If nothing else, Yoshi’s New Island is proof just how difficult it is to recapture lightning in a bottle.
In its time, Yoshi’s Island was something of a revelation. Cursed with the responsibility of following up Super Mario World, the Super Nintendo platformer was born in the shadow of an industry giant, a silhouette that even modern titles are trying to get out from under. Despite that burden, Yoshi’s Island excelled, delighting fans of Nintendo’s flagship property with a game that was unquestionably new in nearly every respect; gone were the typical tropes of the Mushroom Kingdom, replaced with an art style that mimicked the contents of a child’s coloring book. Mario was different, too, having been replaced by an infantile version of him whose cry can still be heard in the nightmares of the game’s most faithful patrons.
Yoshi’s Island was fresh, exciting, and new. Yoshi’s New Island is not.
Most everything that made Yoshi’s Island such an eccentric member of the Super Nintendo library is back. Mario is a baby (again), a child who is separated from his brother (again) as a result of an ill-fated trip under the wings of a stork (again). A clan of Yoshi finds him (again), and makes it their responsibility to reunite the Mario Brothers. In their way is Kamek (again), an evil witch who transforms the island’s most mundane villains into giants (again) all while overseeing her lord and master, Baby Bowser (you get the drift).
The Yoshi’s journey takes them through six worlds, each segment defined by a uniting theme. Yes, there is a fire world, and before it there is a snow world, a zone that is preceded by a jungle world and a number of other expected genres. Sarcasm aside, these areas can be enjoyable in spurts, delivering playable levels that facilitate a quick journey from the beginning of the game to its end.
Playable as they may be, the levels tend to only alternate between passable, forgettable, and boring. The challenge that defined some of Yoshi’s Island’s best stages has largely been tossed aside in favor of left-to-right expeditions that test only the player’s will to hold down the directional pad. There is some difficulty in obtaining all of Yoshi’s New Island’s collectibles, but this is hardly a substitute for rewarding level design. Like New Super Mario Bros., a game that shares a troubling relationship with Yoshi’s 3DS adventure in more ways that one, the challenging aspect of collecting everything in a given stage is usually tantamount to finding a monolith in a haystack; the levels guide players to their treasures, making capturing them only as hard as slowing down and travelling through every door and pathway.
In order to make it through each stage, Yoshi relies on the physical attributes that have long distinguished playing as it from playing as one of the Mario Brothers. Most notably, Yoshi can use their long tongues to trap enemies and swallow them whole, a process that ends with them laying projectile eggs that can be used to defeat monsters and overcome obstacles. Yoshi can also flap their legs in the air to sustain a longer jump, making platforms that would be out of reach to many within reach of the dinosaur clan. Like most everything else about Yoshi’s New Island, these mechanics are nothing new to the series, but a few new abilities are introduced that make this Yoshi slightly different.
In the past, every enemy (save for the few that can’t be swallowed) would be converted into your run of the mill egg, one that could easily be tossed to hit out-of-reach targets. There were also giant eggs, which you could only hold one of, but now there are even bigger eggs! Bigger is better, right? These eggs destroy everything in their path. There are also giant, metal Shy Guys who can be turned into giant, metal eggs that can only be thrown in a straight path but prove to be more durable than their giant counterparts. Truthfully, these new powers are seldom used for anything more than simple find-and-throw puzzles, but it can be stimulating to watch them demolish everything in their path while boosting your score with every coin and collectible that they pass.
The Yoshi’s other advertised advantage over their past selves is their ability to walk through special doors in order to become various vehicles, a trait that is not new to the series but is somewhat fresh in its manifestations. Throughout the game, Yoshi becomes anything from a helicopter (not new) to a bobsled (new) to traverse terrain that would otherwise be too tricky for him or her to navigate. In the original game, these were a fun aside that helped alter the flow of play, preventing the routine action from becoming so routine that it became tired. Yoshi’s New Island does a considerably worse job of integrating these vehicles, gating them behind aforementioned magical doors that appear at seemingly random points in a level. This makes these vehicle segments seem separated from the rest of the game, and as a result their appearance only serves to make levels choppy when they should be seamless. It doesn’t help that these brief vignettes are controlled by tilting the 3DS, a control scheme that only emboldens the feeling that Yoshi’s New Island’s vehicles are sloppily integrated into a game that has no place for them.
What disappoints me most about Yoshi’s New Island is not its stagnant mechanics, which are fun if not a little stale, or even its level design, which is passable despite being far too easy. What disappoints me most are the boss battles, the confrontations that can be found in the middle and at the end of every world. Yoshi’s Island was renowned for its encounters; memorably, the first boss was a balloon-shaped villain who could be bested only after his pants tore off of him. The cadre of baddies in Yoshi’s New Island is much more forgettable; I’ll never remember the first boss who, in this game, appears to be a giant pepper growing on a vine. I’ll certainly never remember the second boss, a giant bat who does little to challenge and even less to excite. On the other hand, I will remember Yoshi’s New Island, but not a good reason. I’ll refrain from spoiling it for those who are truly bothered by such revelations, but I will say that those who finished Yoshi’s Island will be very familiar with the battle. Unlike that battle, though, this one has four stages, two of which are an exact replica of the iconic showdown at the end of Yoshi’s Island and which can be bested with only a cursory knowledge of the game’s systems.
Most of my focus has been on how little of Yoshi’s New Island is new, but that’s not to say that Yoshi’s New Island doesn’t make some effort to live up to its middle initial. With a 2.5D art style, the 3DS game seeks to distance itself from an art style to which few can be favorably compared. Instead of thick, black outlines, the environments are made distinct by pastel flourishes and watercolors. It retains the simple, primary look of Yoshi’s Island without feeling too derivative.
However, it is a flawed visual appeal in that, occasionally, the illusion is broken and it feels especially nondescript. Though many of the game’s levels are beautiful, an equal number of its levels are not, looking more like a generic romp in the style of New Super Mario Bros. than a jaunt through Yoshi’s lavish homeland. It is a dissonance that is hard to describe; one level looks like an attempt to recapture the eccentric tendencies of Van Gogh, the next looks like it never received a second coat of paint.
Yoshi’s New Island is anything but hard to look at, but every so often it is unbearably uninteresting to look at. The levels that jumped out to me as particularly bland were those that took place in the island’s cavernous underbellies. Like Yoshi’s Island, these levels are graced with ground composed of what appear to be an assortment of brightly colored crystals and minerals. These were always my least favorite part of the original game, so perhaps that has influenced me to develop a disdain for these new iterations on the design. That having been said, I couldn’t help but be bored by these domains; they only made me long to be out in the open again where I could march through the game’s more pleasantly produced environs.
Reflecting on Yoshi’s New Island is a confounding process. Despite what this review may indicate, I don’t think that the game is without merit. Certainly, if you are a child or have a child who has never played Yoshi’s Island and who has a 3DS, then this game will be of immediate delight to them. For the rest of us, though, there is little value to Yoshi’s New Island. It does little that is new or exciting, despite what its name may indicate, and what it does do is entirely diminished by the wistful memories of Yoshi’s Island. At most, I can vouch for Yoshi’s New Island as an average platformer and a welcome reminder that the original game whose name it borrows was an exemplary piece of software.
Yoshi’s New Island is Nintendo’s latest effort to breathe life back into its famed green dinosaur, and it is easily its least enthralling attempt to do so. By trying to emulate everything about the original game that made it into an instant classic, they have effectively devalued the new title, dooming it to the kind of existence that is typically reserved for also-rans like New Coke; playing Yoshi’s New Island only elicits in me the desire to play Yoshi’s Island.
Final Score: 2 out of 5