How do you follow the excellent Super Mario World? I’m sure this was a question proposed to Nintendo many times in the early 90’s. Their answer would end up being Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Yoshi’s Island would prove to be a much different experience and not so much a sequel to Super Mario World. In fact, Yoshi’s Island is actually a prequel.
In the opening scene, we learn that a stork carrying twins is attacked by a shadowy figure. This mysterious figure is revealed to be Kamek and he’s out to kidnap the twins. He manages to grab one of them while the other falls from the sky. A Yoshi out for its daily walk is surprised when a baby falls onto his back. This baby is none other than Mario! Yoshi brings Baby Mario back to the other Yoshies and they decided to escort Baby Mario on the search for his brother. Meanwhile, Kamek notices that he didn’t actually get both babies. He instructs his toadies to try and capture Baby Mario before the Yoshies can find Luigi.
As you can see, there is already more story telling here than in any previous Mario game. However, there is not a whole lot of depth other than what you learn in the opening moments. Kamek appears during boss sequences and says a few words, but the adventure itself is the real story.
As a baby, Mario has to depend on Yoshi for everything. This is what makes Yoshi’s Island unique. You get a chance to play a game that is similar to the Mario series, but starring a character that controls significantly different. Yoshi can capture enemies with its tongue by pressing Y and turn them into eggs by pressing down. Yoshi can carry up to six eggs and throw them with A; pressing A begins your aim, while pressing A again causes Yoshi to throw the egg. Eggs can be useful for taking out enemies, grabbing coins and other items, and whole lot more. Yoshi also introduces the Butt Stomp and Flutter Kick, both of which are useful for navigating Island’s levels. However, the levels of Yoshi’s Island aren’t exactly linear, plus you need to focus on protecting Baby Mario. These elements are what really help set Yoshi’s Island apart from traditional Mario games.
Aside from coin collecting and platforming, Yoshi has a variety of other objectives to complete in every level. First and foremost, you must make sure that Baby Mario is safe at all times. What does this mean? Well, when you get hit by an enemy, Baby Mario starts crying (really Nintendo?) and floating around the screen in a bubble. It is necessary that you retrieve Baby Mario, or Kamek’s toadies will capture him. You can save Baby Mario by touching the bubble, but this must be done before the counter reaches zero. This counter is represented by stars and can be increased by collecting more of them. You will always have a base of 10 stars available, so while the chase to save Baby Mario can be hectic, you will have some stars to fall back on should it happen again. The total number of stars you can have is 30, which are not only important for saving Baby Mario, but necessary to complete a level with a 100% score.
“I would say that it’s the most difficult Mario game, especially to 100% it. I still haven’t managed it.”
Reaching a 100% score is done by collecting specific items in each level. Among these items are the 30 stars listed above, 5 Flowers, and 20 Red Coins. Stars can be found by jumping through the mid-level checkpoint, or smashing crates, but the other items are usually hidden much better. Flowers and Red Coins are scattered all over the place, this really forces you to explore each level. Quite a few of them can only be found by accessing hidden areas. Once you collect these items they are added to your score. Your score is tallied when you jump through the roulette wheel at the end of each level. It can be tricky to reach 100% because collecting, and keeping 30 stars can be somewhat difficult. Reaching a 100% score isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you do it on all eight levels in each of the six worlds, you can unlock special levels.
There is a lot more to know about Yoshi’s Island including his many transformations. Yoshi can at times burst certain bubbles and be transformed into vehicles. My favourite, the helicopter, allows Yoshi to fly around for a limited amount of time. Other vehicles include a Car, train, and a mole tank. These vehicles only appear a handful of times which makes them feel special each time you encounter them. Vehicles aren’t the only power-ups that Yoshi can utilize. Yoshi can also swallow red, blue, and green watermelons to gain special abilities; fire, ice, and seeds respectively. Some can be found inside certain levels, but you can also win some in special mini-games. If you win items, they can be accessed by opening the pause menu and selecting the desired power. Another power lets you control Super Baby Mario, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
As you can see, Yoshi’s Island has a way of making everything feel fresh. The same can be said for its enemies. There are a lot of new enemies exclusive to this game, but some are borrowed (with a few new tweaks) from other Mario games. The first time you see a Shy Guy on stilts, you will be taken by this game’s charm. This charm continues to ooze during boss battles in which you will fight gigantic versions of regular enemies. These boss fights are usually easy, but each one is extremely creative. A great example is the Potted Ghost which can only be destroyed by being pushed over the edge. This battle, and many of the others, is a much needed break away from the tired three stomp formula.
“Yoshi’s Island has an awesome Main Menu with a spinning 3D island. The game is nice too.”
Charm, that word has to come up again when you talk about this game’s design. Yoshi’s Island looks like a magnificent crayon drawing. No other game at this time was bold enough to sport such a unique design. It also makes sense considering that some of its main characters are babies, so a “childish” design fits wonderfully. Yoshi’s Island also made use of the Super FX 2 chip which allowed it to create some stunning 3D-esque graphics. People have actually laughed at me for liking this game, but immediately fall in love after playing a few levels. Gameplay is always important, but Yoshi’s Island would lose a lot of its charm if it had another look.
Would you be surprised if I told you that Yoshi’s Island also has a fantastic soundtrack? Much like its overall design, the soundtrack emits a young, fresh vibe as well. In fact, Yoshi’s Island sports an entirely fresh soundtrack as no songs have been recycled from the Super Mario series. Each track is upbeat, adventurous, magical, and mysterious. I believe it’s one of the best soundtracks on the SNES and fits this game perfectly.
5/5 D-Pads: Yoshi’s Island features amazing gameplay, awesome graphics, and a soundtrack that will have you grooving all day long. Its charm switch is flipped to overdrive and will melt the hearts of even the iciest cold gamers. Don’t be fooled by its adorable design though, it will surprise you with its challenge, especially during difficult 100% score runs. Back in 1995 I knew Yoshi’s Island was special, but little did I know it would become a retro masterpiece.