World and gave gamers something they weren’t exactly expecting, but it delivered a creative and unique game experience. It was enough to give Yoshi his own series of games from that sequel. Yoshi’s Island DS is a game that faithfully tries to create a sequel to an unconventional, unique game by copying it in nearly every aspect. I suppose that is my biggest problem with the game. There’s a lot of things that could be done with Yoshi, and instead of adding great new ideas, the developer Artoon relied on playing it safe.
Now, this isn’t the worst thing in the world. What you get when you buy this game is really just Yoshi’s Island: The Expansion Pack. More levels of similar goodness found in the original, and this game also introduces new characters to ride on Yoshi’s back, including baby versions of Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Bowser to go along with Mario. The selection of characters is downright strange, and I feel like not enough thought was put into the extra babies. Princess Peach is worthless aside from mandatory areas where you need to use her umbrella to fly high for wind gusts. Donkey Kong doesn’t really fit into the already weak story line at all, and was seemingly added because they needed a character that could climb on things and be the big tough character. Then there is Wario, who seems completely tacked on. He appears mid-game with a magnet (buh?) and he has the ability to draw coins to the magnet and move some platforms closer. Which is fine, but it never seems to work right. Getting his abilities to work feels unpolished and inconsistent. Bowser is another one that feels tacked on. You have him for such a small amount of time, and by having him as your baby, you cannot eat eggs, you can only spit fire. This really isn’t much of an advantage, as the fire move very slow and eating the enemies would be just as easy.
Then add to the fact that the babies have very little animation. Bowser looks very unnatural on the Yoshi’s back, and I swear Wario has about 2 frames of animation. Peach is okay, but DK’s character design is really poor. His face just looks poorly designed and I feel it would have been much better if it was done closer to the Rare design for the character. Luckily, Baby Mario is the same as the original and still looks cute and animated on Yoshi’s back.
The worst thing about the characters, though, is that you can’t switch them at will or in between levels. You have to rely on changing posts, where a stork will stop by and you can cycle through the characters. This isn’t a very good way to do it, and a function similar to Donkey Kong Country where the characters can be switched at will would have made the game much more enjoyable. This is because there are many times when you want another character, but it’s a pain to do all the backtracking to get to a changing post, so often times I just ignored collectible items for the sake of convenience. This is made more of a pain by the fact that levels 1) aren’t very fun or imaginative and 2) are long as hell. The levels start out insultingly easy, with the game holding your hand every step of the way, and as they slowly get more challenging, they continue to get longer. Some of the later levels can take over 20 mins to complete. With no way to save the game midlevel, this becomes very frustrating for someone like me who is geared towards quick play times. I began to not look forward to playing because it was such a time commitment.
Additionally, the derivative level design (much of which is taken from the first game) gives a strong feeling of deja vu, which added to my disinterest. Then there is the fact that the game is waaaay too easy on you. The first Yoshi’s Island gave you quite a few lives, but this is ridiculous. By world 4, I was close to 200 lives, and I certainly wasn’t playing a flawless game. I could die as much as I wanted and never fear a game over. That kinda takes some of the fun and challenge away, which is disappointing. And another complaint is that the game is just too much of a collectathon, one of my most hated platforming cliches. You have stars, red coins, flowers, and character coins to retrieve in every level, and with blah level designs, there’s no urge to go back and get all that stuff. I was more concerned with getting out of the level.
Then there is the music. While it’s appropriate most of the time and is never flat out BAD, it’s not particularly good either. It’s also not very memorable. The same music is reused over and over again, and when it isn’t all that great to start with, it becomes annoying quickly. This game is definitely missing Koji Kondo’s excellent score from the first game.
So it probably sounds like I am being hard on the game, and to it’s credit, there are some things it does right. For example, the points where you have to use a certain character’s abilities are usually well done. It adds a nice, simple puzzle element to the game, and even though Mario is still the best character to play as, it’s nice to briefly switch him out once and awhile. Additionally, the game’s art design, while not quite the same as the original, is still pretty good, and you can tell instantly by looking at it that this is a Yoshi game. Additionally, the physics, like I said, are the exact same. Each character controls a little differently, but Mario’s controls are the exact same and feel perfect still. Egg throwing is still quick and natural and fun. The bosses are kinda same-y from the first game, but they are all new, and a couple add some creative ideas to beat them. Additionally, the final world really allows the game to come alive with a better challenge, more danger, and better level design. Also, though most won’t bother with them too far, the bonus levels are designed to really test you with the game’s controls and abilities, and each one is a fun and difficult challenge.
So in the end, I didn’t have a ton positive to say about it. I mean, they took a great game and copied it extensively, adding little bits that didn’t exactly work perfectly. It’s not a terrible game by any means, but I would be lying if I said I was really happy with how the game turned out. If you really really loved Yoshi’s Island, maybe you should check this one out. Just be prepared for a game that is going to feel really similar, but not near as original as when you played the first game, and not quite as fun.