We recently learned that Yoshi was originally being punched in the head in Super Mario World. In Nintendo’s translated interview with the original developers, we learn more about the origins of our favorite anthropomorphic green dinosaur buddy.
The interview features Super Mario World character graphic designer and Yoshi creator Shigefumi Hino, director Takashi Tezuka, and Yoshi’s Island character designer Hisashi Nogami who talked about how Yoshi came to be.
“I Want Mario to Ride a Horse!”
I’d like to ask about Yoshi. Super Mario World has several noteworthy characteristics. One is that it marks Yoshi’s debut.
How did Yoshi come to be?
Tezuka: Shigeru Miyamoto said he wanted Mario to ride a horse!
A horse? (laughs)
Tezuka: I think he likes horses. (laughs) When we were making Super Mario Bros. 3, he had drawn a picture of Mario on a horse, and hung it on a wall near where he used to sit. I would look at that and think, “I think he wants Mario to ride something.” When we started making Super Mario World, we were working with the concept of a dinosaur land, so I had Hino do art for a kind of reptile.
Hino: The first keyword was horse, so I imagined something rather large and first drew up a creature like a large lizard.
A large lizard? (laughs)
Tezuka: It was like a crocodile. (laughs)
Yoshi is quite different from a crocodile! (laughs)
Tezuka: Yeah. It felt out of place to have a reptile suddenly appear in Mario’s world, so we went back and talked about how maybe it shouldn’t be like a crocodile.
In other words, the two of you consulted each other as you searched for the prototype for Yoshi. How did that croc-like creature shape up into Yoshi?
Hino: Tezuka had done a rough sketch and it was cute and pretty good, so I polished up Yoshi into his current form based on that.
Tezuka: That happened relatively quickly. I kind of forced the design though, saying, “It’s related to turtles.” (laughs)
That’s why, instead of a saddle, what’s on Yoshi’s back is…
Nogami: A shell. Even after I joined the company, Tezuka kept insisting that it was a shell. (laughs)
(laughs) And that’s how Super Mario World, which debuted Yoshi as kin to turtles, became the top-selling title worldwide for Super NES.
As if you don’t know! (laughs)
Tezuka: (laughs) Launch titles are the first games that let players try the new hardware’s features, so they benefit in being able to surprise many players who are experiencing those features for the first time.
Oh, I see. Nogami-san, you were just a regular player at the time. What surprised you when you played Super Mario World?
Nogami: A lot of things surprised me. For example, there’s a foreground and background with overlapped scrolling. It introduced things that made me say, “Super NES can even do this!”
It surprised you with visuals that NES didn’t have.
Nogami: Yes. Another thing that made an impression was the action of the fence flipping around, and how characters that were in front of the fence would go behind it. Those were things that couldn’t have been done with NES, so I thought they were very interesting.
You were still a student, but you looked at it like a pro! (laughs)
Nogami: No, not at all! (laughs)
Had you decided by that time that you wanted to make video games?
Nogami: I loved video games, so I did think that I wanted to make them someday.
Tezuka: Nogami was part of the inaugural class of the Game Seminar.
Nogami: Yes, but I actually played Super Mario World before joining the seminar!
You can read more from the full Nintendo interview with the Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island developers here.