It’s almost unfair that the latest Yoshi’s Island has been stuck with Nintendo’s “new” label. I mean, New Super Mario Bros is enjoyable enough, but I don’t think anyone would call it the cream of the crop in a conversation on modern 2D platformers anymore. It simply re-paints a timeless game idea every year or two for the widest possible audience – nothing more, nothing less. Well NSMB, Yoshi’s New Island just raised the bar. Snap! Not only is it the complete opposite of a rehash, but it’s a well-worthy sequel to one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time, bringing enough fresh ideas to prop it firmly on its own two feet. When I think of “new,” that’s what I expect, damnit.
Yoshi’s New Island uses the original game as its rock-solid core, aping both story and fundamental gameplay mechanics from the SNES classic. This is hardly a problem — Baby Mario and Baby Luigi have again been intercepted, and it’s up to Yoshi to both protect Baby Mario (since he plummeted to Yoshi’s Island by mistake) and retrieve Baby Luigi without, well, dying. As a result, Yoshi doesn’t take damage in a traditional manner, but instead loses control of Baby Mario when attacked, leaving 10 seconds to retrieve him before evil-enemy-guy Kamek’s minions do. It’s a time-tested system that works, and is just as fun as it was in the original Yoshi’s Island. So far, so good.
Outside of the basics, Yoshi’s New Island is a truly imaginative game, and developer Arzest’s creative zeal shines through from the moment you boot it up. One thing you may notice first is the world map music. Like Yoshi’s Island, it’s derived from a five-bar melody, and as you progress through the worlds, additional layers are blanketed over it, thickening the texture. Though I at first found New Island’s map music inferior to the original Island, with each world that passed it improved substantially. Eventually, I realized I actually like it quite a bit more than the tune from Yoshi’s Island. This essentially reflects my experience with the entire game, to varying degrees.
Despite starting a bit slow, New Island improves with each passing level, and the rate at which it accelerates its per-stage idea count is near-alarming at times. You’ll encounter something previously unseen in literally every level, and oftentimes it’s not just scenery or a palette swap either — the game contains enemies (that need to be designed and programmed, mind you) that show up for one level and never appear again. In the next level, you’ll encounter something similarly unique. And the next. As a result, Yoshi’s New Island incites in the player a powerful thirst for “just one more” upon completion of every stage, a feeling I’ve encountered far too infrequently in recent platforming endeavors.
The number of unique ideas Arzest has managed to cram into the game is shocking, and implementations vary from enemies, to mini-games, and even pacing and world design. Many levels are designed to force you to make critical choices at a moment’s notice, resulting in one outcome but barring you from another. Often, you’ll make a split second decision, only to realize you’ve been blocked from a wealth of coins or an elusive flower due to an easily preventable action. This immediately gives the game replay value, as you’re constantly making mental notes about what not to do next time, and precisely which areas need to be revisited. Of course, half the time you won’t actually replay the stage, but the fact that so much is there lends itself nicely to an entire second playthrough. I know I’m certainly planning on one.
Elsewhere, neat tricks and quirks can be found sprinkled throughout the New Island experience, and they really reminded me why the Yoshi’s Island franchise is so well respected. In some of the game’s snow levels, there are penguin enemies, or at least I thought so — as it turns out, they’re not actually enemies at all. They just wander the stage. They aren’t trying to hurt you, and if you come in contact with them, they simply bounce back harmlessly, and adorably. They can be eaten, thrown, jumped on, used as platforms, or ignored — it’s entirely up to the player. When I thought about it, I realized how absurd the idea of every life-form in the game being out to get you really is, and yet most platformers assume this logical misstep without a second thought. It’s not as if such a thing makes or breaks a game, but when you calculate the sum of the dozens of endearing tidbits spread throughout Yoshi’s New Island, the gap between it and other games becomes gapingly large. Such attention to detail — especially extra, non-essential detail — simply can’t be ignored.
Another area people may be concerned about are the game’s visuals (especially given the “new” branding), but rest assured — Yoshi’s New Island is a very pretty game. This is largely due to the highly stylized art, that somehow manages to successfully mask the use of “2.5D” to the point that I actually prefer it over the series’ original 2D sprites. This is a first for me, and something I though I’d never, ever say, so kudos to Arzest for conceiving something that works so well. The game often resembles a pastel illustration come to life, and has a charming tendency to swap its color pallette ever-so-slightly with each level, enough to differentiate it from the last while still maintaining the feel of the particular world it falls in. Between worlds, the swaps are more noticeable, and the fact that the first stage of each world contains not just a brand new look, but an obviously new game mechanic or gimmick is a one-two stroke of genius. These are the things that keep great platformers engaging.
I do feel I should touch on soundtrack a bit as well — though Yoshi’s Island has never been a powerhouse of sound, the original game had catchy tunes and a soundtrack that was well-liked by fans. I can say with certainty that though things get off to a slow start, sound overall has improved quite a bit this time around. Nintendo’s MIDI instruments are fantastic; trombones and bassoons sound impressively real, while crooning Yoshis yip along happily on some tracks, for a downright adorable effect. Meanwhile, Yoshi’s actual noises are perfect. All the old staples return, from the flutter-jump groan to the “ha-da-loen… HA!” that precedes each and every ground-pound. There are even some new ones, which I won’t spoil here, and they’re all pretty great.
All told, Yoshi’s New Island is a triumph. It absolutely demolishes the expectations typically set by Nintendo’s “new” label, and as a Yoshi’s Island game, I can’t imagine even Nintendo proper having done better than what Arzest has pulled off. Of course, having original Yoshi’s Island director Takashi Tezuka on board to produce certainly doesn’t hurt — but even so, one man can’t develop a game alone.
If you long for the days when Nintendo’s best efforts were put toward 2D platforming, or if you simply yearn for a wonderfully creative and impressively idea-ridden side-scrolling Yoshi experience, then you absolutely cannot miss this game. It’s an instant “new classic,” and must be played to be believed.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which was provided to us.
Yoshi's New Island is more than a love letter to the original game -- it's a worthy successor. There's really no reason to pass on playing it, and if you enjoy the original or feel frustrated by the current side-scroller landscape, then you absolutely can't go wrong by giving this a try.