We all know and love Mario’s sidekick, Yoshi — he’s the loveable green creature (also available in other colours) who likes nothing more than to gobble up a Shy Guy, flutter gracefully to higher ground or partake in go-karting competitions in his spare time.
With Yoshi’s New Island gracing the 3DS this coming Friday, what better time to look over Yoshi’s rich history? It's been full of dino-mite highs, with some less-than-eggciting lows, and the occasional odd moment to keep things interesting.
On the drawing board
The world was first introduced to Yoshi on Super NES in 1990, but it is said that Shigeru Miyamoto had wanted to give Mario a sidekick to ride around on in the original Super Mario Bros. in 1985. Technical limitations kept the idea in the incubator during the 8-bit NES era; however, famed developer Takashi Tezuka found a short-term solution with long-term appeal. By fitting Mario in a frog suit in Super Mario Bros. 3, Tezuka hoped to keep Miyamoto-san happy until his vision of a ride-on animal sidekick could be fully realised.
Super Mario World (SNES) - 1990
Super Mario World rocketed the bar into the stratosphere when it arrived as a Super NES launch title with fancy Mode 7 effects, tons of levels and innovative ideas. Miyamoto-san’s dream of giving Mario a sidekick was finally made a reality. While we often think of Yoshi as a single character, in SMW a “Yoshi” is a breed of creature which comes in a variety of colours, boasting different abilities and skills.
Of course we’ve come to know and love classic green Yoshi most of all, who in this game would give Mario a ride, gulp down enemies using his extendible tongue and take a hit for Mario before running away in terror. Even in this first appearance Yoshi showed he was not just a simple sidekick: by holding on to certain Koopa Troopa shells, Yoshi would gain the ability to stomp his enemies, breath fire and even grow little wings so he could fly for a short time. Mario showed his true, selfish colors in return by hopping off Yoshi and dropping the dino into bottomless pits to save his own skin during errant jumps.
Yoshi (NES / Game Boy) - 1992
Following on from Yoshi’s début, our lovable green chum went on to star in his own falling block puzzler — simply called Yoshi in North America, but also known as Yoshi’s Egg in Japan and Mario & Yoshi in Europe. It may be a simple tile-matching puzzler, but it’s the mechanics that really set it apart from the countless other entries in the genre.
Although this was branded as a Yoshi game, the player would actually control a plate-spinning Mario at the bottom of the screen. If you could match two halves of an egg-shell together then a Yoshi would hatch. Unfortunately the game was not met with favourable reviews at the time, with some reviewers calling it dull and questioning its replay value. The game failed the test of time when it hit Wii U Virtual Console in 2013, which we found upon review to be “exceedingly dull”
Yoshi's Cookie (NES / Game Boy / SNES) - 1992 / 1993
Yoshi was on a bit of a roll in the early ‘90s as he went on to star in yet another falling block game called Yoshi’s Cookie for the NES in 1992, which was a semi-sequel to the underwhelming Yoshi. The objective of the game was simply to create lines of cookies in order to make them disappear. The game quickly made it over to the Super NES in 1993 and received relatively favourable reviews at the time. When the NES version released on Wii Virtual Console, we found it to be slightly tastier than its predecessor.
Yoshi's Safari (SNES) - 1993
Also in 1993, Yoshi would go on to champion Nintendo’s ill-fated Super Scope light-gun peripheral in Yoshi's Safari. Playing from the perspective of Mario riding on Yoshi’s back, the player was tasked with rampaging through “Jewelry Land” shooting at Goombas and Bullet Bills. This on-rails shooter did not receive critical acclaim, with a reviewer from Electronic Gaming Monthly saying that “after playing this for a while you will want to turn the SuperScope on yourself and end it all!” Let’s move on quickly!
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES) - 1995
Despite having a bit of a wobbly start as a franchise character, Yoshi totally redeemed himself in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island for the Super NES in 1995. The Yoshi clan was very much in the driving seat of this game, tasked with escorting a helpless Baby Mario to the end and pass him on to another Yoshi. In this game, the Yoshis sported a cheeky flutter jump and could also lay eggs and target them at enemies. Which, yeah, sure, why not.
As if all that wasn't enough, Yoshi could also transform into vehicles such as a train or a helicopter in certain sections of the game. While it was no pushover, this one was made more accessible as Yoshi could take any number of hits. Rather than offering a health bar like other platformers of its day, when Yoshi took damage, Baby Mario would float away in a bubble while a timer ticked down. You'd need to be quick to retrieve Baby Mario before he gets kidnapped and you lose a life.
This was 16-bit platforming at its very best and it received rave reviews at the time. It is said to have shifted around 4 million copies after release, with its unique graphic style and Super FX 2 chip-powered sprite scaling techniques. While we haven’t yet seen this game on the Wii Virtual Console, it was re-released in 2002 as Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island on the Game Boy Advance and was given away as part of the 3DS Ambassador Program. Worry not if you missed out, it will be re-released for the Wii U Virtual Console later this year.
Yoshi's Story (N64) - 1998
Known as Yoshi's Island 64 in the early stages of its development, this entry into the Yoshi canon did not live up to the high standard of the Super NES game before it. The platforming action in Yoshi's Story takes place within a pop-up storybook and has an interesting visual style, with pre-rendered 3D graphics used to craft worlds made from materials such as wood, fabrics and cardboard.
This game was a bit of a turning point for the character of Yoshi — no longer would he talk and hold conversations with other characters. The Yoshi clan would just make unintelligible noises from this point onwards. It's probably best not to dwell on the Yoshi singing too much here either. Critics of its day complained that the game was way too short, lacking in challenge and dull.
Super Mario Sunshine (Gamecube) - 2002
While Yoshi would not get to star in his own game during the GameCube’s lifespan, he would play a big part in Mario’s outing on the tropical Isle of Delfino in Super Mario Sunshine. Again as in Super Mario World, a fully grown Mario would ride a Yoshi to assist him in his adventure; as usual, Yoshi would use his tongue to gulp down enemies, but he could also eat fruit to change his colour and attack by spitting juice.
Yoshi's Universal Gravitation (GBA) - 2005
Also known as Yoshi's Topsy Turvy in North America, this was quite a unique game for the Game Boy Advance as the game’s cartridge contained a built-in tilt sensor (previously used in WarioWare: Twisted!) to add motion controls to the game. This was a platforming adventure with a similar look to Yoshi’s Story on the N64. The added dimension of tilting the GBA to rotate the environment around Yoshi to do things like help Yoshi run up walls, swing pendulums and leap large holes in the floor did not do much to win over reviewers of the day. It was thought to be repetitive and disappointingly short. Poor Yoshi, can’t he get a break?
Yoshi Touch & Go (DS) - 2005
Excitably also known as Catch! Touch! Yoshi! in Japan, Yoshi Touch & Go was a launch title for the Nintendo DS. This game was very much a bite-sized score attack game which some people at the time thought of as little more than a tech demo for the DS’ touch screen capabilities. In the first section of the game, the player would draw lines of clouds to guide Baby Mario safely past spikes and baddies.
The second part takes place as a side-scrolling platformer where a Yoshi escorts baby Mario to safety. Yoshi walks automatically and the player can tap him to make him jump and hold to hover. You can also draw cloud lines to use as platforms and target enemies with eggs. While some reviewers of the day did question the value of the game as a full-priced game, it was generally thought of as a fun score attack game which utilized the DS touch screen well.
Yoshi's Island DS (DS) - 2006
The outcry of Nintendo fans demanding a true sequel to Yoshi's Island on the Super NES was finally heard. In Yoshi's Island DS developer Artoon crafted a game which on the whole was received well by fans of the original game.
The core gameplay was similar to Yoshi’s island, but this time in addition to Baby Mario, Yoshi can also have the combined assistance of Baby Princess Peach, Baby Donkey Kong, Baby Wario and even Baby Bowser. Each has different abilities which need to be used in order to progress in the game. Artoon created a visual style which retained the pastel and crayon nature of the original.
On the whole, this entry into the Yoshi canon was quite well received, despite some issues aiming eggs due to the blind spot between the DSes dual screens.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii) - 2009
2009's New Super Mario Bros. Wii was to see Yoshi return to his traditional ride-on role as in the original Super Mario World. In addition to swallowing enemies as he did in the original, the flutter jump introduced in later Yoshi games is present here, too.
Yoshi got another starring role in 2012's Wii U launch title, New Super Mario Bros. U. Classic ride-on Yoshi is present and correct, but to spice things up this time there are baby Yoshis which can be carried by players. Each baby Yoshi has their own special ability based on their colour, such as blowing bubbles to ensnare enemies, lighting up dark areas or inflating like a balloon.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) - 2010
Yoshi would unfortunately take a back seat during the outstanding Super Mario Galaxy in 2007. Nintendo more than made up for this omission in 2010's stellar Super Mario Galaxy 2, which built on the high standard of the original with the addition of our chum, who is used to great effect in this game.
When Mario rides Yoshi in this game, the player can point at certain objects in the game and manipulate them using Yoshi's tongue. His stretchy tongue can also swallow enemies as usual, pull levers and even be used to swing over gaps.
Power-up fruits further extend the Yoshi fun in this game. For example, the Blimp Fruit puffs Yoshi up so he can float in the air, and with the use of the Bulb Berry Yoshi can easily discover secrets in the game. Our favourite of these power-ups is the Dash Pepper — when Yoshi eats one of these bad boys he'll run like the clappers, even on water and up walls!
Of course Yoshi has popped up in many other Nintendo games, such as the Mario Kart series and assorted sports games as a playable character. But there are lots of really bizarre cameos too; one of our favourites is his appearance as a desk toy on one of the levels of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on the GameCube. When shot, the toy will perform Yoshi's trademark yelp!
One of the strangest incarnations of Yoshi was in the utterly bizarre Super Mario Bros. Movie, where he was depicted as a 3ft tall dinosaur. The animatronics used were state-of-the-art for the time, and this was arguably one of the few good things about the movie. Sure, Yoshi didn't look like the Yoshi we know and love, but when compared to Bowser or Toad... well, you see where we are going with this!
The Future of Yoshi
Yoshi's New Island is coming to the 3DS later this week, which looks set to return the series back to the style of Yoshi's Super NES island outing. Be sure to check out our interview with Nintendo's Takashi Tezuka on bringing Yoshi's New Island to the 3DS while you wait for our review.
Of course, Nintendo still isn't finished with Yoshi either. Following on from the outstanding Kirby's Epic Yarn on the Wii in 2010, developer Good-Feel has been tasked with giving the yarn treatment to Yoshi.
Yarn Yoshi is currently in development for the Wii U and it looks set to be a corker. Using a similar graphical style to Kirby's epic outing, Yoshi is transported into a world of textiles and fabrics for the first time in glorious HD. We're hoping that this game might get a release later this year. Prepare for more news in E3 2014.
So there we have the history of Yoshi. It's certainly been a bumpy roller-coaster ride but it looks like the best is yet to come. Let us know what your favourite Yoshi game is and if you are excited about Yoshi's New Island and Yarn Yoshi.