Review: Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island (3DS eShop / GBA)

Drawing you in

Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island joined a Nintendo tradition of re-releasing classic titles for a new audience. Bringing an iconic Super Nintendo platformer to the Game Boy Advance seemed perfectly apt, with the handheld more than capable of 16-bit standard visuals. The question remains, is this port worth playing today?

There’s no need to skip to the conclusion for the answer because here it is: yes. A read-through of our Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island review confirms that this is, arguably, one of the finest platformers ever created. Our focus in this review is to remind you of the basics and, ultimately, determine whether the GBA version — available to 3DS Ambassadors — matches up to the original.

For those experiencing Yoshi’s Island for the first time, this title is a significant diversion away from the standard Super Mario World series template. The controllable character is Yoshi, who first appeared as a cute side-kick in Super Mario World, while the storyline involves helping Baby Mario to rescue the kidnapped Baby Luigi. If there is ever a doomed attempt at a Mario timeline, this would most certainly come first.

Playing as Yoshi leads to an entirely different gameplay experience, with the move set and level design bringing this to the fore. Yoshi moves quickly, building up to a dash automatically while his two main actions are to jump and swallow enemies. Holding the jump button makes Yoshi flutter jump, the extra time hovering in the air particularly useful when attempting difficult or precise leaps. After swallowing enemies, meanwhile, Yoshi can either spit them out or turn them into eggs. It’s possible to throw these eggs, with two aiming methods available depending on whether you require accuracy or speed.

The controls reiterate the point that this is a very different kind of platformer to Mario's starring roles. That’s certainly no bad thing, with this title in many ways catering more to gamers with an instinct to explore, discover and experiment. There's no time limit in each level, and there are hidden items and rooms liberally scattered throughout each stage. These aren’t entirely optional, either, with the collection of flowers, red coins and stars determining an end of level score. Good scores will bring extra lives, while perfect scores in each level unlock additional stages.

This focus on collecting, as well as moving to the end-goal, adds as much replay value and depth as any gamer should need in a platformer. Even with a goal of simply beating each stage, the lengthy levels mean that Yoshi’s Island’s credits aren’t seen without a genuine commitment. It’s the length of the levels, in fact, combined with superior and imaginative design, which truly shines. There are boss encounters in each of the six worlds to shake things up, as well as clouds that drug Yoshi and make the entire world disorientating: wonderful ideas are found everywhere. Beyond the core levels, there are unlockable objects such as a magnifying glass to identify red coins, which are indispensable for completionists. It’s a simple fact that beating this title with 100% completion will require great skill, creativity, persistence and time.

For gamers with less experience, or perhaps without enough free time to pursue this lofty goal, this title still has a lot to offer in bite-sized gaming sessions. For one thing, it generously provides plenty of lives and it’s actually fairly hard to die. When Yoshi is hit by an enemy, Baby Mario becomes detached and floats in a bubble: stars collected – up to a maximum or 30 – begin to drain away, and Yoshi must touch the bubble before the counter reaches zero. This can lead to tense, challenging moments in pursuit of an escaping Baby Mario, but also means that instant deaths are a rare occurrence. As expected, falling into a pit or onto spikes will cause a lost life, but level checkpoints ease the frustration.

The game itself is excellent, but we already knew that on the Super Nintendo. In terms of the fidelity of this port, it’s almost perfect. The gorgeous colouring book graphic style looks terrific, even by modern day standards, and the catchy soundtrack is as delightful as ever, with an N64-era Yoshi voice added for good measure. There are a few elements of this port that aren’t quite up to the standards of the original, however.

The transition to a handheld screen, for example, appears to have slightly lowered the screen visibility. At times the screen can feel a little restrictive, with the viewpoint of the surrounding environment showing less than it should, resulting in some instances where upcoming dangers and pits are more of a surprise than in the original. There’s also the occasional drop in frame rate when there is too much on screen: not excessive by any means, but it does happen. These are, in truth, niggling complaints that are easily overshadowed by the quality of the title.

This GBA edition also includes a copy of the original Mario Bros. arcade game, which serves as a fun diversion. For those enjoying Yoshi’s Island as part of the 3DS Ambassador Programme, however, multiplayer functionality isn’t available, making this dated arcade port lose some of its appeal.

Conclusion

Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island is an almost impeccable port of one of the finest platform titles of all time. It’s easy to recommend due to its terrific level design, vibrant visuals and impressive level of content. It also offers a distinct variation in the Super Mario series, an entirely different kind of gameplay experience owed to the unique characteristics of Yoshi himself. The only minor issues are a result of the porting process, meaning that the experience isn’t quite as perfect as on Super Nintendo. It’s mighty close, however, and a memorable handheld platformer that should be experienced by all fans of Mario’s loveable sidekick.