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Mar 25 2014

Review of Yoshi’s New Island

i_413203 Stars

While I’ve never been a huge fan of the Yoshi’s Island series, it’s a franchise I’ve always respected because just like the Kirby games, this is where Nintendo normally shows that they can innovate. They’ll take advantage of the character’s unsung status and throw in all sorts of weird mechanics and ideas that just wouldn’t fly in a main line Mario game; regardless of quality you could generally rely on Yoshi games to be at least fairly unique. Unfortunately (and ironically) that streak is somewhat broken with this latest entry, Yoshi’s New Island, which despite a few new mechanics is pretty much just another remake of the SNES classic.

I mean that literally too, the story is exactly as you remember it from back in the ’90s. The stork is bringing Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to their parents, drops them, Luigi gets stolen by Kamek, and Mario gets rescued by the Yoshis. The Yoshis being a generous sort decide to pass Baby Mario off like a football as they tromp through six worlds attempting to save Baby Luigi from Baby Bowser and Kamek. It is literally the exact same story as the original but the events here aren’t something that can happen twice. It’s a minor point and I admit that I’m nit-picking here but it bugs me regardless. You can re-tell the Mario saves Peach story a million times because those are events that can feasibly happen again, Bowser can always just re-kidnap her, but Baby Mario and Baby Luigi having the stork screw up their delivery is something that can only happen once. Again I’m nit-picking, but the fact that this is a pure remake does feel a little odd considering the word “new” is right there in the title; if they had called it Yoshi’s Island 3D or something like that it wouldn’t irk me as much but specifically using the word “new” implies you’re going to do something drastically different.

i_41321You might be thinking that the drastic change is in the gameplay but you would be wrong, there’s a few new mechanics and the levels are not carbon copies of the original game or anything but you’re still just chucking eggs around. The core systems of Yoshi’s Island remain intact, you’ll be jumping on platforms and hurling eggs at enemies and items alike. The collect-a-thon aspect of things is also here in full force and every level tasks you with you finding 5 flowers, 20 red coins, and 30 stars which also act as your timer for when you get separated from Baby Mario. To the game’s credit, these collectibles seem well hidden and multiple runs will be required to find everything but here’s where we come to one of the major issues with the game, there’s no real motivation to get you to collect everything. The game never explicitly or even subtly tells you what all that collecting will actually do. One can assume that picking everything up will unlock something but the game never even hints at what and when you don’t know what the payoff is, it’s hard to care about the work. This game also shares the Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze problem of just showering you with lives to the point that it seems nonsensical to have them in the first place. I finished the game with 75 lives stocked up (though I will admit the game is quite easy so that was a factor) and the whole lives/checkpoint system just felt antiquated by the end, it seemed like a poor excuse to shunt me back a few rooms whenever I made a stupid mistake.

Alright let’s breath for a moment and focus on the good aspect of the gameplay here, the new mechanics. There are three new things you get to do in this game and while opportunities to do them are somewhat sparsely laid out,  they’re all pretty fun. The most commonly found of these new mechanics is the giant eggs; these undoubtedly painful to produce munitions come from Yoshi swallowing giant enemies and when thrown they wreck up the environment Mega Mushroom style, you can also find metal eggs which have the added benefit of weighing Yoshi down so he can explore underwater. As you might imagine though giant enemies aren’t all that common and you’ll only find them in places designed for using giant eggs which makes the whole thing feel pretty gimmicky if not fun to watch. A similarly gimmicky and sparsely distributed new idea is the tilt segments which occasionally pop up. In these moments Yoshi will transform into some random vehicle like a mine-cart or a bobsled and you’ll control him by tilting the 3DS left and right. It’s certainly not the most meaningful of additions but these segments offer a nice change of pace from the well-worn platforming trail and were pretty enjoyable as result, I’m not saying I’d want a whole game of them but as palate cleanser they work fantastically. The last real new mechanic introduced is the super stars which allow Yoshi to run up walls and move super fast, it’s a fun mechanic and it adds some much-needed speed to the game so it’s an absolute pity that it’s almost never used. I saw the super star mechanic literally once throughout my entire run of the game; I’m sure it exists in other places (hidden on side paths or in unlockable levels) but if you go through the game not looking for extra stuff then you’ll most likely only see it the once. It’s so under used I actually forgot that the feature even existed until I looked at the back of the box just before writing this review.

i_41322Before we move away from the gameplay, I do have a bit more vitriol to spew, specifically regarding the fact that Yoshi controls like a three-legged donkey. His movement issues are mainly caused by the fact that there’s no dedicated run button which makes moving at speed with any proper precision a bit tougher than it should be. Basically the way Yoshi’s movement works is that he will start off at a slow walk and then after a few feet he’ll break into a run; for the most part this is serviceable, but when you do get into a tight spot or the game asks you to jump with any real precision, it becomes an issue. Another problem is that Yoshi has all the jumping skills of a Belmont and as such any mid-air attack will cause him to lose all momentum and fall to the ground. As you can imagine this makes it really hard to then reclaim an increasingly annoying wailing Baby Mario, that is assuming you survive the fall at all. While I didn’t die all that much throughout my run of the game, whenever I did it never felt fair, every flubbed jump felt right to my fingers but clearly not to Yoshi.

One thing I did appreciate in this game was the presentation, it’s not always as well implemented as it could have be but it’s certainly the high point of the experience. Visually it’s in keeping with that same blurry watercolour style that the past games have had which gives the game a nice almost impressionistic story book feel. Obviously that’s nothing new for the series but it’s one of the more interesting visual styles that Nintendo does so it’s always nice to see. The music is quite familiar as well with lots of classic Yoshi’s Island music being played both in their original forms and having been remixed and redone a little bit. My only quibble with the presentation is that the game is clearly built upon the polygonal New Super Mario Brothers engine and the Yoshi’s Island style just doesn’t map to it very well. One of the identifying features of the series to me is really good sprite work with some very exaggerated and crazy designs but unfortunately in transitioning those designs from sprite to polygon it seems they’ve had to tone things down somewhat to accommodate for the technology. It’s not the end of the world and the overall Yoshi’s Island vibe does still come through but it does definitely end up lacking a certain je ne sais quoi as a result.

I didn’t love Yoshi’s New Island but I didn’t hate it either. There’s certainly a lot of issues with it, many of which seem endemic to Nintendo platformers of late, but they at least tried to innovate in spots and while those new mechanics weren’t as well represented as I would have liked, they are a fun change of pace. It’s definitely not a very hard or a very long game but I feel like the intended audience here is too young for that to be an issue, that said if you’re coming back as a veteran of the series you’ll most likely feel underwhelmed. Honestly Yoshi’s New Island just left me feeling kind of apathetic and as such I’m giving it a 3 out of 5 stars.

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