When the credits finally rolled on Yoshi’s New Island there was one feeling that overcame all others: relief. Not the usual satisfying release of pressure and stress that accompanies, say, depositing particularly difficult excrement. There’s no payoff for the sweaty discomfort inflicted by Yoshi’s New Island, just the same hollow feeling injecting the word ‘New’ into a beloved franchise might insinuate.
Coming off the huge success of the New Super Mario Bros games, Yoshi’s New Island takes the same approach to design. The core mechanics, gameplay and themes are preserved from the 1995 original, but a fresh coat of paint and some new ideas keep it relevant to a modern audience. Sure it might not break the mold, but it was about perfection over innovation – maybe a little bit of a nostalgia trip too. That worked well for Super Mario Bros, but for Yoshi’s Island it’s missing the point.
Yoshi’s New Island is, for the most part, a traditional Nintendo platformer. Progress from left to right while dodging a host of enemies and the occasional bottomless pit. Fail and you’ll be sent back to the beginning of a level or a halfway point. Reach the end of the level, tally up the points, progress to the next one. Repeat. Chances are if you’re old enough to have managed to read this far you’ve probably played something like this in the past.
Yoshi’s Island differentiates itself from the crowd by giving the famous green dinosaur (and his rainbow of assorted friends) a floaty double jump and the ability to turn enemies into eggs and hurl them across the level. In addition to this is the fact that all Yoshis are apparently indestructible. Apart from a few bottomless and spike filled pits the only risk to Yoshi is losing the Baby Mario on its back. Take a bit of damage and Baby Mario will begin to float away in a little bubble. You’ve got ten seconds to get the baby back. Fail to act on his screaming cries for help and he’ll fall into the evil clutches of Baby Bowser to fuel his mysterious evil purposes. It’s never really clear what those purposes could be other than indefinite imprisonment for literally no reason, but then again Bowser was probably never the best dad, so I guess his son could have trouble making friends like a normal person.
Throwaway plot aside, the relatively small punishment for mistakes (it’s usually pretty easy to get Baby Mario back within the time limit) and egg-throwing mechanics encourage level design rife with unusual challenges and obscurely placed secrets. When used properly this is a canvas for incredibly creative gameplay. It’s something the original Yoshi’s Island took up and ran with, each level presenting something new, something that wouldn’t ever come up again, and for precisely that reason it was exciting every time. Yoshi’s New Island tries this, but just doesn’t embrace it enough. What’s left is a lacklustre attempt somewhere in the middle of being interesting, but is in no way superior to the original.
While the game tries to rope in some new elements like giant eggs and rocket stars, both get tired after the first few times. They don’t overstay their welcome thanks to the game’s relatively short 4-5 hour course, but they stop feeling special after the first couple of times. Same goes for the bonus rooms, which often have you completing some arbitrary challenge to get a flower, one of the game’s many collectibles to encourage replay value. There’s really no substantial payoff to actually getting any of these, but for a completionist they certainly provide a decent challenge.
The challenges range from collecting all the coins in a room within a set amount of time, to carefully planning out a few perfectly rebounding egg-throws. It’s where Yoshi’s New Island shows its heritage most, causing you to smile at the well-thought-out puzzles and unique tasks. The doppelganger rooms are particularly well crafted, requiring players to get a mirror enemy into the spike pit while avoiding hazards themselves. This of course did nothing to help the harrowing realisation that the Yoshi species has ascended beyond the point of apex predator, as they can not only eat every creature on the island, but apparently kill random island inhabitants in twisted blood-sports for entertainment.
However, the beautiful presentation is retained from the original in fine form. Save the god-awful title theme which assaults your ears every time you open the game the music ranges from pleasant and relaxing to “I have to stop playing for a little while and just appreciate the miracle of sound that is happening right now.” The sound effects fall on a similar bar of adorable quality, the double-jump noise whenever Yoshi has the wings is a sort of vocal trill that made this two-meters-something bearded man warm inside. Though some may find the combination of alarms and baby screaming that occurs whenever you lose Baby Mario understandably traumatic.
The visuals too ape the timeless painterly style of the original Yoshi’s Island, but confusingly opt for polygonal character models. I have to assume that this was done to make production easier in some way, or to benefit the totally ignorable 3D effect, because they look awful. Thankfully the backgrounds do a great job of conveying the atmosphere while looking beautiful, and it’s a shame that they aren’t more varied – especially in the case of caves and castles, which are repeated throughout every world.
There are also vehicle sections, where Yoshi morphs into some kind of transport vessel in order to progress. These make use of the 3DS’s accelerometer, which works fine unless you’re trying to use the 3D. The sections are short, sweet and over when they need to be. They add a little variety and don’t ever get infuriatingly difficult, an easy mistake for any game that uses accelerometer controls.
Difficulty is something that the designers of Yoshi’s New Island clearly struggled with. The legacy of keeping ‘lives’ in the game is so meaningless at this point, because a ‘Game Over’ only sends you back to the beginning of the level rather than the halfway point. Added to the fact that I rarely dropped below fifty remaining lives after the first world (after starting with five) and you really have to ask what purpose they serve. The game is also relentless in its quest to make sure you never get stuck. Die a few times and you’ll get wings that let you hover indefinitely, eliminating any challenge the platforming might pose. Die while wearing wings and you’ll get golden wings that allow you to ignore enemies as well, at which point it becomes unclear why you’re actually bothering to play the game. It’s nice that they cater for all players, and there are certainly people who want to see the content but don’t have time to hone their skills. It just seems like such a waste of everyones’ time to force them through the level instead of just popping up a ‘skip’ option. Levels completed with wings are marked as incomplete anyway, so it’s just a failing of common sense.
If it were a difficult game some of this would make sense, but apart from one segment in which the game demanded I perfectly time the floaty, imprecise jump multiple times to chain across a gap I never had any difficulties at all. Most of the difficulty comes in gathering the collectible coins and flowers, which a player who doesn’t have time to perfect their skills probably isn’t concerned with anyway. It’s just the continuation of a long line of Nintendo games which have zero respect for player ability or the thrill of a decent challenge, and it doesn’t make any sense.
That is really the core problem with Yoshi’s New Island. It’s entire purpose doesn’t make sense. If it’s a new Yoshi’s Island game then where’s the genius that brought the world “Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy”? What is this trying to do that isn’t already covered by bringing the old game forward through emulation. The art holds up, the design is still incredible, the mechanics are solid. This is more of the same with worse art, poorer design and identical mechanics. It’s hard to appreciate the effort when nearly twenty years have passed and the result is in every way worse than the original.
I should mention there’s a multiplayer mode included. It’s a strange hodgepodge of co-operative high score minigames, which makes no sense because there’s no one to compete with. I guess the high score contributes to your self esteem. Like much of Yoshi’s New Island I find myself asking “what’s the point?”