Yoshi's Island (1)

Genre: Platformer
Year: 2006
Developed by: Artoon
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: DS
Feeling Like: Baby Got Back

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is the Rodney Dangerfield of elite games. It’s rarely mentioned alongside the best of the best, or how superior the controls are, or how good the audio is, or how well constructed the levels were, or how you could turn into an adorable helicopter, or how inventive the graphics are on the final boss fight or… (looks around nervously and whispers) it might be better than Super Mario World. 

Yoshi’s Island DS is a bit of an oddball. It’s not exactly a port, but it’s not exactly original either. It takes most of what made the ancestor successful, tinkers with a few things, invites a few more guests, dabs on a fresh coat of paint and boom, you’ve got a renovation. It sounds a bit DIY and plays like one. It doesn’t capture as sensational an experience as Super Mario World 2, but it pays respect.

Unlike most other Mario titles, Yoshi isn’t simply a ride to hop on and off at your leisure. You ARE Yoshi. The goal is to get baby Mario (riding on your back, of course) to the end goal. The areas are larger than you’re used to and encourages exploration as opposed to momentum. There are 5 flowers, 20 red coins and 30 star points to find per level. The real challenge isn’t in beating them, but scoring a perfect 100.

Searching for flowers and giant coins is one thing, but trying to keep your 30 star points until the end can be monumentally difficult. The enemy variety will keep you on your toes, surely, but the real challenge lies in the nature of the star points themselves. Any time you are hit, baby Mario will soar into the air and your star point meter immediately begins to count down. The stress of watching a number count down more quickly than you’d like, accompanied by a screaming infant, is all the motivation you’ll need to grab that baby as fast as humanly possible.

Yoshi's Island (2)
Baby Mario is meant to be seen and not heard

The gameplay is further tweaked, with the addition of Babies Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong and Wario. They all have their own abilities and while you can’t switch to them on the fly, you’ll get comfortable enough to feel like an adopted dinosaur parent in no time.

I wish I could scrub off the new paint job. The graphics are, for the most part, untouched. But something feels off. Super Mario World 2 had some of the coolest art style you’ll ever see. It’s a mix of cel-shaded and painted backdrops that make it oh so unique. Yoshi’s Island DS is a “me too”, but lacks the same impact. I don’t know if it’s because the style is more than 10 years old in 2006, but the animations, aiming sights and a few other details just seem off. How many times am I going to say this about handheld games? I’m just biased against them. Give me a console any day.

The Dual Screen was a surprise hit for me. I hadn’t fallen in love with the two screen gimmick as much as I’d hoped when the Nintendo DS was first announced. In the end, it seemed like there was a permanent bar across my screen. With Yoshi’s Island DS, the bar was raised. Since the second screen was always far above Yoshi’s head, it made the stages seem gargantuan. With Yoshi’s ability to spit eggs, hitting those far away targets all of a sudden didn’t seem so impossible.

It’s a fun game. Yoshi’s second, air struggling jump is a blast to experiment with. The different babies make their presence felt, whether it’s Donkey Kong climbing or Peach floating, Artoon clearly put a lot of effort into making this more than a port. Part of me wishes it was just that though, as this won’t ever be in the conversation of the best Mario games. We’ll get to those soon enough.

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