The 3DS has been having the time of its short lifespan in 2013, and it's never felt like this before. Rubbish jokes based on '80s songs aside, it's been a glorious six months for the handheld, with some exceptional games already on the market and more on the way. With monster hits like Pokémon X & Y and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds arriving in the October-December 2013 window, a mooted release in that period for Yoshi's New Island would put it in illustrious company. If it does hit that target, then we'd suggest there's work to be done before it can keep pace with its high-profile brethren.
To start off, it's clear that this new title is picking up the ideas and visual style that made such an initial impact on the Super NES with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. Once again you carry baby Mario, swallow enemies to turn into eggs, flutter kick and seek out red coins and secrets. A hit sees a screaming baby Mario start to float away in a bubble — oh God, that crying — and you can hurl eggs with a well-aimed throw. The core ingredients are all present and correct.
The demo that we played featured three levels, which appeared to be the first three of the game if the naming conventions were to be believed; with demos it can be difficult to determine where a given level fits in the overall context. We hope that they truly were the first levels of the game, for the simple reason that the design was a disappointment; there was exploration to be done in both horizontal and vertical terms, but each stage was a fairly uninspired mish-mash of platforms that lacked a sense of true cohesion; if they're ultimately 'tutorial' levels, that would perhaps explain the absence of tricky platforms or challenging jumps.
That's not to say there wasn't a flash of creativity, however, as the occasional hidden door could be found, while the notable new feature was a giant egg, which when thrown brings chaos and destruction to bear on the surrounding environment; this looks great and opens up new routes for you to explore. That was in the above-ground stage, all greenery and prettiness, while the second stage was an underground cavern — again, similar to equivalents in the SNES original — and the third was a boss fight, in which we fought a giant bat-type creature. The boss had the usual formula that's been passed down the platforming ages; three hits with hurled eggs and it was down for the count.
While the rather unimaginative stage design is a concern easily appeased with the knowledge that this was merely a small taster, other issues are perhaps more genuinely worrying. For one thing, this is unlikely to be a game that gains many plaudits for its visuals; of the Nintendo Life staff that played the demo, opinions ranged from the graphics being "modest" to "almost Game Boy Advance level". Adopting a hand-drawn visual style is a challenge for the art team, and at this stage we're not convinced that the right balance has been found. The aesthetic is there, but perhaps comes across as scruffy rather than charming.
Of far more pressing importance, however, is the borderline disastrous use of the 3D effect in this build. It almost comes across as an old 2D game with auto-stereoscopic 3D bolted on with no testing; it really is a mess. The platforms and environments are layered inconsistently enough to cause confusion, with occasions when Yoshi is standing on platforms that are in front of or behind his feet, while Baby Mario's bubble is confusingly in the foreground when you pop it — all animations are on a 2D plane, so it's ineffectual layering. 3D depth isn't the be-all and end-all for every game, of course, but it's still a supposed selling point of the system. As it stands, we've never seen a Nintendo game get the effect wrong in this manner, and it really needs to be fixed as soon as possible; it's disorientating and, therefore, not worth using at this stage.
And so our time with the Yoshi's New Island demo was a disappointment. We smiled when the giant egg blasted through the stage at a triggered moment near the end of the first level, while retro reminiscences and nice animations were pleasing to see. But then we were unimpressed with the environment design on offer, with a visual style that struggles to do the hardware credit and a 3D effect that, in this build at least, is practically broken. There are hints of promise, with all of the usual collectibles urging exploration, so we wouldn't rule out the final product delivering greater quality. Unfortunately this first glimpse was a bit of a bad egg.