Thursday, September 1, 2016
Marketing works. Nintendo put Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.on the cover of their October 1995 issue of Nintendo Power, I bought the issue from the grocery store, and then I pleaded with my parents to give me the game, with its iconic box-art, for my birthday. I loved Yoshi's Island before the opening cinema had even finished, and I played through it and explored its every corner (videogames were my girlfriend, and we did not have a chaste relationship) over those next few months.
Pictured above: truth in advertising. Also, nothing beats a SNES waterfall.
In college, when I bought back all the Super Nintendo games I sold to buy my Nintendo 64, I put Yoshi's Island high on the list. When that second copy ceased to save properly, losing a 95% completed file in the process, I didn't hesitate to purchase the game again. I've played through Super Mario World 2 over those three copies more times than I can remember, and I've enjoyed each time more than the last.
Van Gogh could have painted this game...maybe that's why Yoshi doesn't have ears.
The excellent graphics certainly help. Legendary producer, Shigeru Miyamoto, finding himself surrounded by an industry more and more dedicated to three dimensional graphics, decided to go in a different direction with Yoshi's Island. Instead of following the 3-D train, Miyamoto selected a unique hand-drawn and colored aesthetic that gives the game a timeless appearance to this day ("this day" being whatever day you are reading this). Through this style, each level bursts with color and movement. Enemies and bosses are charmingly designed, drawn, and animated, and Yoshi and Baby Mario are cute without being cloying.
Further accentuating Yoshi's Islands uniqueness, Miyamoto decided to make the game just a little bit trippy. For instance, the opening menu screen receives a psychedelic swirl every few seconds.
Aw, this looks nice.
Woah,..I uh...I think somebody spiked the punch.
Also, there's a level called "Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy...and if Yoshi touches a "Fuzzy"...he gets dizzy.
Actually, Miyamoto decided to make this game a lot bit trippy.
Don't touch those guys Yoshi, I got a bad feeling about...
You just had to touch them, didn't you? Hey everybody, I think Yoshi's gonna hurl!
To sum it up, Miyamoto's visionary touch has insured that nothing has looked like this game before or since. Even the spin-off Yoshi series itself has struggled, with fabric and yarn, to create something that looks as original as this. Yoshi's Island does flirt with pseudo 3D at points, like the pause screen, or the (again, no other word suffices) charming opening cinema, almost like the developers are saying, "We could look like Donkey Kong Country if we wanted, but instead we chose this." By the way, I love Donkey Kong Country.
In other words, Tuesday.
The graphics aren't the only thing that makes Super Mario World 2 stand out, and Miyamoto isn't the only legend to have left his mark on Yoshi's Island. Koji Kondo, the guy who composed the themes for Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and along with John Williams, the majority of American kids' born in the 70's and 80's childhoods, was tasked by Nintendo to create Yoshi's Island's music. Kondo does what he's done his entire career, and creates a remarkably memorable soundtrack that never gets old. While the game doesn't sport myriad themes, each one is so good, there is not irritation when it is repeated. For instance, the same music plays any time Yoshi and Baby Mario find themselves in a cave. The player will welcome it every time. At least, I know I do.
Miyamoto can apparently work mushrooms into anything. I want some pizza.
The sound effects are also golden, and often hilarious, like the silly grunt Yoshi makes when he tries to keep himself in the air after a jump, or the gasps for air monkeys make after you've thwarted their attacks and knocked them into water (Serves you right, monkeys).
However, while graphics and sound give Yoshi's Island charm and an edge over its past, present, and future 2D platformer competitors, its gameplay puts it into rare territory.
Pictured above, sporting a tear because it will never catch up: Yoshi's Island's competitors.
Everything in this game is perfect.
I hate hyperbole, but in twenty-plus years, I have yet to find a flaw in Yoshi's Island. The relegation of Mario to a supporting role in his own game, quite the controversy in 1995, pays off dividends. A prequel to all previous Mario games, Super Mario World 2 puts Yoshi in the central role. As seen in the aforementioned opening cinema, the Babies Mario and Luigi are separated, and Luigi kidnapped by the evil sorceress Kamek, as the duo were being delivered by stork to their parents. Kamek, it turns out, is also a nanny, and has foreseen that the Mario brothers will one day wreak havoc on Bowser, her young charge (and future series arch-villain). Meanwhile, Mario tumbles from the sky to...you guessed it, Yoshi's Island. Yoshi and his multi-colored kindred decide to help Mario rescue his brother, Luigi, but as they journey to Baby Bowser's castle, Kamek's minions are on their trail.
Hey, get out of my face, Kamek's minion. By the way, I met your blue brother earlier. I didn't care much for him, either.
In the wrong hands, this story would be cheesy, sentimental drivel, but in Miyamoto's sure grip, Yoshi and Baby Mario's journey is a blast for players of all ages. My son, surely hardened by the all-invasive media of the 2010's, enjoyed playing through this game with me just as much as I enjoyed playing through it as a teenager and an adult. This is due to the flawless implementation of Miyamoto's gameplay ideas.
While Yoshi can jump on non-spiky foes, just as Mario did in game's past, he can also eat them and turn them into an egg, which he can throw at more powerful foes, or use as a tool. The aiming of Yoshi's egg-tossing can be learned by even a novice in only a few seconds, and mastered quickly by more experienced gamers. Yoshi can also hover just a bit after a jump by a re-tap of the jump button, and he can then hover again indefinitely, but just a bit lower each time. Yoshi can also also stomp foes and through brittle floors when the player presses "down" after jumping. At certain points, Yoshi can even transform into a helicopter, car, or train.
Why is the screen going all gold and groovy? Why am I even asking at this point?
I can fly! I can fly! Move, you dumb birds!
At select moments, Baby Mario can also set out on his own, with the ability to run on walls and ceilings, and to dispatch foes with a single touch. Oh, and you also get a few chances throughout the game to ride on a giant, overeager dog named "Poochy."
Mario's a blur on two legs, but he can't change his own diapers...wait, who does change his diapers?
These advancements create what seem to be limitless opportunities in gameplay invention, Over Yoshi's Island's six distinct worlds featuring a combined 48 stages (plus six challenging bonus levels!), the player can never predict what's coming next, but, befitting one of the greatest games of all time, on the fifth play through, when they have Yoshi's island memorized, the game isn't any less fun.
Expanding the gameplay, Yoshi can collect five sunflowers, 20 generally-disguised-as-gold red coins, and 30 stars throughout each level. He then receives a final collection score after reaching the end-stage goal,and jumping through a hoop that gives him the random opportunity to play a bonus game (chances increased the more flowers he collects). To better illustrate what I just typed:
Bonus game...er, challenge.
These collectible items extend gameplay, as a decent player can get through the game well enough, but will be pushed to their limits trying to snag a 100% on each level. Of course, "because it's fun" is a good enough excuse to go back and pick up everything, but the game rewards the stalwart player with a bonus level for each world completed at 100%. These six bonus levels are quite a bit harder than the game's original 48 stages, providing a greater challenge for the hardcore gamer.
And a rare opportunity to berate the usually reliable "Poochy."
Along with the bonus level, the player also receives a bonus challenge that they can play as many times and at any time that they want (each world features a different challenge) . Lives and items can then be built up to better take on further 100% expeditions. Oh yes, I almost forget to mention, there are usable items in this game, such as melons that allow Yoshi to spit seeds, ice and fire. He can pick these up in levels, usually ones involving those danged monkeys, but he can also access ones he's accumulated in bonus challenges from the pause menu.
Yep, Miyamoto and his crew even made the 3D "PAUSE" letters trippy.
Perhaps Yoshi's Island's greatest innovation is how it does away with the basic Mario "get hit, get smaller, get hit again, die" life meter. In Super Mario World 2, each level equips Yoshi with a ten-second star-timer. If Yoshi is hit by an enemy, Baby Mario floats off his back. If Yoshi can't fetch Mario in those ten seconds, he is carried off by Kamek's minions.
Come on guys, wait a second.
If he does rescue Mario, the star-timer gradually builds back to ten. Yoshi has the opportunity to collect stars throughout each level, building the timer up to thirty. Of course, there is great incentive in not getting hit, so that Yoshi has 30/30 stars when the level is completed, to get a 100 % total score. Also, the sound of an astray Mario's crying ensures that the player will want to retrieve him as quickly as possible. Of course, falling into a bottomless pit, or landing on spikes will always result in death, regardless of star-timer count.
Like all Mario games, 100 regular coins collected equals an extra life, as well as nabbing a rare balloon or bad-guy with "ONE UP" plastered on them.
The cherry on top of all this goodness is Yoshi's Island's unique character. The game is filled to the brim with it. From the visually resplendent, often comical bossfights...
Hey, that guy doesn't look so bad.
Wait, Kamek, why are you sprinkling psychedelic fairy juice everywhere?
Now I think I'm gonna hurl...an egg at this guy.
To the exuberantly animated world map and the way a Yoshi tosses Mario to the awaiting Yoshi at the next level.
This looks like a job for Gold Yoshi.
To the fact that every single level has its own title.
Spelunking like my daddy.
To the joy of finding all of the game's delightful secret areas.
Hey Yoshi, if you could be bothered, I think there's some secret dragonflies to chill with up there.
Rolling with the homies...er, dragonflies. Also, Bob Ross, these clouds are for you.
To a one-off segment 2/3 of the way through an otherwise typical level, where Yoshi suddenly dons skis to tear his way down a gargantuan mountainside...which doubles as one of my favorite moments in gaming history.
Pictured above...one of my favorite moments in gaming history.
To the little chatterboxes who offer game tips.
Hey, chatterbox, why aren't I wearing any clothes?
To these Shy Guys who are going out of their way to try to kill me.
Thanks a lot, Shy Guys.
Need to get me a Yoshi flag.
I love this game.
Did I mention it's got colors?
October 4, 1995 Nintendo/Nintendo EAD
Lasting Value: 10.0/10.0