"Ingenuity Within An All Too Familiar Shell."
Challenge completed? Yes
As far as platformers go, Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 ranks as one of my top two all-time. While it wasn’t as well perceived for understandable reasons (didn’t feel too much like a Mario game) as well as for the more asinine ones (baby Mario’s crying), players seemed to have discounted Yoshi’s Island, despite the fact that it provided a very fair challenge, within a visually stunning world, encased by a powerful musical score. It took the Mario franchise off the beaten path, and Nintendo came out with a winner across the board. Years later a true sequel to Yoshi’s Island was developed with Yoshi’s Island DS. While it’s apparent that the ideas and concept have been mimicked from the first installment to a lessened success, there’s some ingenuity added in that helps freshen up the travels through Yoshi’s island.
Yoshi’s Island DS‘s delivery stems from….well, a literal delivery. Within a number of stages after the first half dozen or so, a “stork station” of sorts can be found. Standing on the button calls a stork that will deliver one of a few different baby versions of Mario franchise mainstays, and swap out the baby within Yoshi’s possession. Each baby comes along with their own benefits and disadvantages. Baby Mario is the all-around baby (naturally) who enables Yoshi to run at full speed and has a beneficial jump distance and height. Halfway through the first world, Baby Peach can be obtained, who gives no run speed boosts to Yoshi, but can float a little father and longer per jump, as well as use her umbrella at designated wind spots to carry the duo to new heights.
By far my favorite is Baby DK, who seems to slow down Yoshi somewhat, as well as limit the height and distance of his jumps, thanks to his hefty stature. However thanks to that aforementioned bulk, he gives Yoshi the ability to shoulder charge through enemies and certain obstructions (which in turn, could be used as a boost of speed through straightaway areas), as well as powerful egg shots and the ability to scale vines, not unlike Donkey Kong, Jr. There are two more baby characters to pick up later on, but lets leave them as a surprise, especially since one has their foothold into the story in more ways than one. Needless to say, thanks to the gimmicks that each baby gives Yoshi, and the fact that certain babies are needed at certain times as a must or for a possible shortcut, the gameplay is augmented that much more. This also gives each stage more depth in its replay value; early stages might start off with Baby Mario riding Yoshi, but there could be vines hidden along the path that could help the player reach a score of 100 on that stage, but there are no “stork stations” in that stage. Experimentation, along with a keen eye will serve the player well on subsequent playthroughs on certain stages.
(images courtesy of IGN, Gamespy)
The core fundamentals remain intact from the Super Nintendo incarnation; run through massive stages (some take in excess of ten minutes to get through), pooping out enemies into eggs for Yoshi to use as an offensive or defensive tool, platform jumping through treacherous areas, all to toss the baby rider onto the next Yoshi for the next stage. In this regard, Yoshi’s Island DS feels a bit familiar, to an admitted fault. A big thank you has to go out to the baby abilities and how they mold certain stages into their liking. This aspect melds together with the staple of the previous game and again, it presents an experience that gives players an incentive to soldier forward….
….which is beneficial to Yoshi’s Island DS since the general stage layout lacks the visual and emotional impact found from its predecessor. The advent of interchangeable babies and stage pieces catering to them does indeed add to the stages themselves, but the grandeur previously seen, doesn’t seem to have the same impact. This might have something to do with the visual style in conjunction with the stages themselves, which lacks that drawing-like allure that was seen in the first game. In some ways, the sequel fails to reach the visual fidelity of the initial release.
The advent of dual screen technology in conjunction with the gameplay in Yoshi’s Island DS feels almost useless. The infrequency that players will need to pay attention to the top screen will lead to disappointment in general, though the lack of touchscreen additives will bring a smile to the faces of purists. Players can change orientation between playing on the top or bottom screens, giving them views of below or above them respectively, but again, there isn’t a whole lot of importance placed on having a second screen. Sunflowers and other objects could occasionally be seen from the second screen, though other than boss battles, there’s no kind of significant reliance upon watching two screens at once. In a way, this gives players less to worry about, which is always a good thing, though it also feels as if much more could have been done overall.
Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 featured an audio package that, while it didn’t feel like a traditional Mario game line up, fit the world of Yoshi’s Island to a tee. Peppy, heartfelt music with an eclectic blend of effects made the game worth listening to at a higher volume. Yoshi’s Island DS fails to retain any semblance of what made the first game as memorable in that respect. None of the music really fits the mold, and the effects themselves don’t seem to have any command over the actions they are representing.
The two things that hurt Yoshi’s Island DS the most are two aspects to the franchise that have crippled recent releases in certain respects: the lack of difficulty and the over abundance of extra lives. The difficulty issue is a bit surprising, especially since Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 was one of the more difficult Mario titles in general. I only lost maybe six lives between the start of the game and World 5-1. Players will indeed reach moments in which they’ll get hit, recover the baby just as invulnerability wears off, and then get hit once again, but at no point in the game does it feel like a healthy challenge. Then the issue with plentiful extra lives makes an appearance as soon as the completion of World 1-1. I managed to get all five Sunflowers and jumped through the ring. I already had 11 lives at the end of the stage when I got a bonus game that let me gamble all my lives to either add, subtract or multiply them by a set number. I mindlessly mashed A to skip this and managed to get 30 extra lives at the end of it. So I started World 1-2 with 31 lives, with what feels like 20 more than anyone would need throughout the game. After it was all said and done, I had well over 130 lives in reserve.
Out of everything I’ve played so far in my Backlog Challenge, Yoshi’s Island DS is definitely the most enjoyable. It’s not the most worthy follow up to one of my all-time favorite games, but the ingenuity with the different babies and what they each bring to the game is more than enough to warrant a purchase and playthrough. It might not look or sound as memorable as the first game, but the pieces added to the mix blend together well enough to consider a purchase.