When asked to name a key Nintendo franchise, most people's first thoughts would likely turn to Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. However, over the years Nintendo has consistently made games with Yoshi as the star. These titles have fleshed-out Nintendo's release schedule nicely across various console generations, sometimes taking the form of puzzle games but more often than not coming in the form of 2D platformers.
Yoshi (formally known as T. Yoshisaur Munchakoopas) had humble beginnings, of course, debuting in Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo way back in 1990. It wasn't the best start for Yoshi as that utter brute Mario would punch him in the back of the head to command him to eat enemies who got in the way. It's been well documented that Shigeru Miyamoto always wanted to give Mario a dinosaur chum, but it just wasn't possible during the NES era due to technical limitations.
Yoshi has of course gone on to be a stable in Nintendo games ever since Super Mario World, with appearances in spin-off games such as Mario Kart, Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. and the many Mario sports games over the years. He also played a big role in Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube and Super Mario Galaxy 2 on the Wii of course, but this cheeky dino has established himself as the star in many games of his own.
With the release of Yoshi's Crafted World coming up soon, what better time to look over the one-time sidekick's rich history as the star of his very own series of games? Let's get started...
In the early '90s, the world just couldn't get enough of Tetris, and many other falling-block games would follow such as Sega's Columns and Dr. Mario. Long before Pokémon was a twinkle in Game Freak's eye, they started work on their very own puzzler for the NES and the Game Boy, which would go on to be published by Nintendo as 'Yosshī no Tamago' (Yoshi's Egg) in Japan just in time for Christmas 1991. North America and Europe would see a release of the game the following year under the moniker Yoshi in the US and Mario & Yoshi in Europe.
Unfortunately for Yoshi's first starring role, Mario does the heavy lifting in this game as you control him positioning the stacks of tiles with enemies from the Mario universe, which Yoshi watches helplessly on the right-hand side of the screen keeping score. Matching two tiles vertically causes them to disappear and earn you points.
Following an inauspicious solo debut, Yoshi returned in 1993 with another tile-matching game, this time developed by Bullet-Proof Software, who was, of course, responsible for the game-changing port of Tetris which helped sell so many Game Boy systems. Yoshi's Cookie started life as a puzzler called Hermetica by game designer David Nolte. Nintendo was naturally keen to work with Bullet-Proof software again, and the game would get a Yoshi-themed makeover and see a release on the NES, Game Boy and even the Super Nintendo.
In yet another slap in the face to the long-suffering dinosaur, it would again be Mario in control in this game as a demented baker producing cookies of various different designs. The idea of the game is to mix and match the cookies so that a row of cookies with the same design is formed, thus clearing them from the playing field. A peripheral type of cookie shaped like Yoshi's head pops up very occasionally and allows the player to clear lines of any mixed assortment of cookies.
Yoshi would be wheeled out once again in 1993, this time to prop up a game for the ill-fated Super Scope lightgun peripheral for the Super Nintendo. Despite Yoshi taking top-billing in the title, that naughty Mario is in control again, riding on Yoshi's back. As the game takes a first-person perspective, players only see Yoshi's head bobbing about during gameplay, so that's a step up in the world, at least.
Developed by Nintendo R&D1, this light gun game was praised by critics of its day, made good use of Mode 7 effects and had some fun boss fights with the Koopa Kids. Unfortunately, the game was a bit of a commercial failure, which sealed the fate of the Super Scope accessory.
Despite having a bit of a shaky start as a franchise character, Yoshi would go on to get the respect he deserves in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island for the Super Nintendo in 1995. The Yoshi clan was very much in the driving seat of this game, tasked with escorting a helpless Baby Mario safely through many strange worlds. In this game, Yoshi sports a cheeky flutter jump and can also lay eggs and target them at enemies. Sure, why not?
Yoshi can also transform into vehicles such as a train or a helicopter in certain sections. While it was no pushover, this game was made more accessible than the original Super Mario World 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 graphical style and Super FX 2 chip-powered sprite scaling techniques. Finally, Yoshi had hit the big time.
Known as Yoshi's Island 64 in the early stages of its development, this entry into the Yoshi canon struggled to live up to the high standard of the Super Nintendo 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 make unintelligible noises from this point onwards. It's probably best not to dwell on the Yoshi singing too much here, either. Critics of the day complained that the game was way too short, lacking in challenge and dull.
Also known as Yoshi's Universal Gravitation in Europe, 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 platforming adventure has 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 run up walls, swing pendulums and leap large holes in the floor didn't do much to win over reviewers of the day. It was thought to be repetitive and disappointingly short. Poor Yoshi; he just can't seem to catch a break.
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’ touchscreen 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 Yoshi escorts baby Mario to safety. The dinosaur 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 did question its value as a full-priced title, it was generally thought to be a fun score attack game which utilised the DS touchscreen well.
The outcry of Nintendo fans demanding a true sequel to Yoshi's Island on the Super NES was finally heard. In Yoshi's Island for the Nintendo DS, developer Artoon crafted a game which was certainly better received than the previous efforts.
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 character has different abilities which need to be used 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 DS' dual screens.
Having had an eight-year wait for another Yoshi game, expectations were quite high for Yoshi's New Island, which was developed by Arzest on behalf of Nintendo. While it looked quite lovely, we found in our review that the biggest problem was that it felt stripped of the style, substance, and ingenuity that once made the series so treasured by fans.
The game design felt watered down somewhat and failed to incorporate new ideas to enhance the established mechanics in any meaningful way. Not necessarily bad, then, just dull and unimpressive.
After the lacklustre 3DS outing for Yoshi, it was a pleasant surprise to behold Yoshi's Woolly World on the Wii U in 2015. Developer Good-Feel delivered some accomplished platforming within Yoshi's quirky and unique template. We felt in our 9/10 review that the game had enough soft cuteness to charm young gamers and melt the hearts of the most jaded of veterans.
Along with some of Nintendo's best co-op platforming, tough collectable challenges and some neat but straightforward use of amiibo, it delivered where it mattered the most with clever, witty stage design.
A downgraded port of the game was made to the 3DS in 2017 under the title Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World. It's certainly worth picking up if your Wii U has now been confined to the loft.
Developer Good-Feel is back soon with Yoshi's Crafted World which launches on the Switch later this month. If you thought Yoshi's Woolly World was cute, then you ain't seen nothing yet. Ditching the yarn look for a cardboard craft style, this is certainly one great looking game.
All in all, Yoshi’s Crafted World looks like it’s shaping up to be a fine game indeed. The new mechanics are fun and add a bit of a new spin on things, the aesthetic is wonderful, and while all of it doesn’t amount to anything revolutionary, it’s still very entertaining, and there looks to be plenty for fans of the series to enjoy.
While you wait for our review, you can check out our hands-on preview with Yoshi's Crafted World, which will hopefully give you an idea if this is the game for you.
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What's your favourite Yoshi game from this rich history? Are you excited about the upcoming release of Yoshi's Crafted World? Be sure to share your thoughts with a comment below.