Back in 1995, Yoshi's Island turned heads when it was announced as the successor to the masterful Super Mario World. Appearing to be more of a spin-off than a direct sequel, there was skepticism as to whether such a departure could live up to the Mario name and please fans of the series. Fortunately the unique gameplay mechanics, breathtaking art style, and imaginative cast of characters came together to offer an unforgettable experience absolutely bursting at the seams with creativity and impeccable craftsmanship. Now, nearly 20 years and one sequel later, comes Yoshi's New Island. Can it expand upon the wonderful ideas established by its predecessors?
Unsurprisingly, the storyline that sets our characters forth on their adventure is simplistic — a norm for Nintendo platformers; in fact, the setup in this outing is nearly identical to that of the original Yoshi’s Island. As a stork is delivering Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to their parents, Baby Luigi gets intercepted by Kamek; in the commotion Baby Mario is knocked loose, sending him tumbling down to a mysterious island. This of course is Yoshi’s New Island. From here, the Yoshi clan assists Baby Mario in searching for his captured bro.
Anyone familiar with either previous game in the series will immediately have a grasp of the controls, as they haven’t changed a bit. Yoshi’s distinct repertoire of moves is intact, and you should be flutter jumping, egg throwing, butt stomping, and babysitting like a pro within minutes. If you find that the initial mapping of the buttons is off-putting, accessing the options and switching to “B-Style” controls should settle you right into your comfort zone. Also, we found the D-Pad to offer much more reliable movement than the analogue stick.
Doing away with the baby-switching element and dual-screen-spanning view introduced in Yoshi's Island DS, Yoshi’s New Island sticks to the formula established in the SNES original. The basic goal is for Yoshi to safely transport his baby companion from the start to finish of each stage, but you’ll also be scored according to the percentage of items gathered. Twenty red coins will be disguising themselves as standard coins, five smiley flowers are tucked away in devious places, and retaining thirty stars when finishing a stage all contribute to a completion rating. This is where the real challenge lies, though it’s not always for the right reasons — questionable item positioning being the main culprit.
The levels are more streamlined than ever before, lacking the intricate design of past instalments. While there are still plenty of hidden pathways and out-of-reach platforms, their presence is not only noticeably scaled back, but they're not as expertly placed as they could have been. Coming across any challenging platforming segments is also quite rare, and when a complication does arise it feels like the result of claustrophobic/narrow corridors too clogged with environmental obstructions and/or enemies; navigating these sections is clumsy and can prove quite frustrating. Granted, these aren’t extremely common scenarios, but the level design overall evokes little wonder and is often average at best.
For younger gamers the straightforward design should ensure that finding their way to the goal shouldn't be too daunting of a task. Although, getting familiar with the game mechanics — which are slightly more complex than, let's say, a Mario game — may require a little practice. If pools of lava and bottomless pits start eating up lives, a Warp Pipe will present itself to propose Flutter Wings to the player. These will allow for consistent, horizontal fluttering to lend a hand when the going gets tough — the game will penalize you for using them by marking the stage unfinished, even though you're allowed to advance.
Other new additions, although sparsely used, come in the form of Eggdozers and Yoshi Stars. When Yoshi consumes an extra-large Shy Guy he produces one of these Eggdozers, which can then be used to crumble barriers interfering with progression or allow Yoshi to walk around underwater by weighing him down. The Yoshi Star, on the other hand, grants invincibility, allowing Yoshi to blast through enemies, run on walls/ceilings, and in a couple of situations even rocket through the air like Superman. These are all nice additions, but since they can never be used outside of contained situations we were left wanting more.
The same goes for Yoshi's transformation abilities. As advertised, you'll have the opportunity to morph into six vehicles, such as a minecart, submarine, hot-air balloon, jackhammer, bobsled, and helicopter. These sections remove you from the level, briefly, akin to participating in a minigame. Each one adopts use of the gyroscopic controls, and requires tilting the 3DS to the left or right to move while utilizing a single button to jump or come to a stop, depending on the transformation. For the most part they all play and handle identically, foregoing exploration and depth to ensure accessibility.
Some of the most impressive moments from the original Yoshi’s Island came in the form of the memorable boss battles that popped up twice in each world – stages 4 and 8, respectively. To this day we still reminisce about driving stumps into Raphael the Raven while orbiting a moon and ricocheting eggs around the inside of Prince Froggy’s belly. While Yoshi’s New Island has a couple of promising ideas involving shooting switches to flip panels and reacting to the environment in interesting ways, the bosses mostly feel shallow, simple, and uninspired, often ending before they really begin.
There are six worlds in total, each comprised of eight levels – completionists will find more to be discovered. Being very thorough, but not replaying levels if we didn’t earn a 100% rating, it took us about 10 hours to complete a playthrough. If you’re the type of gamer that isn’t interested in investigating every corner of the game to collect all items, the adventure may be quite a bit shorter. As long as you don't expect to marathon through the island, it should be said that there's a solid amount of content here.
In addition you can unlock six download-play minigames as you progress through single player; we imagine these won't entertain for long due to their cooperative nature conflicting with the lack of a score to chase. For example, Enemy Eat-Off will find you and a partner devouring as many enemies as possible before time runs out, where Ground-Pound Pop will have you both maniacally popping balloons with your bums. There is no set number of enemies to eat or balloons to pop, nor are there leaderboards to provide players with a clear goal, so the motivation to keep playing isn't really there — unless you're simply looking to goof off and kill time. It's merely fluff.
That brings us to the lingering elephant / dinosaur in the room – the controversial art style. Contrary to what a static image might suggest, the visuals aren't all that rough on the eyes. We’re happy to report that the stereoscopic 3D has been smoothed out since our initial hands-on with the game back in June last year, and its subtle presence mostly limits the depth to only two layers — background and foreground. That's not to say that the overall art style isn't a bit sterile when compared to the stunning hand-drawn look of previous Yoshi's Island titles, because it is. Levels blur from one to the next, and the difference between the first few worlds feels more like a swap in colour palettes than a full shift in theme. Environments appear under-decorated and lack the same level of personality, charm, and attention to detail we've come to expect from the series.
And that sentiment could blanket how we feel about the entire experience. It's watered-down, occasionally providing a good time but almost never impressing. There might be a couple of minor noteworthy inclusions and changes that compliment the established form, though none of these are substantial enough to take things to the next level or shake things up. In the end you'll feel like you've been there, done that, and the important point is that it was much better the first time around. Kids or inexperienced gamers may extract the most satisfaction due to the simplified design, but those well-versed in all things Yoshi will likely be disappointed.
The biggest problem with Yoshi’s New Island is that it feels stripped of the style, substance, and ingenuity that once made the series such treasured property. By watering down the game design and failing to incorporate new ideas that enhance the established mechanics in any meaningful way, you're left with an egg that's not necessarily bad, just dull and unimpressive. It’s completely functional and could serve as filler while waiting for the next big 3DS or Wii U release, but there’s little denying that it’s an underwhelming outing for Yoshi.