In 1995, Nintendo released Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Though it was initially passed up in favor of Donkey Kong Country 2, it ultimately received a warm reception once people gave it a chance, and, to this day, both games are rightly considered some of the best 2D platformers of all time. Naturally, this incentivized the creation of a sequel. The very next year saw the debut of the Nintendo 64, marking the company’s leap into the third dimension. Many of their big-name franchises were making a transition to 3D on this console, including Mario with their trailblazing title, Super Mario 64. Some of their franchises, such as Legend of Zelda and Star Fox only became better after having made the leap. Despite this, Nintendo decided to make what would become the sequel to Yoshi’s Island a 2D platformer – something of a rarity in its console generation. The game that resulted from this project, dubbed “Yoshi’s Story,” was released internationally in 1998.
Playing the Game
Yoshi’s Story is a platforming game. Being a sequel to Yoshi’s Island, it retains a lot of its predecessor’s gameplay. Yoshies are multicolored dinosaurs capable of ingesting enemies with their long tongues and turning them into eggs. They throw these eggs as their primary means of attack, though they can also pound the ground, which is a reoccurring ability in the Mario franchise. Also making a return from Yoshi’s Island is their ability to flutter jump. When jumping, you can hold down the button, which allows the Yoshi you’re controlling to slow their descent. It’s useful for avoiding pits and clearing long gaps.
Unlike Yoshi’s Island, Yoshi’s Story has a health meter, represented by a smiling flower – the more petals are on the flower, the healthier your Yoshi is. Yoshies recover health by eating fruit, and doing so recovers one petal. Each Yoshi has one fruit they prefer over all others. Should they consume their favorite fruit, they will recover three petals instead. In a contrast to Yoshi’s Island, the color of the Yoshi you’re playing as has an impact on gameplay. The fruit they prefer typically matches their own color. For instance, green Yoshies like watermelons, yellow Yoshies are fond of bananas, and so forth. Moreover, before starting each stage, a “lucky fruit” is chosen at random; consuming it will completely restore Yoshi’s health. There also exists melons (not to be confused with watermelons), a fruit that all Yoshies like and thus will regain three units of health upon consumption.
Most games in this genre operate around one simple goal: reach the end of the stage. There may be some exploration involved to discover bonus content, but they still tend to be entirely linear affairs. Such is not the case with Yoshi’s Story. In this game, the level ends once your Yoshi has consumed thirty fruit. Consequently, this game features levels that are markedly less linear than those of its peers.
Yoshi’s Island was systematic in its level progression in that you had to clear every non-bonus stage in order to complete the game; unlike in Super Mario World, there were no branching paths, so you couldn’t skip any of the levels. Yoshi’s Story, on the other hand, features level progression analogous with Star Fox 64. How it works is that upon starting a new game in Story Mode, you are given a choice of four levels in the first world. Regardless of which level you complete, you move onto the next world upon completing it. There are three hearts in each level. How many you collect before eating thirty fruit changes the number of stages you can select upon reaching the next world. Collecting all three will allow you to choose between four stages while failing to collect any of them locks you into playing through the first one. To help things along, each level features four creatures that act as warp points, allowing one backtrack and potentially find the rest of the hearts more easily. Once you have completed a level, you can opt to replay it in Trial Mode.
Despite being a 2D platformer, Yoshi’s Story does not feature a traditional life system. If your Yoshi runs out of health or falls into a pit, he is then captured, forcing you to restart the level with a different one. The game is over if all of the Yoshies get captured. There is certain creature called a White Shy Guy in many of the levels. Should you find one and clear the stage with it in tow, it can rescue one captured Yoshi.
In what areas does Yoshi’s Story succeed? To start with, the controls are decent and if it’s one feature I was appreciative of when I first played this game, it’s Trial Mode. As much as I enjoyed Star Fox 64, I found myself a little disappointed that there was no way to select a stage; instead, you have to start the game anew whenever you want to replay any given level.
Unfortunately, those are the only good things I can say about this game. Yoshi’s Story is an interesting case study in that the developers had a lot of unique ideas which experimented with the genre’s conventions and not a single one of them worked. Yoshi’s Story sort of plays like a strange cross between a 2D platformer and an open-ended exploration game in the same vein as the Metroid series (referred to in gaming circles as a Metroidvania). However, it doesn’t work as a 2D platformer as it breaks one of the fundamental rules of the genre, and it fails as a Metroidvania because you don’t explore one homogeneous area that gradually opens up the further you get in the game. Due to the fact that you end stages by eating thirty fruit as opposed to reaching a goal, you can complete any given level having skipped significant portions of it. In other words, you don’t really clear the levels in Yoshi’s Story; you just cause them to end. This means that this game lacks the sense of satisfaction most 2D platformers have when you’ve completed an especially difficult level. Worse is that the items you need to collect in order to beat a level also heal your character, removing most of the challenge for the savvy.
It’s also disappointing how choosing different Yoshies doesn’t significantly impact how you play through the game. It changes which fruits you get the most health from, but all of the Yoshies have the exact same abilities. Any one-player platformer that features multiple characters should give each of them different strengths and weaknesses in order to encourage players to try them all. Super Mario World gave each color of Yoshi a different ability such as fire breathing or flight, and I believe that failing to bring back this idea for Yoshi’s Story was a missed opportunity.
While I did praise Yoshi’s Story for including Trial Mode, it’s an issue that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Clearing one level from each world until you reach the end isn’t a logical progression for a platforming game. The way Yoshi’s Story pans out makes it feel like you’re missing entire sections of the game every time you play Story Mode. In order to unlock every level, you need to play all the way through Story Mode at least four times. As a result, you don’t really conduct a singular playthrough of Yoshi’s Story, but rather several short ones. You get an ending each time, but it’s something that should be reserved for when you’ve completed the whole game, not just one-fourth of it. This style works in Star Fox because each level is its own entity, so regardless of which route you take, it feels like a complete playthrough once you’ve cleared the final level.
Quite possibly the most glaring flaw with Yoshi’s Story is how much of a step down it is from its predecessor. Yoshi’s Island features forty-eight normal stages, six secret stages (six more in the Game Boy Advance remake), and twelve different bosses. Yoshi’s Story features twenty-four normal stages, zero secret stages, and five different bosses. Each world in Yoshi’s Island featured two bosses whereas Yoshi’s Story pits you against two bosses each time you play Story Mode, following the conclusion of the third and sixth stages. This by itself is should be enough to demonstrate why Yoshi’s Story is the inferior game, but there’s a less-obvious fault that presents itself in this comparison. As you may have surmised by the latter title’s lack of bonus stages, there are very few unlockable secrets in Yoshi’s Story.
Yoshi’s Island encouraged players to search every part of the levels for red coins, flowers, and stars. If they could successfully find them all in every level in a given world, they were rewarded with a bonus stage and a mini-game. The closest thing Yoshi’s Story has to this is the melon hunt. There are thirty in each level and they are worth the highest number of points. The problem is that the game doesn’t properly motivate the player into finding all of them. The only thing the player is rewarded with should they get every melon in Story Mode is a slightly different ending. Considering that this game, despite its very name, isn’t exactly a story-heavy experience, calling this a reward would be misleading. Gameplay-heavy experiences should reward players with extra content for discovering secrets such as in Yoshi’s Island. Alternately, the game should be engaging enough that the player will want to discover everything about it even if there’s no higher reason for doing so, making 100% completion its own reward as Super Mario 64 and its sequels have shown. Failing to do either results in experiences where players have no reason to ever become good at the game, and can skip large segments of it without feeling like they truly missed anything.
Analyzing the Story
I try not to remark on the story in games where it’s clearly not the forefront, but in this case, I feel I have to make an exception. Why is that? The story of this game is, to put it lightly, insipid, and there is no better way of showcasing my point than by transcribing the introduction word for word.If you gave up halfway through reading that and skipped to this paragraph, I can’t say I blame you. It seems as though Yoshi’s Story was an attempt on Nintendo’s part to appeal to little kids. However, in doing so, they inadvertently demonstrated why pandering to them never a good idea. It’s true that Yoshi’s Island also featured a childish motif, but it wasn’t to this extreme. It was also a far more challenging game, making it appealing to both children and adults. With the way Yoshi’s Story is presented, only very young children could enjoy it unironically and without having to mute the television. Indeed, as soon as the game began and I heard the horrible, saccharine theme that plays over the title screen, I knew I was in for an unpleasant experience. Once I completed the game, my initial feelings of apprehension and dread were validated beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Drawing a Conclusion
The 3D revolution of the late nineties unfortunately caused many quality 2D games released during that time to be ignored by the public. Many of them, such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, ultimately received recognition from the gaming community once the hype died down. While hindsight does allow the true quality of a work to shine, it baffles me that there are some fans who seem to think that Yoshi’s Story also deserves retroactive vindication, for it is one of the most disappointing games I have ever played. It is not Nintendo’s weakest effort by any stretch of the imagination; some of their early games such as Urban Champion are objectively worse, but at the same time, I could chalk that up to inexperience. By the time this game was released, they had made Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, and Star Fox 64 – and that’s not even delving into their accomplishments on earlier consoles. On top of that, in the same year that Yoshi’s Story would see the light of day outside of Japan, Nintendo would go on to take the world by storm with their legendary masterwork, Ocarina of Time. What I’m saying is that they should have known better by this point.
If you neglected to try out this game, trust me when I say that you haven’t missed out on anything special. Stick with Yoshi’s Island; it provides a much more satisfying experience despite being an older title. Nostalgic purposes are the only possible way one could enjoy Yoshi’s Story as an adult; most people attempting to play it these days would likely dismiss it as a game for little kids. I know I did when I first played this game. Did I mention I was eight at the time?
Final Score: 3.5/10