Whether your referent is Artoon’s incredibly bland Nintendo DS game or Takashi Tezuka’s Super Nintendo masterpiece, you’ve likely heard the name “Yoshi’s Island” before. Does Arzest ring a bell, though? How about T’s Music Co. LTD. and Masayoshi “Chami” Ishi? No? Masamichi Harada, the game’s art director?
I’d bet a red coin you haven’t. Getting some new blood in an old franchise is exciting, though, and with so many new faces coming together to revisit one of Nintendo’s classic platformers, it’s got to be something special, right?
…sort of. If I had to use an analogy, I’d say that Yoshi’s New Island is to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island as New Super Mario Bros. is to Super Mario Bros. I’d also say that Yoshi’s New Island is to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island as Kirby’s Epic Yarn is to Kirby’s Adventure. You gain some things, lose some things, and while the experience is nostalgic and leaves at least one lasting impression, you can’t help but feel like something was missing.
Let’s go over what Yoshi’s New Island isn’t missing first—a love-it-or-hate-it visual style. By now, everyone should know that 3DS screenshots simply lack some luster, especially if they aren’t captured via Miiverse, which appears to come with some sort of high-quality magical screen-capturing technology. After much debate I’ve settled on describing the character designs as “3D models drawn with colored pencil,” and the backgrounds range from sumi-e (ink wash painting) swamps to crayon scribble canyons.
What you’ve heard of the music may have fooled you, too. While the title theme is a kazoo-crazy arrangement you’d expect to hear at, say, the opening ceremony of a clown academy, the game actually features a pleasant musical palette. My favorite song, the overworld theme, is actually made up of six complimentary parts; as you make your way through each world, an instrument is added to the mix until it crescendos into a theme truly worthy of the “Yoshi” name. Check it out below.
As you’ll be aiming to collect 30 stars, 20 red coins, and 5 smiley flowers in each of the six worlds’ eight stages, there will be plenty of time for you to enjoy the audio-visual elements of Yoshi’s New Island. It’d be foolish to play into its childish façade, though, as the game will openly challenge the depth of your platforming ability. Don’t Fear the Spear will have you questioning your choice of hobby—and in that sense displays a degree of “the Tezuka Touch.”
The new experiences of Yoshi’s New Island, like firing Mega Dozer Eggs (which decimate swaths of stone) and transformation bonus areas (they are separate areas here), are spread out more or less equally, and they’re always fun. Sure, the gyroscope control can be irritating, but I appreciated the break from platforming. Yoshi Stars will have you running up, down, and all around walls, too, as if you were Sonic the Hedgehog himself. I guess Arzest, made up of former Sega employees, couldn’t resist including a subtle nudge to their legacy.
Speaking of legacy, Yoshi’s New Island may stick a little too close to the blueprint of the original. From its story premise (Yoshi decides to help Mario find Luigi after being dropped from the beak of a stork) to its boss fights (Baby Bowser is more or less the same), Yoshi’s New Island simply doesn’t tap into the originality of its source material.
What happened to the Nintendo that had you battle against a frog’s uvula from inside its stomach? What happened to the Nintendo that trusted you to bounce eggs off of the water’s surface to hit a mutant Piranha Plant’s navel in the THIRD world? I want to see the part of Nintendo that wasn’t afraid of crazy, unorthodox ideas. I want to see a Nintendo that isn’t afraid to issue a challenge instead of literally giving the player wings.
In fact, that’s what it was—that “something missing”. Yoshi’s New Island replaces that unbridled sense of creativity with an unbridled sense of charm.
In the same way that Paper Mario 64 felt like walking through a pop-up book, Yoshi’s New Island feels like walking through a book a child drew just for you. Sure, it’s no masterpiece, and it can feel unsightly at times, but at the same time, it’s so damn endearing.
Food for thought:
1. Kamek plays a larger role in this game than in the previous one. Instead of having two battles with different magically-enhanced enemies, you always face off with Kamek in each world’s mid-boss stage. Don’t worry, though! These battles are a lot of fun.
2. It took me just over 10 hours to beat Yoshi’s New Island without hunting for secrets.
3. If you collect all of the smiley flowers, you’ll have a chance to win some “Yoshi Medals” in the roulette at the end of each stage. These will unlike vehicle stages that let you earn extra lives…that’s about it.