|By Zach Patterson||Friday, 11 Jun 2004|
Yoshi’s Island is the 1995 sequel to Super Mario World, but the games are about as different as can be. Whereas Super Mario World had Yoshi as a supporting character, Yoshi’s Island gives Yoshi and his multicolored friends center stage.
In this new adventure, the story is a prequel to all the other Mario games. This takes place when Mario and Luigi are just a babies and Luigi is kidnapped by the Magikoopa. Then Yoshi inexplicably makes his debut. Apparently, Yoshis have been around forever and happen to catch Baby Mario as he falls from the stork on its way to his parents. Yoshi then begins his quest to rescue Baby Luigi and get the kids back to their parents.
The controls are a lot different for this Mario game than any others. In fact, I hesitate to call this a Mario game because Yoshi has really made his own series with his own levels and moves. But regardless, Yoshi can jump and flutter if you hold or press jump again which helps him get a little higher or make longer chasms. While he can’t fly, his floating technique does come in handy many times. In addition, Yoshi can also eat most any enemy he encounters and either swallow it and make it an egg that follows him or spit the enemy back out as an attack. The eggs that follow become ammo in an odd twist, where if you hold the A button, Yoshi winds up to throw it, which can be used to kill enemies, move environment objects, or get hard to reach items. Then finally Yoshi has Baby Mario on his back which he must protect. If Baby happens to fall off due to an enemy hitting Yoshi, Yoshi has a certain amount of seconds (1-30, based on the amount of stars you pick up) to recover Mario before the evil Koopa minions take Mario away and you lose a life. There is so much to the game that makes it seem complicated, but it really works well. It doesn’t hurt that the controls are spot on and really easy to learn. If you die, it is rarely the fault of the game. Rather, this is a skill based affair.
The music, much like its sequel Yoshi’s Story, is very cutesy at times, but not quite as sugary sweet as that title. Some music, especially the castle bosses, is a bit dark and a feeling of something ominous on its way. It is noteworthy however, simply because it is so memorable. The tunes are instantly catchy and though at times a bit childish, really great nonetheless.
The graphics are, in a word, amazing. This and Donkey Kong Country 3 may be the best graphics seen on a 16 bit system. Simply technically speaking, DKC3 wins. But style-wise, Yoshi’s Island is heads and tails above. This game is so beautiful and graphically stunning that it is amazing this game is a 16-bit game. Yoshi has his same basic look from SMW, but he has so many more animations. He seems like a living, breathing character. From his determined face when he is throwing eggs to his tripping hazed over eyes when he hits the cotton puff clouds and the entire world becomes topsy-turvy, there is no shortage of expressions for Yoshi. This animation and style is especially remarkable today because while I missed this game back when it first came out, this game still stands out today as beautiful. The backgrounds are large, colorful, and fluid with many moving parts and little effects. The enemies, likewise, are much more varied and styled, taking on their own personalities. Piranha Plants now are huge and threatening for once, Shyguys have gone from emotionless wonders to quirky mischievous enemies, and obscure enemies like the ones from Super Mario Bros 2 that shot bullets at you are back, but with a new improved look that makes them more than a Shyguy palette swap.
Then there are the bosses. Bosses are not just creative and cool, they are huge and impressive. You usually fight bigger versions of regular enemies, but each one has a weakness you must discover and exploit. Most are relatively easy, but a couple are quite tricky. Regardless, these bosses usually take up the entire screen and have you running for cover. I guarantee you will be impressed by at least one or two of them.
The game itself isn’t extremely easy (the last few levels in the last two worlds are ridiculous), though it seems pretty easy at the start. Then the difficulty begins to ramp up, but luckily you can get a lot of one-ups in this game. I think Nintendo realized the game was going to get tougher and they did not want an impossible game, just a fun, challenging one.
And I still haven’t talked about the variety yet. There is a lot to keep the game fresh. Mini-games at the end of levels make their return and offer you chances for one-ups and power-ups. There are also several in-game to give you special abilities. Yoshi also has the ability to morph in certain sections into multiple vehicles, kinda like Vectorman on the Genesis. He can morph into anything from a mole that digs to a helicopter to fly over dangerous heights. There are 5 transformations in all, though you will really only see 2-3 that often in the game. And then there is quite possibly the coolest and most fun transformation, where Baby Mario becomes Super Baby Mario and is allowed to hop off Yoshi and go wild with a cape. He is invincible during this and able to float. It is very cute and also very cool to see little Mario kick some serious ass. The end boss too is really innovative and really changes the gameplay up while still using the skills you have learned throughout the game.
You really cannot go wrong with Yoshi’s Island. I was skeptical going in after all the praise it received from a lot of magazines, but they were right, this game is a classic. It belongs in your collection alongside the rest of the Mario greats. The SNES version is still common, although the GBA version may be a bit better due to new voices and little touches. Still, the gameplay is the same, and so are the graphics, and they are fantastic.