Though somewhat overshadowed by Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog, a game starring a character more in tune with the zeitgeist of the early nineties, Super Mario World was a success upon its 1990 release. While dismissed as just another Mario game, when enthusiasts began giving it the time of day, they realized it was so much more than that. It and its predecessor, Super Mario Bros. 3, are now considered some of the best games ever made. Owing to its strong launch titles, Super Mario World included, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) found itself being able to keep pace with the Sega Mega Drive – or the Genesis as it was known in North America.
While developing Super Mario World, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto introduced a character named Yoshi. He was a dinosaur whom Mario could ride like a horse. Fellow developer Takeshi Tezuka speculated that Mr. Miyamoto’s fondness for country and Western themes played a role in Yoshi’s creation. In fact, Mr. Miyamoto had envisioned Mario with a dinosaur companion as early as when he worked on Super Mario Bros. in the mid-eighties, but the technical limitations of the Famicom made this idea impossible. Almost immediately after his introduction, Yoshi become one of the series’ most popular characters. Over the next few years, Yoshi was prominently featured in various spinoff titles. One such title was Yoshi’s Cookie, a puzzle game that even featured a special mode designed by Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov. Another was Yoshi’s Safari, a rail shooter that utilized the Super Scope, the successor to the NES Zapper.
As it turned out, Yoshi’s striking popularity extended to his creator as well, for Mr. Miyamoto thought about making him the series’ protagonist. However, he did not particularly care for other games featuring Yoshi’s name, and strove to make something more authentic. He presented his idea to Nintendo’s marketing department. To his surprise, they rejected his proposal. In 1994, Nintendo had published and released Donkey Kong Country, which was developed by the England-based developer Rare. Its pre-rendered graphics allowed it to stand out from the traditional, comparatively simplistic art style associated with the Mario series. Frustrated at the marketing executives, Mr. Miyamoto felt they were more interested in superior hardware than art. He even went as far as denouncing Donkey Kong Country, feeling it proved that “players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good.”
As something of an act of rebellion, Mr. Miyamoto took the cartoonish art style for which the Mario franchise was known and escalated it. The result was a hand-drawn, crayon style reminiscent of children’s drawings. To achieve this effect, artists drew graphics by hand, scanned them, and approximated them down to the exact pixel. When he presented this revised art style to the marketing department, they accepted it. The game had actually been in development in various forms for four years, allowing the team to add what he described as “lots of magic tricks”.
This new game was released domestically in Japan in August of 1995 under the name Super Mario: Yoshi’s Island. It was released in the West the following October with the slight name change Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Though it wasn’t as financially successful as Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island gained a dedicated following of its own. It too became one of the most beloved titles on the Super NES. In fact, some people have even gone as far as claiming it to be the superior effort to Super Mario World, citing is unique gameplay, art, and sound design. How does Yoshi’s Island fare in the face of its impressive predecessor?
Analyzing the Experience
WARNING: There will be unmarked spoilers nearing the end of this section.
A stork hurries across the sky just before dawn. In his bill, he supports a pair of twin brothers. The stork’s flight is interrupted when he is accosted by a shadow speeding toward him. “The babies are mine!” the figure shouts. It disappears into the night, with one of the babies in tow. The second baby falls toward the open sea. The shadowy figure is revealed to be an evil Magikoopa named Kamek. Realizing he failed to kidnap the baby’s twin, his dispatches his minions to kidnap him.
Meanwhile, as Yoshi enjoys a walk on a pleasant day, a baby drops onto his back from the sky. He lives on Yoshi’s Island, a remote land the dinosaurs called Yoshies call home. Unable to figure out the map the stork was carrying, Yoshi takes the baby back to his friends.
They soon find themselves restlessly discussing what they should do about the baby that fell from the sky. After placing the baby on his back once more, they learn the bond between the twins allows them to know where the other is. Deciding to carry the baby to his destination via a relay system, eight brave Yoshies set forth into the wilderness. It is up to them to reunite this baby, Mario, with his brother so the stork may deliver the two of them to their parents.
In spite of this game’s title beginning with “Super Mario”, Yoshi and his differently colored counterparts are the true protagonists. In fact, the only practical way in which Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario World are similar is that both games are two-dimensional, side-scrolling platformers. It is quite fitting that a new style of gameplay would present itself alongside a new set of protagonists. Unlike its two predecessors, Yoshi’s Island thrusts the player into an introductory stage before taking them to the world map. This stage is not difficult – even first-time players will have little trouble completing it. Regardless, they are given infinite lives with which to complete it. This affords them the opportunity to learn the controls before the game begins in earnest.
One of the most striking differences between this game and its direct predecessor is that there is no run button; simply moving in a direction will cause Yoshi to gradually gain momentum. However, even with no run button, Yoshi is actually quite a bit more dexterous than Mario. While jumping, you can hold down the “B” button in midair. This causes Yoshi to perform a Flutter Jump. That is, he moves his legs in rapid succession, allowing him to gain height. To prevent players from simply having Yoshi fly over the entire stage and render the platforming superfluous, the Flutter Jump technique has a short cooldown time. This means any subsequent Flutter Jumps are solely used to slow his descent in a manner not unlike the Raccoon Leaf or the Cape Feather.
Despite his unassuming appearance, Yoshi can also claim to be slightly more proficient in combat than Mario. The standard method of jumping off the enemy’s head works well enough. In fact, if he bounces off of an enemy, his first attempt at a Flutter Jump will gain significantly more height than he would have simply jumping from the ground. This game even enhances the standard jump attack with a technique that would become a mainstay for future Mario installments: the Ground Pound. By pressing down on the directional pad, Yoshi hits the ground with a mighty crash. The Ground Pound is markedly more powerful than the standard jump attack, though it shouldn’t be attempted on an enemy with an obvious defense mechanism. Much like in Super Mario World, however, Yoshi can opt for the highly pragmatic solution of eating his enemies. He accomplishes this by capturing them with his chameleon-like tongue and swallowing them whole. He can also simply spit out the enemy, turning it into a short-lived projectile.
Unlike in Super Mario World, there is more of a realistic limit as to which enemies Yoshi can and can’t swallow. Though it’s possible for him to consume enemies larger than himself, the eggs increasing in size accordingly, certain ones are simply indigestible. A majority of such enemies have sharp quills or other naturally occurring defense mechanisms that would prevent Yoshi from eating them. If he cannot eat an enemy, he will have a pained look on his face as his tongue touches it. Fortunately, this doesn’t typically damage him, so players aren’t punished for experimenting.
After swallowing an enemy, Yoshi lays an egg. In Super Mario World, Yoshi would lay an egg after consuming enough fruit. The egg would quickly hatch and revealing a 1-up Mushroom. In Yoshi’s Island, the eggs function as a vital gameplay mechanic. Specifically, Yoshi can toss these eggs at his enemies.
With a press of the “A” button, Yoshi will equip a single egg from his supply and a target reticle appears onscreen, moving up and down in an arc. How Yoshi aims the egg depends on your controller configuration. There are two such variations: Patient and Hasty. Patient is selected by default. Using this method, you have to wait until the crosshairs point in the direction you wish Yoshi to toss the egg. When it lines up, you must press the “A” button a second time. To make this easier, you can hold down one of the shoulder buttons to lock the target reticule in place. By setting the control configuration to Hasty, this basic premise is reversed. That is, you must press the “A” button to aim an egg and hold it down. Letting go of the button will cause Yoshi to throw the egg. He can have up to six eggs at a given time.
Though tossing eggs is an efficient method of dispatching enemies from a distance, they aren’t always used as a weapon. Unlike the Mushroom Kingdom, Yoshi’s Island lacks the series’ famous question mark blocks. In their stead are clouds keeping themselves afloat with a pair of wings that happen to have question marks painted on them. By shooting an egg at these clouds, any number of things could happen. For example, if you see an outline of a staircase, you can expect the cloud to magically cause one to appear. A majority of the time, these clouds release items in a manner similar to that of the traditional question mark blocks. As if to compensate for their comparative rarity, these clouds usually release multiple items at once.
It should be noted that unlike in real life, the eggs Yoshi tosses do not simply shatter upon making contact with a hard surface. Instead, they ricochet off of the walls. When shot at a body of water, they skim across the surface until they hit something. Both situations allow the player to hit objects that are normally out of reach. Moreover, eggs curiously change color upon hitting walls. If they strike a cloud or enemy in such a state, they will release helpful items upon impact.
As you play through the game, you’ll discover that Yoshi is surprisingly resilient. Many of the enemies he faces could defeat Mario in his normal form, yet Yoshi can shrug most of their attacks off. The few things that can defeat him instantly are spikes, pools of lava, and the standard bottomless pits. It’s important to know that, even with this advantage, the game is hardly a walk in the park. This is because it’s not necessarily Yoshi’s safety you must concern yourself with.
Being struck by an enemy knocks Baby Mario off of Yoshi’s back. Once this happens, he is encased in a bubble and begins crying. In case you somehow manage to miss this, a timer appears, counting down from ten. If it reaches zero, Kamek’s Toadies will swoop in and capture Mario. Whether Yoshi is incapacitated or Mario is captured, the result is the same – a single life deducted from your reserve.
Once you make it to the end of the tutorial stage, you are taken to the world map. World maps in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World often foreshadowed the challenges stages were about to present. For example, if a stage icon rested on a lake, you could safely assume that it would take place underwater. In the case of castle and fortress stages, the icons themselves were what cued players in. Super Mario World even featured an underwater fortress at one point, making use of the appropriate map graphics.
Meanwhile, Yoshi’s Island takes this concept a step further. Half of the world map depicts the current region itself. Here, you can see all eight stages in a given region. Normal stages are depicted as large red dots. Once again, by observing the area around the dot, you can vaguely infer what kind of stage it is. The other half of the screen is dominated by a virtual folder. Because there are technically eight protagonists in this game, it wouldn’t make any sense to move one character across the world map. Instead, levels are selected by the icons in the folder. These icons are best thought of as an artist’s rendering of a stage. They sum up in a single picture what the following level will entail.
Once you begin Yoshi’s Island in earnest, you’ll discover the biggest difference between it and any of its predecessors. Super Mario Bros. provided such a linear experience that players were forbidden from backtracking. While Super Mario Bros. 2 featured a more dynamic level design with the occasional alternate path, thorough exploration yielded minimal benefits – as long as you could complete the stage, it didn’t matter how you got there. This ethos carried over into Super Mario Bros. 3, and while Super Mario World took cues from its direct predecessor, exploration became more of a factor with the advent of secret exits. Suddenly, there was a meaningful reason to scour certain stages from top to bottom: doing so could unlock extra content.
Bearing this in mind, Yoshi’s Island could then be seen as the logical destination of the series’ evolution. Upon clearing a stage, you are given a score based on the number of items you collect. The three varieties of items that influence your final score are stars, red coins, and flowers. It’s best to think of stars as an analogue to health or HP; the more Yoshi has on his person, the longer he can be separated from Mario before the infant is captured by the Toadies. By default, he starts with ten stars and can hold as many as thirty. If he has nine stars or fewer, he will slowly regenerate them until he has ten once more. They are quite common, being found in random winged clouds and released upon hitting an object or enemy with a red egg. Furthermore, the ring designating the halfway point is made up of stars. Passing through it grants Yoshi ten of them.
In the coming years, scenarios such as the one that runs throughout Yoshi’s Island became common. Among enthusiasts, they were known as escort missions. These scenarios were invariably despised for a number of reasons. In many action games, ensuring the hero’s survival was difficult enough. Caring for the well-being of a character that the player had no control over was a tricky proposition. In the end, how much tolerance players had for escort missions depended on the AI’s level of sophistication. In best case scenarios, the characters players had to protect knew when to stay out of danger and to let the hero take care of any threat. In less-than-ideal circumstances, said characters lacked basic self-preservation instincts, yet players were made to guide them through active battlefields all the same.
It’s as though Mr. Miyamoto could see into the future when he produced Yoshi’s Island because the countdown timer is an excellent, ahead-of-its-time alternative to a typical escort mission. Because Yoshi regenerates stars if he has nine or fewer, the punishment for failing to keep Baby Mario safe is negligible. This is what allows Yoshi’s Island to succeed as a game-long escort mission – it ultimately doesn’t overcomplicate the proceedings. As such, protecting him is, in practice, no different than trying to stay alive in a typical platforming game. The only annoying aspect is Baby Mario’s crying when attempting to recover him. Playtesters would often ignore Baby Mario whenever he was knocked off of Yoshi’s back, prompting the staff to make the crying more overt. This was an unnecessary change given that a textbox appears when Baby Mario is knocked off of Yoshi’s back for the first time, explaining in detail what will happen if he is not rescued. Even without the explanation, the way the star counter ominously counts down should have been enough of a clue that the player needs to save Baby Mario as soon as possible.
As is befitting a Mario game, there are inexplicably floating gold coins scattered throughout Yoshi’s Island. As usual, if one-hundred of them are collected, the player will gain an extra life. By this point in the series’ history, lives were fairly easy for a skilled player to procure. This could be seen as early as Super Mario Bros., which featured a trick capable of granting players infinite lives. Even when it was discovered in playtesting, Shigeru Miyamoto opted to leave it in as a reward for a perceptive player. By Super Mario World, one could go an entire playthrough without ever seeing the words “GAME OVER” pop up on their screen. When faced with a difficult stage, a player could take advantage of the game’s open-endedness by backtracking to an older stage and obtaining extra lives there.
It is for this reason that coins and, to a lesser extent, 1-up Mushrooms were starting to lose their value. It wasn’t uncommon for players to ignore difficult paths paved with gold in favor the empty, simple routes. The reason I mention this is because there is much more of an incentive to gather coins in Yoshi’s Island than in any game in the series thus far. Any coin you see may hide a red coin behind them. There are twenty such coins to be found in a stage.
Finally, flowers are a lot like the Dragon Coins from Super Mario World. There are five scattered through every stage, and collecting all of them will grant the player an extra life. The end of a stage is designated by a ring that functions similar to a roulette wheel. The ring is perpetually cycling through its ten spots until Yoshi leaps through it. If the wheel lands on a flower, the player is allowed to play a bonus game. These flowers show up in response to the ones you collect throughout the stage. By collecting all five, you have a fifty percent chance of playing the bonus minigame afterward.
There are six different Bonus Challenges that you can play: Scratch and Match, Flip Cards, Drawing Lots, Match Cards, Roulette, and Slot Machine.
Scratch and Match is a minigame in which a player is given six different panels. Hidden behind three panels are pictures of Baby Mario while the remaining three hide Toady icons. From there, they can scratch any three panels. Each picture of Baby Mario grants the player an extra life while revealing a Toady gives them nothing. If all three pictures of Baby Mario are found, Yoshi gains five extra lives.
Flip Cards has a self-explanatory premise. The player is presented with a board containing nine panels. Six of them contain helpful items that can be used when exploring stages. One contains a Toady, which does nothing at all. If the player is unfortunate enough to flip the eighth panel, they will reveal a decidedly rude picture of Kamek. In such an event, every item they obtained in this game will be forfeit. The player can opt to play conservatively and quit the game at any time. If they’re feeling adventurous, they can flip every single card over. If they do not flip Kamek’s card, they will be granted ten extra lives.
Drawing Lots is by far the simplest of the six games. The player is allowed to reveal one of six panels on the board. Once they do, they receive item displayed on the card behind the panel, and the game ends. If they reveal Kamek’s card, they receive nothing. Unlike in Flip Cards, there can be as many as three panels hiding Kamek’s picture, though at worst, the player will have a 50% chance of getting a useful item.
Match Cards is, appropriately enough, a memory game. A board containing fourteen cards drops down and all of them reveal their contents. Each card has a matching pair, and finding both will award you that item. If the player reveals every matching pair, the final two panels will give them ten extra lives. The game ends prematurely if the player makes two mistakes, though they won’t lose the items they have obtained by that point.
Roulette is a familiar casino game with a twist. It is played with not one, but two roulette wheels. First, you must determine the number of lives you wish to bet. After that, the panels on the wheels begin lighting up. The left wheel features the mathematical symbols for addition and multiplication. The right wheel features numbers from zero to three. When the “A” button is pressed, the lights slow down, landing on one panel apiece. The wheels, in turn, form an equation beginning with the number of lives you bet. If the left wheel ends on the addition sign, how many lives you bet beforehand is irrelevant. In such a situation, you would merely gain the number the right wheel lands on. Where things get interesting is when it lands on the multiplication sign. This does mean you could potentially lose all of the lives you bet if they’re multiplied by zero. Then again, if you bet the maximum number of lives, ninety-nine, you could potentially gain 297 at once.
In a bit of a contrast to Roulette, Slot Machine is nothing more than what it says on the tin. When the game begins, the slots begin to roll. You can cause the slots to slow down by pressing each of the three buttons. If three pictures match up, you gain the number of lives as shown on the panel. Any other outcome gives the player nothing.
The inventory system in Yoshi’s Island is similar to that of Super Mario Bros. 3 with one key difference – they are used within the stages as opposed to on the world map. One’s inventory is accessed via the pause menu. Though only three slots are visible, Yoshi can actually hold up to twenty-two items at once. There are nine different items one can obtain in these minigames. The 10-Point Star intuitively increases Yoshi’s star count by ten; the 20-point Star follows the same principle. The Anytime Egg replenishes Yoshi’s egg count to the maximum number of six. If the player breaks out the Anywhere POW Block, the ensuing shockwave transforms all onscreen enemies into stars. Similarly, the Winged Cloud Maker turns them all into Winged Clouds, which will contain random items. The Magnifying Glass both identifies red coins and reveals hidden Winged Clouds – the latter of which usually only appear when Yoshi stumbles upon their location. Finally, the green, red, and blue Super Watermelons give Yoshi the ability to spit seeds, fire, and freezing frost at his enemies respectively.
When tallying up the player’s final score, stars grant the player one point apiece, the red coins two, and the flowers five. As such, if the player obtains every hidden item and has thirty stars on-hand, they will obtain one-hundred points. While points provided minimal benefits in Super Mario World, achieving a high score in a given stage of Yoshi’s Island is of utmost importance for those who want to see everything the game has to offer. One of the first things a player might notice on the world map are the enigmatic question marks adorning the folder. By obtaining one-hundred points in every stage in a region, these squares turn into rewards: an extra level and the ability to replay one of the six bonus minigames at one’s leisure. Getting a perfect score on these levels adds a star to the title screen. Admittedly, the stars serve no practical purpose, but this was an excellent way to encourage players to keep their eyes peeled.
In fact, when it comes to level design, I would say Yoshi’s Island is a bit more ambitious than Super Mario World. Superb though the stages in Super Mario World were, there was little point in exploring them extensively other than to find hidden exits. On quite a few occasions, the secret exits were in plain sight. This is where the greatest distinction between overall design of Super Mario World and that of Yoshi’s Island can be found. The secret exits in Super Mario World lent the process of navigating the world map a Metroid-like quality. In Yoshi’s Island, that sense of exploration can be found in the stages themselves. You’ll often find yourself choosing between multiple paths on your way to the goal ring. On several occasions, locked doors block your progress, necessitating Yoshi to go on a key hunt to unlock it.
With an even greater emphasis placed on exploration and discovery, it’s only natural that Yoshi’s Island would completely eschew the time limit entirely. Historically, timers were implemented in the arcade era to prevent players from hogging the machines. Despite moving to the home console audience, many of these design practices were retained simply out of habit. Therefore, the decision to remove the timer caught quite a few enthusiasts off guard. This is because the only other game in the series thus far to not implement it was the Western Super Mario Bros. 2. It was easy to write off as anomaly – especially when the staff reintroduced the timer in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.
By taking cues from Metroid, it’s highly appropriate that the staff saw fit to introduce a litany of temporary power-ups in the form Morph Bubbles. They appear as early as the second stage and allow Yoshi to transform into a vehicle. There are five different vehicles Yoshi can morph into: a car, a helicopter, a mole tank, a submarine, and a train. The car moves quickly across land and can increase its suspension to avoid enemies. As one would expect, Yoshi can fly freely in his helicopter form. The mole tank tunnels through sections of dirt. Unlike Mario, Yoshi can only swim on the surface of a given body of water. His submarine form allows him to move around underwater, using torpedoes as a means of defense. Finally, the train merges with tracks drawn onto the background to allow Yoshi to reach places he couldn’t otherwise.
With Baby Mario safe in a bubble, enemies cannot harm Yoshi in this state, but they can slow him down. It’s still important to dodge them because the transformation only lasts for a limited time. If he runs out of time, he will be sent back to the Morph Bubble’s original location. They usually respawn, so seldom are there are any lasting consequences for letting the time run out other than having to restart the section from the beginning. Touching another Morph Bubble while Yoshi is transformed resets the timer. A majority of these sections spawns a Yoshi Block. Hitting it will cause Yoshi to revert back to his normal form and teleport Baby Mario to this new location, allowing the two of them to proceed from there.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was notable for being the first game in the series to have a central theme for each world. The themes even went as far as influencing the level design, meaning that they didn’t just serve aesthetical purposes. True to their work’s name, the Super Mario World staff eschewed this idea in favor of creating one homogenous land. This meant each region’s central theme was far more subtle. However, their effects on the stages within were just as apparent as those of its predecessors. On the surface, Yoshi’s Island would appear to be a step back from Super Mario World in this regard. Just like in Super Mario Bros. and its sequel, the worlds don’t even have names anymore – they only bear a number. There is also not a single Warp Zone to be found in the entire game. If you want to see the credits roll, you must play through every single normal stage in the intended order.
However, I have to say that this development is a step back only in the most superficial sense. This is because, to an even greater extent than Super Mario World, the environments are actively incorporated into the experience. There are myriad reasons why I can say this, but the first instance coincidentally also occurs in the second stage.
The aptly titled stage “Watch Out Below!” requires players to dodge giant Chain Chomps. They don’t come out of nowhere; you can see them milling about in the background before they attempt to crush Yoshi. When one remembers the lengths to which Mr. Miyamoto went to make his work stand out, it’s highly appropriate that one of the earliest stages in his game would require players to observe the beautifully rendered backgrounds he and his team lovingly crafted.
More than anything, the greatest strength of the level design in Yoshi’s Island is that it makes you feel as though you’re living, breathing biomes. By comparison, its predecessors featured areas that were identifiably video game levels. This was partially due to the fact that, no matter where you went, the rules were uniform. With the odd exception, every area had similar enemies and the goal was simply to get to the end of the stage. Meanwhile, in Yoshi’s Island, several stages feature enemies and mechanics that don’t appear anywhere else in the game. The jungle region has pits Yoshi against thieving monkeys and Shy Guys in face paint while in the snowy mountains, the title character can even go skiing. As a result, while certain level in Super Mario World blended together, every single stage in Yoshi’s Island has a standout personality to it, which is helped by their whimsical nomenclature.
As an antagonist, Kamek is an interesting contrast to Bowser. The Koopa King created the conflicts Mario and Luigi had to resolve, yet it wouldn’t be until the very end of the game that they encountered him directly. Meanwhile, Kamek quickly proves to be a more overtly proactive villain. Yoshi comes face-to-face with him as early as the game’s first fortress stage. However, he does not possess the raw strength Bowser had. Instead, he proves to be a more indirect threat to Yoshi’s survival. Rather than engaging Yoshi in combat directly, he casts a spell on a minion, enlarging them to gargantuan sizes.
Though simply creating a larger version of a normal enemy seems lazy, you’ll quickly learn that you will have to employ more thoughtful tactics than mindlessly throwing eggs at your enemies. Even Burt the Bashful, the boss guarding the first fortress, can be something of a wakeup call for newcomers. Though he is essentially covered from head to toe in his weak spot, you have to deal with the fact that he takes up a significant portion of the screen. This necessitates you guiding Yoshi to a hole in the floor to avoid the minion’s jumping pattern.
Later bosses aren’t nearly as straightforward. You will have to observe them carefully to have any chance of succeeding. This involves studying their patterns, reacting accordingly, and attacking when the opportunity presents itself. In fact, you will often find the circumstances forcing you to incorporate the arena itself into your tactical decisions.
The Mario franchise had no shortage of creative boss fights, but I feel Yoshi’s Island is when the developers truly began hitting their stride in this field. Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World had a bad habit of recycling gimmicks when fighting the Koopalings. The odd exception had an extra trick up their sleeve and the level design in later stages made reaching them without taking damage difficult, yet neither aspect changed the fact that players knew what to expect going into these encounters. An ideal boss fight is a precarious balancing act. They should take the player by surprise the first time around. Along those lines, however, the developers also need to design them in a way that players can survive long enough to learn what to do. The reason Yoshi’s Island is a step up from its predecessors is because it does just that. While Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World had Mario and Luigi stomp bosses to damage them, Yoshi’s Island makes it clear from the onset that such strategies will prove ineffective, forcing the audience to think on their feet in a way the earlier two games didn’t.
One last compliment I can pay Yoshi’s Island is that it has a much more impressive endgame than Super Mario World. While the stages within the Valley of Bowser were visually indistinct from those in any preceding region, World 6 of Yoshi’s Island has an oppressive, otherworldly quality to it. This is aided by the odd juxtaposition of the cavern theme playing in a majority of the outdoor stages. On top of that, many of these stages extend the labyrinthine design most cavernous areas have in this game to the overworld, blurring the lines further. Finally, adding to this area’s ethereal feel, a significant amount of enemies are the undead. The game leading up to World 6 pitted Yoshi against Shy Guys, living gusts of wind, and birds known as Goonies. In their stead are ghostly Shy Guys, living fireballs, and Skeleton Goonies.
By making his way to the final castle in the game, Yoshi enters a giant red door and comes face-to-face with Kamek yet again. To his surprise, the Magikoopa is quite panicked, demanding Yoshi hand over Baby Mario immediately.
Kamek’s shouting wakes up the secondary antagonist: Baby Bowser. After callously kicking away his caretaker, Baby Bowser, immensely jealous of Baby Mario riding on what he thinks is a green donkey, attacks Yoshi. Though he would put up an excellent fight against Mario and Luigi as an adult, Baby Bowser is easily dispatched by Yoshi. Unfortunately for the latter, Kamek makes a recovery and prepares a spell that is guaranteed to bring the house down – literally.
Super Mario World was notable for having employed cinematic elements in its final encounter. The interface would disappear and a dramatic musical cue signaled Bowser’s appearance. Mr. Miyamoto and his team needed to pull off a feat that, on its surface, would seem outright impossible. Not only did they need to find some way to top Bowser’s dramatic entrance in Super Mario World, they were saddled with caveats that would appear to sabotage this task before it could even be considered. The game is set during their mascot’s infancy, the art style is decidedly childlike, and the secondary antagonist is himself a baby. Consequently, anyone who made it this far could easily get the impression that the final encounter in Yoshi’s Island would be appropriately comical given what preceded it. This hypothetical player would then pace around the ruins of the castle only to realize Baby Bowser is nowhere in sight. A few seconds later, the shocking truth dawns on them: he was watching Yoshi the entire time from a distance.
Kamek’s spell was so effective that the castle could no longer contain the behemoth Baby Bowser transformed into. Now he stands in the background, slowly advancing toward Yoshi while occasionally lobbing boulders at him. Mr. Miyamoto and his team conceived one of the most striking final bosses of the era alongside Gigyas from Earthbound. There’s a great bit of irony in how Baby Bowser manages to be more intimidating than he will be as an adult – even if he needed Kamek’s assistance to achieve this. Defeating him is a race against the clock, for if he reaches Yoshi’s position, he will destroy what remains of the castle. Once again, everything about this fight is executed perfectly from the dark atmosphere to the pulse-pounding music – all while pitting the player against a threat that forces them to apply the skills they developed in a new, yet perfectly intuitive way. All in all, it’s an excellent coda to a solid experience, successfully providing a nice backstory to two of gaming’s most iconic heroes.
Drawing a Conclusion
In spite of its full Western title, it’s debatable as to whether or not Yoshi’s Island could be considered a true sequel to Super Mario World. Many people choose to instead classify it as a spinoff of the Mario franchise. However, I feel this is an unimportant semantical debate because Yoshi’s Island manages to stand not only as the greatest installment the franchise had known, but also a masterful, standalone experience in its own right. Even so, I can imagine enthusiasts arguing this game’s predecessors are both superior titles. On some level, I can understand this position, for Yoshi’s Island has neither the memorable multiplayer mode of Super Mario Bros. 3 nor the myriad secret paths of Super Mario World. In exchange, however, it provides by far the best solo adventure with stages so well-designed that not getting to play through every single one would have been a major disservice to the player.
Given what Mr. Miyamoto originally said about Donkey Kong Country, I feel it highly appropriate that its sequel was released in the same year as Yoshi’s Island because both games are hallmarks of the side-scrolling platformer genre. I can imagine newcomers taking one look at the box art and dismissing it as a game for little kids. All I could say to these people is not to be fooled; the admittedly childish visuals and introductory music belie a timeless game brimming with originality and innovation. There are plenty of platformers in which the hero has a ranged attack, but very few of them allow players deflect projectiles off multiple walls to hit targets. For that matter, few games since could claim to make a prolonged escort mission enjoyable, but Yoshi’s Island found a way before the concept had a chance to fully manifest in the public consciousness. For all of these reasons and more, Yoshi’s Island stands as one of the finest games of the nineties. Try it for yourself and you will be amazed that a platforming game from 1995 can still feel fresh and original even today.
Final Score: 9/10