When you take into account just how much of a landmark title Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was when it released back in 1995, it’s absurd to think that it’s only just being re-released on one of Nintendo’s Virtual Console services – well, that is if you exclude the exclusive 3DS release under the guise of the 3DS Ambassador Program. Early adopter perks aside, Yoshi's Island is finally available for the masses to repurchase or experience for the first time. Moreover, it’s the GBA port, Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island, which Nintendo has stuck up for sale – something which might seem a little odd to some given that the title was originally released in home console form on the SNES.
However, to dismiss this portable version would be incredibly rash, as Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island retains nearly all of the magic of the original and also has a few new tricks up its sleeve. In Nintendo’s eyes, it’s no doubt the definitive version of the game as it contains updated sound effects and more levels than the original, and very little has been lost in its transition to the big screen experience afforded by the Wii U. Veterans will no doubt welcome the opportunity to return to the series’ roots, while newcomers will find a fantastic 2D platforming experience that still holds up today.
Although it was originally pitched as a follow-up to the SNES masterpiece that is Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island is an exceptional game in its own right. Much of the classic Super Mario formula can be found here, and at first glance you could be mistaken for assuming Nintendo has simply swapped out its world-renowned plumber for Yoshi. However, the gameplay focus in Yoshi's Island is in fact quite different; long gone is the dreaded level timer which previously forced you to work your way through each stage in a certain amount of time, and instead you’re given the luxury of exploring every nook and cranny of each level in search of collectable items – should you wish to, that is. Getting to the end of the level is still very much the order of the day, but you’ll need to find everything if you want to say you've truly beaten the game by the time the credits roll. Yoshi’s Island may not have been the ground-breaking moment in gaming that Super Mario 64 was, but it was nevertheless an exceptional evolution of an already tried-and-tested genre in the mid '90s, and one which spawned an entirely new Nintendo franchise. While it may not seem as fresh today, you can at least still appreciate its impressively deep gameplay design.
The green mascot’s first big moment in the spotlight is arguably the most significant in the Mario Bros. timeline – if such a thing exists. Yoshi and Mario’s paths first cross as a result of a dastardly attempt by the Magikoopa Kamek to steal the plumber and his twin brother at birth – in fact, they’re in the process of being delivered by the stork. It all goes a bit pear-shaped; while Kamek is able to nab Luigi, Mario plummets to an island below which just so happens to be inhabited by a colourful clan of Yoshis. Ever the positive creatures that they are, the group decides to set off on an adventure, Baby Mario in tow, with the aim of reuniting him with his brother and waiting family.
In order to succeed at this rather daunting task, you will need to call upon all of Yoshi's unique skills. In particular, it’s his trademark tongue abilities which make the biggest difference, especially in terms of gameplay; with this, he can grab enemies and either spit them out as projectiles or turn them into eggs. The latter approach is ultimately more useful, as eggs can be stockpiled, travel further when fired and can be used to reach otherwise unreachable areas and objects. It’s a clever gameplay mechanic which promotes exploration of the environments while also ensuring that you use your eggs wisely. You’ll often stumble across numerous enemies/egg-transformation victims as you traverse each level, but if you’re carelessly wasteful with your eggs it’s possible that you’ll find yourself missing out on a wealth of bonuses.
Naturally, hidden items and secret areas aren't just handed to you on a plate. Therefore, attention to detail is key if you want to find absolutely everything, and this proves to be quite a challenging task when the game’s environments are just so beautiful to look at. Sporting a vibrant, cartoony look and feel, Yoshi's Island is an absolute pleasure on the eyes, and unlike any other SNES game you may have played for that matter. Upon seeing it and hearing the cheery, upbeat background music and cute Yoshi sounds, it’s hard not to fall in love with it all.
As cute as it may be though, things can get pretty ugly if you don’t take proper care of Baby Mario. Yoshi's Island forgoes the standard power-up formula in favour of a unique time-based system. With the exception of some instant-death hazards, Yoshi will survive a brush with an enemy but will temporarily lose Baby Mario, who floats off in a bubble around the screen. A countdown timer appears, and if Yoshi doesn’t get the little one back before it reaches zero, Kamek's minions – who are alerted to Baby Mario's vulnerability as a result of his absurdly loud and annoying cries – whisk him away. It’s a fair mechanic in that it allows you to make some mistakes, but at the same time you can’t help but feel a great sense of urgency when it does happens. Moreover, it works hand-in-hand with the exploration mechanic, as the gameplay is rarely brought to a screeching halt.
Of course, the burning question on many people’s mind is how good the GBA port is when played on the Wii U. In terms of the wonderful visual style, the transition to the big screen hasn't had a negative effect. In fact, with the screen-smoothing function available in the Wii U version enabled, Yoshi's Island looks especially nice, although nothing is really lost without it either. However, that’s not to say that this version is perfect; in particular, there isn't as much of the visible playing field available to you as there was was in the SNES version due to the game having to originally accommodate the GBA's relatively small screen. This means that some parts are that little bit more frustrating, as it can sometimes be hard to anticipate what’s coming next. The music doesn't quite match the quality of the SNES original, again due to the original limitations of the GBA system itself. Moreover, this version occasionally suffers from a drop in frame rate; it’s not enough to ruin the gameplay experience, but it’s nevertheless noticeable.
This GBA edition also includes a version of the original Mario Bros. arcade game. It serves as a fun side feature, and is in fact far more playable than the NES version (mainly because your movement is less restricted). However, multiplayer functionality isn't available, making this dated arcade port lose some of its appeal.
With its deep exploration-based gameplay and gorgeous art style, Yoshi's Island is still a joy to play all these years later. This particular version may have been originally intended for a small portable system, but Nintendo has done it justice in transitioning it over to Wii U. There are a few minor niggles in terms of performance, although these are more to do with the game’s original porting to GBA, while the Wii U's screen-smoothing feature really helps to keep its visual presentation intact. Moreover, Yoshi's Island is a 2D platformer with a considerable amount of depth; exploring is made fun thanks to Yoshi's egg-based abilities, and it’s also a very challenging experience overall – getting everything is a gargantuan effort, but an immensely entertaining one at that. This is one of Nintendo’s finest efforts from back in the day, and if you've never played it before (or have a hankering to go through it all again), then this is an opportunity you definitely shouldn't pass up on.