With so many tile-matching games available on so many different gaming platforms, it’s surprising to see that, despite the Wii U launching six months ago, there have yet to be any released on the new console. Nintendo has finally decided to fill that empty gap with the Virtual Console release of Yoshi, an NES era puzzler featuring everyone’s favourite friendly dinosaur.
Yoshi may be a simple tile-matching puzzler, but it’s the gameplay mechanics that really set it apart from the countless other entries in the genre. The game screen is set up as a single column into which pairs of tiles adorned with enemies from the Mario universe drop from the top of the screen. At the bottom of the screen is your player character, Mario. Why you don’t play as the titular Yoshi is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma, but that’s completely beside the point. Rather than rearranging the new pieces that enter the board, you instead control the positioning of the stacks that they land on. You always rotate two stacks at a time; working quickly is a necessity for effectively landing your tiles on the desired stack. Matching two tiles vertically causes them to disappear and earn you points.
Along with the enemy tiles, there are also Yoshi egg shells that randomly drop in separate bottom and top halves. Connecting the two halves will hatch a Yoshi that earns you bonus points, and connecting two egg halves with enemy tiles crammed between will hatch a larger and more valuable dinosaur. This egg mechanic essentially works as the game’s only combo system, as it's impossible to match more than two enemy tiles at a time.
When first starting, learning to control this stack system can be a bit frustrating as it forces unnecessary movements on the player to get the proper positioning, but before long it becomes second nature. The game also begins very slowly, giving you a chance to become acquainted with the controls before speeding up. The speed remains slow for far too long however, causing the whole experience to feel sluggish and a bit tiresome for the first portion of play. Conversely, once the game does speed up, it suddenly become unmanageable. This speed imbalance is very bizarre, and makes it so there is a very short period of time during which you’re actually playing at a comfortable speed and the game feels worthwhile.
There are two game types available in Yoshi, aptly titled A Type and B Type. A Type plays as an arcade-style score attack game, providing an endless stream of falling tiles that gradually speed up over time. B Type is slightly different in that you are faced with individual stages with the goal of completely clearing all tiles from your stacks, but the general gameplay remains the same.
Beyond these, there is also a multiplayer mode that pits you and a local opponent against one another. In this mode, one player controls Mario and the other controls Luigi – Yoshi still isn’t playable simultaneously on the same screen but in separate stacks. Multiplayer games are won by either clearing your stacks or by waiting for your opponent to get overloaded, and scoring Yoshi egg combos force more tiles to be dropped on your opponent’s stacks. Yoshi’s multiplayer is very similar to that found in SNES classic Tetris Attack, and it stands out as one of the most rewarding features of this game.
In this Wii U Virtual Console release, the gameplay has remained completely unchanged. You can use either the left stick or D-Pad to move Mario from left to right, and all four lettered face button buttons can be used to swap your stacks. The controls are simple but very tight, resulting in a game that controls quite well. Like every other Wii U VC game thus far, off-screen play is supported on the GamePad’s touch screen. Yoshi also supports an array of controllers including the Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remotes, and Wii Classic Controller, making multiplayer games very accessible.
Yoshi was originally released on the NES, and though the sprite designs are indicative of the era, they remain detailed and lively in their animations. This is great news, as being able to differentiate between a Blooper and a Boo is obviously essential to making matches. Just like the handsome visuals, the soundtrack, while limited to only a few different tracks, is iconic and will be stuck in any player’s head for days even after you’ve put the controller down.
It may look and sound good, have original gameplay mechanics and feature iconic characters from the Mario universe, but Yoshi’s biggest downfall is that it is exceedingly dull. Puzzle aficionados who love tile-matching games are sure to get some enjoyment out of this one, but it’s difficult to recommend to casual fans of the genre. The only thing that makes this one stand out as relevant is that it is currently the only tile-matching puzzler on the Wii U VC service, but — as evidenced by the abundance of games already available elsewhere in the genre — that is sure to be remedied sooner rather than later.