Let’s not beat around the bush here: there’s nothing really new about Yoshi’s New Island. I know, that’s shocking, right? Just like in the original Yoshi’s Island, you’ll run around with a tantrum-prone infant on your back, flutter like a baby bird that’s just fallen out of the nest, and toss freshly laid eggs at winged clouds (think about that for a minute.) You’ll lick dirty coins, gobble up happy little flowers, and chase down annoyingly agile, anthropomorphic stars decked out in tap shoes ten sizes too big for them. And you’ll accomplish all these feats of wonderment in a sickeningly adorable world that looks like it was dreamed up by the star student of Miss Bendahan’s Kindergarten art class. In short, no self-respecting adult would be caught dead playing Yoshi’s New Island. Which is completely fine with me, because while they’re in the corner respecting themselves, I’ll be having a blast with an excellent new take on an enduring classic.
The first thing you’ll notice about Yoshi’s New Island is how tactile it all looks. Nearly everything in the game seems to have been drawn by hand, cut out with kid-safe scissors, and affixed to the screen with Elmer’s glue. Clouds dance on skies of lavender and powder blue construction paper. Pencil-shaded beanstalks spring up out of the ground and loop through the sky like sketches come to life. Even polygonal characters like Yoshi and Mario beg to be touched, with a fibrous, felt-like sheen that stands in stark contrast to their sterile, corporate mascot counterparts in the New Super Mario Bros. games. The aesthetic of Yoshi’s New Island is a playful pastiche of visual styles that recalls ’80s era PBS shows like Reading Rainbow, and I absolutely love how it all comes together. It’s also got a brilliantly off-kilter soundtrack that sounds like it was recorded by a bunch of drunk toddlers, riffing on the same theme from stage to stage with whatever instruments they could find at the time. Trust me, it’s way cooler than it sounds.
Every stage in the game is brand new, but if you’re holding onto fading memories of Yoshi’s Island, you might think they’ve been transplanted directly from the 1995 original. Déjà vu will be constant for players who are more familiar with the source material, but it hardly matters given the strength of the new game’s level design. Whether deftly dodging hordes of seed-spitting monkeys, fluttering across a patchwork landscape, smashing everything in sight with screen-sized eggs, or racing against the clock in special vehicle-based sub-stages, players are presented with an impressive variety of challenges from beginning to end. And though most stages can be completed with minimal effort if you’ve got a modicum of experience with platformers, the difficulty ramps up considerably once you start collecting all the red coins, flowers, and stars required to unlock each area’s bonus stage. There’s also a handful of two-player minigames that can be played across two systems with only one copy of the game, but let’s just say “we played them so you don’t have to” and leave it at that.
Adjustments have been made to the Yoshi’s Island design to make it friendlier to first-timers, but players experienced with the series might be in for a small adjustment period. As a huge fan of the original, I was immediately taken aback by how much slower Yoshi moves this time around, though the more deliberate pace seems to have been put into place to counteract the increased size of characters and enemies on screen. There are also a few extra frames of animation worked in here and there that slow the action down by a notable, if minor, degree. The egg-readying animation, for example, is now needlessly belabored, making it more difficult to hit small targets on auto-scrolling stages; Yoshi’s “stunned” expression now lasts a split-second longer after he gets hit, making it extremely unlikely that you’ll recover Mario without losing any stars. Speaking of stars: checkpoints no longer retain your star count, meaning if you die after passing one, it’s usually impossible to collect all 30 stars without restarting. On the flip side, you no longer have to gather every kind of collectible in a single run-through of a stage, which takes some of the pressure off players going for 100 percent. For example, you might choose to focus one pass of a stage collecting all the red coins, then return later to track down the flowers. The overall experience is no better or worse for these changes, it just takes some getting used to.
When Yoshi’s New Island was announced last year, it was met with a collective shrug from most fans, myself included; it just seemed uninspired. But now that I’ve played through it, I’m happy to admit I was wrong. It’s impossible to deny that in many ways it’s just a re-skinned, re-tooled Yoshi’s Island… but Yoshi’s Island is one of the greatest platformers ever made, and if this is how Nintendo wants to re-introduce it, who am I to complain? It’s been a long time coming, but Yoshi’s New Island is the first truly worthy follow up to the original, and now a whole new generation of players will get to call it their own.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Yoshi’s New Island is based on final review code provided to us by Nintendo. The game launches on Friday, March 14th, 2014.