Yoshi’s New Island – 3DS
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date (NA): March 14th, 2014
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
At one point we’d been told that Yoshi’s New Island would be released as early as the first few days of January, though like everything else Nintendo has promised lately the date was pushed back significantly. It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper adventure with “the babies” and their guardian dinosaur, so this was pretty high up on my list of “must plays” ever since I’d heard about it. And yet again, instead of giving us with the Wii U a chance to drool over something Mario-esque, Nintendo treats the 3DS like the major console keeping the Wii U on the periphery. Yoshi’s New Island is bound to polarize fans; on the one hand we have an extremely faithful followup to the gameplay found in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, but on the other hand there isn’t much new or original going on here.
To be fair, most of the gamers who pick up New Island will probably be too young to know what the hell the original Yoshi’s Island is, or at the very least too young to care. From a certain (and I think valid) perspective, Nintendo is simply updating a concept that worked very well back in 1995 to 2014 standards. We probably ought to be thankful that they actually gave us a new game instead instead of a Super Mario World 2 HD 3D ABC remake-remaster. I love Nintendo, arguably more than any of my colleagues here at The Bacon, but even I begin to grow weary of Nintendo’s recent-ish approach to their own celebrated classics.
In a spectacular dismissal of the past 19 years, New Island picks up right where Yoshi’s Island left off. Yoshi’s Island didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, but I digress. For those unfamiliar with the earlier game, the player assumes the role of Yoshi, the dinosaur, who carries Baby Mario on his back. More precisely, the player takes on the role of a number of “Yoshis” from stage to stage, trying to keep Baby Mario safe from Kamek and his minions. Yoshi is a pretty tough character for Mario standards: his boots can crush enemies, he can eat enemies, he can turn most enemies into eggs, aim and throw said eggs, and he’s got that nice little flutter kick jump. Most amazingly, he can’t exactly be killed. No life bar or powerups here; instead, if Yoshi is hit, Baby Mario starts floating around and crying. The seconds tick down, and if Yoshi doesn’t reestablish physical contact before the clock runs down, Kamek’s Toadies whisk our baby hero away.
Yoshi’s New Island retains the original gameplay exactly and adds in the ability for Yoshi to create and launch “Mega Eggdozers.” Eggdozers can be formed by “eating” giant and sometimes stone enemies. Once the egg has been digested and formed, the existing trail of eggs is knocked away, Yoshi can barely jump, and his aim is quite limited. The Eggdozer’s true use lies in tearing apart existing structures of the level and opening up new possibilities, and typically these opportunities are positioned in a way where its use is plainly obvious.
If you enjoyed Super Mario World 2, then you’ll find at least some enjoyment in Yoshi’s New Island. The controls and gameplay are essentially identical. Besides the new feature, which I found to be somewhat underused, this new game is laughably less difficult than its predecessor. In the course of normal play (no cheating, no special attempts at attaining lives) I had gained 126 lives by the time I reached the third world. Incredible. Sure, death finds you (sometimes) but catching Mario is generally pretty easy and otherwise one can only die by diving off a ledge. Should you find yourself dying more than 5 times in a row during a single stage, Nintendo has provided an easy out (as is common practice for them these days) in the form of a pair of wings. Yoshi then has limited flight capabilities to assist in traversing the level. Also like its predecessor, the controls can be difficult to adjust to at first. The first few hours of play trying to coordinate aiming, firing, jumping, and eating can be very frustrating. However, the game is easy enough that these faults rarely interfere with practical gameplay. I don’t suppose I have any better ideas on how to improve the controls, but the bizarre mechanic involved in aiming an egg has always been an awkward element for me to use quickly and efficiently.
The real area in which Yoshi’s New Island shines is its superb level design. One may rapidly advance through each of the levels completing only the bare minimum, but anyone over the age of 10, they’re doing a real disservice to themselves. There is so much to see and do and clever little secrets are abundant. In addition to beating the level, players also have 3 optional tasks they can elect to complete: gathering up 30 “stars” (stars translate into seconds on the Mario clock, so not getting hit near the end of the level is essential), finding all 20 red coins (which are disguised as gold coins most of the time; this means gathering up every coin in the level, some of which are well-hidden) and finally gather the 5 flowers (also hidden or in hard to reach places). One can usually accomplish the first by being careful, but the other 2 require a good deal of exploration and experimentation to complete, especially in later worlds.
These challenges help to add some depth to gameplay; one can go for all 3 in one play, or collect them individually since Yoshi is free to roam the overworld map of finished levels. Stages can be played over and over again in search of “that one last flower” or “those 2 elusive red coins” without becoming overly tedious. There’s a degree of whimsy that keeps the somewhat repetitive nature from feeling tiresome and there’s enough variation in level design to keep these sorts of miniature puzzles fresh and new. One of my favorites involves an encounter with a “copycat Yoshi” who imitates the player’s movements on a different arrangement of terrain just above the “real” Yoshi. The player must then move Yoshi in such a way that the copycat works its way through the obstacles and directly onto a bed of spikes. Certain other areas allow for Yoshi to take the form of different objects including a jackhammer and a balloon. The player then navigates the morphed Yoshi through specially designed rooms, often containing at least one red coin and/or one flower positioned in an unfamiliar manner.
The visual style of Yoshi’s New Island largely mimics the mixed-media art feel of the original. Most of the game looks like a cross between colored pencils and watercolor with the occasional dash of paper cut-outs thrown in. It may not be quite as impressive in 2014 as it was in ’95, but it does do an excellent job at preserving the mood and feel of Super Mario World 2 and makes it feel like a true continuation. The sound effects and music fit squarely within expectations and have a bubbly, innocent, even infantile quality to them. Baby Mario’s crying is still as annoying as ever, though luckily you’ll find yourself losing him a lot less often.
Taken at face value, Yoshi’s New Island is an entertaining and above average platformer. Difficulty is eschewed in favor of collecting items and minor puzzle solving. While clearly aimed at a younger generation, Mario fans ought to find some enjoyment here. Older gamers will likely have a problem reconciling the existence of what will quickly be dubbed unoriginal, but I see no harm in revisiting the mechanics of a 19 year old game. Still, Nintendo won’t be gaining many new fans with its lackadaisical approach to old favorites. It’s about time for the company to breathe new life into their great franchises instead of merely updating them, though for now, I suppose Yoshi’s New Island will have to do.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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