Yoshi's Island

Waaah. Waaaah!

You might know by now that I'm not terribly fussed about the Mario franchise. Very good games, don't get me wrong, but I'm never in a rush to get round to playing them, let alone playing them for any length of time, or with the intent of finishing them.

I'm not saying that that opinion has changed, but I will say that Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island has got the biggest reaction a Mario game has got from me for a while now.

All I knew about it was that Yoshi was heavily featured and that the art style was a little different. That's it. That's all I've got to go with as I dive back into the world of 2D platformers to see why this one needs to be played by gamers.

Let's get comfy and settle in for some fun.

These hills are so goddamn happy!

Source // Wikipedia

Fun Times

Yoshi's Island has a plot and while it is absurd, it's pretty engaging. Baby Mario has fallen from the sky onto Yoshi's Island, the island where Yoshi lives. Yoshi and all the other Yoshis. They don't have names. Yoshi does, obviously, but not the other Yoshi's. Still following?

The Yoshi's don't know what to do until they discover that baby Mario shares a psychic link with his brother and can direct them to where he wants to go. A plan is hatched (ha, hatched) to form a giant relay system of Yoshi's between here and wherever Luigi is - at least I assume we're heading for baby Luigi. We're heading somewhere at least, and at the end of each level, the Yoshi we're playing as hands baby Mario off to the next. It's wonderful, really.

Levels are full of familiar Mario moments - platforming, waddling enemies, pipes to who-knows-where - but there is enough of a difference between Yoshi's Island and other Mario titles that I was actually getting into it far more than a 'generic' Mario game if you will.

I wasn't just a mindless Mario trying to get from point A to B without losing lives. I was a chain of Yoshi working together to get baby Mario past the perils of the island without losing him. Literally losing him. Almost literally losing him.

If you get hit, Mario floats away in his bubble, screaming his head off until you gather him up again within the time limit. In other games, you get hit and use the temporary invulnerability to tank through a tricky bit of the level. In Yoshi's Island, you get hit and panic as Mario flies up the screen, wailing away for far too long, even if you do manage to snag him back after a few seconds. And once you've got him back safely, you're still probably the wrong side of the environmental hazard you wanted to avoid.

Speaking of hazards, with the power of the SNES and the freedom for creativity that the title offered the development team, there are traps and threats that you simply would not be concerned about in any other Mario title. While minding my own business, a wall fell onto me, into the screen.

It leaves you with so little time to prepare, especially if you've been brought up with the notion that Mario games just don't do that - things come from the top towards the bottom to squash you, not from the back to the front. How dare the third dimension sneak into my 2D platformer...

Through varied introductory levels, you'll learn that you can eat enemies and turn them into eggs, throw those eggs at distant enemies or hard to reach blocks, pound the ground to destroy things, flap your feet for a little extra height and hang time in jumps and even turn into a helicopter, for some as-yet-unexplained reason.

Yoshi's Island has a lot of stuff to offer, and it's newness shines, even though it's two decades old.




There is still that moment that arrives. That one section, or one jump that trips you up again and again. There is still that moment where you've made so much progress and then - BAM! - brick wall. Or if not a brick wall, then a big old hurdle.

I was having a magnificent time with Yoshi's World until one lava-filled section appeared in the middle of my lovely colourful island adventure. It's the level of a sub-boss, so yeah, sure, it's going to be tricky, but it's the first world and it's not impossible, and yet time after time, a single, simple mistake trips you up.

The game primes you to remember that simple mistakes aren't the end of the world, and that baby Mario will fly away until you get him back. No big deal, focus on him, he'll stop crying soon enough and you'll be back to the level in no time. Then you immediately succumb to the same hazard, and he flies off again. Then you fall into lava and restart at the last checkpoint, where you moan, complain, keep playing, fall for the same trap, lose baby Mario and eventually fall into the lava again.

I'm not saying I have a short fuse, just that I know where my stopping point is. If you do have a short fuse, having the cries of a screaming child be your alert to the fact that you've cocked up probably isn't the best of design choices. Thematic, yes. Attention grabbing? Yes. Infuriating under the right circumstances? No comment.

Like many other Mario titles on this list so far, no matter how easy they are to pick up and play, they aren't anywhere near as easy to persist with and complete.

Final Word

But look at how happy these dippy dinosaurs are! They're dying left, right and centre but it's ok! It's for the sake of baby Mario, yaaay! Woo, go Team Yoshi! The community spirit on this island is on another level, which should be commended.

Mario titles have this quality about them where anyone can have a go because having a go is easy. Yoshi's Island may look like a childlike Mario title, but it's just as demanding as any other. You'll need to explore to get the high scores each level, you'll have to get used to all of the techniques to get past whatever the game throws at you. You'll have to be alert, and calm, and quick, and accurate, and steady and umpteen other things, but if you're determined, you'll do it.

I want to play some more Yoshi's Island, definitely. I want to play it again more than any other Mario title so far. They're good, this is good, this one just seems more interesting to me. Maybe it's the plot. Maybe it's because Mario takes a back seat. Whatever it is, at some point, I want to get back to it - knowing that I likely won't finish it.

It's going to frustrate in places, it's going to be wonderful in places, and it's going to look pretty damn good throughout. A bit gaudy here and there, but so optimistic and cheery that you can't help but smile. It's happiness in video game form.

Until you fall into some lava.

Fun Facts

In a market where Donkey Kong Country was showing how good graphics could be (pre-rendered sprites or not), Nintendo questioned whether another game that looks like the Mario of old would sell. Instead of going down the DK route, Miyamoto headed into hand drawn, coloured by crayons territory, to prove the point that you don't need graphics, but an art direction.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, developed by Nintendo EAD, first released in 1995.
Version played: SNES, 1995, via emulation.