An Egg-celent Adventure
A long time ago in a generation far far away, Nintendo created a game that reinvented the sidescrolling platformer. For starters, it was a Mario game without Mario in it (ok, it had a baby Mario), and instead starred a troupe of dinosaur-like creatures called Yoshis. It was also a complete departure in terms of art style – some might say that stylistically it was the most creative game up to that point in video gaming, with a certain crayon picture-book look that set it apart from its contemporaries such as Donkey Kong Country 3 and has meant that it still looks amazing to this day.
Living up to its Legacy
Now the question must be whether Nintendo, or more particularly Artoon in this case (although it was overseen by Nintendo designers), have made a worthy successor. In many senses, most definitely, this is a sequel in the most direct sense of the word – unlike many Nintendo franchises which seem to be overhauled in every iteration into something completely different. This time Artoon have stayed on a path that seems to offer something new, but stays true to the original in form. In that way it is like New Super Mario Bros which evoked the old game play while bringing some new bits to the table. It also starts out very easy, just like New Super Mario Bros, but this time by the end it is very unforgiving and sometimes downright mean in its difficulty. For some that will mean a more frustrating game, while for others that will mean more enjoyment in the challenge.
The game starts out with a very cute story about baby Luigi being stolen and taken to a mysterious castle in the sky. Baby Mario and Baby Peach fall from the sky, and it’s up to the Yoshis to save the kidnapped babies. The presentation throughout has a picture-book feel and the text is also suitably childlike, which adds to the charm of the game. The controls are super-tight, Yoshi is able to walk, jump and swallow enemies, turning them into eggs which he can then throw at other enemies or items. Yoshi’s “flutter kick” jump is very special, with a few flicks of his legs in mid air he is able to slow his descent or even able to get that little bit higher in a jump. Also, depending on who is riding Yoshi (and there are other baby characters that join the team along the way), he or she (I’m not sure what Yoshis are since they all lay eggs) can perform special maneuvers. For example, while baby Mario is riding Yoshi he can run super-fast by holding B down, just like good ol’ adult Mario. While Peach is riding Yoshi she is able to use her umbrella to ride air currents in whichever direction they are blowing. All these various abilities are put to excellent use in the level design of the game, and at times you are required to use a certain character in order to advance in the game.
Yoshi’s Island DS makes quite effective use of the dual screen functions of the handheld, and makes no use of the touch screen (unless you count the scratch-card mini-games between stages). The action of the game takes place on both screens, which allows a larger view for the player. The gap between the screens can be a bit annoying at times as enemies or items are sometimes hiding there, but I’m convinced that this is done on purpose by the developers! There is also no online or multiplayer play, but in truth this hardly seems important as there is so much content in just the adventure mode.
Tough but Forgiving
Adventure mode is a straight forward linear collection of stages in the old-school vein of platforming games, with a boss at the end of every fourth stage, and a new world after every eight. The stages themselves are long, usually with at least two checkpoints in them in an attempt to avoid the horrible frustration of having to go back to the beginning of the stage when you die. The game is forgiving on that aspect too – when you’re touched by an enemy, the baby on Yoshi’s back falls off and starts floating around in a bubble. A quick touch by Yoshi gets them back on his back and you’re back on your way, but if you run out of time before getting the baby back, he will get taken away to the giant castle in the sky and Yoshi will be most upset. There are things that will kill Yoshi outright like the dreaded lava. The game really shows it’s chops as a true challenge when you start reaching the last worlds, as there are many, many things that will kill Yoshi with one touch, and many platforms that are floating in space which falling off of is fatal. I found myself collecting lives like crazy in the first four worlds, only to lose at least half of them in world five. Forty stages might not sound like that many, but when they are as long as they are in this game, as well as how difficult some of them get, it’s a lengthy main quest.
In a sadistic bid to undermine the gamer’s sanity, a multi-tiered scoring system is also in place, whereby it is wholly possible to finish a stage with a poor score and continue, but of course there are those among us that must try to score maximum points at all possible opportunities. In each stage there are coins, and among those coins are twenty hidden red coins. There are also stars scattered around the place, which usually can be found by hitting floating clouds with eggs. Thirty of these is a full complement, but more are possible to find. Five flowers make up the other half of your score for a stage, being ten points apiece. Trying to get 100 points on each is going to take even the most skilled gamer a lot of time and effort, and then there is still a hidden coin which only appears in position when you have the right baby on Yoshi’s back. Finally, there are some mini-games and other unlockables just waiting for the persistent player to unlock them. All in all, the content in this game cannot be faulted for brevity.
Charm and Challenge
The game can certainly not be faulted for design and fun either – there is a distinct charm in the graphic style, and the level design is consistently interesting and quite varied. I cannot fault the game for difficulty, but must warn those that are put off by that: this will be a tough game to complete. If you don’t mind not completing the game, the first few worlds are as easy as gaming gets and it’s really rewarding to explore every area of these stages. With enough persistence even the final few stages can be overcome by anyone, but I would not feel up to attempting to score full points on these stages. The fact is that, despite the even cuter graphics than Mario, and the ability to be enjoyed I think by anyone, this is a game made for those out there who are looking for a platformer with a more serious challenge.