Review by Malorkus
"A scrambled legacy."
Hype sells and hype kills. The original Yoshi's Island for Super Nintendo remains one of the most ingenious platform game experiences ever. During the early years of the Nintendo 64, the genre underwent some experimentation. Classic gaming icons were placed in 3D environments for the first time, and more often then not, the transition was successful. Yet in spite of this exciting new world, many players still yearned for the days of side-scrolling action. Eventually, Nintendo announced a game tentatively titled "Yoshi's Island 64". It looked awesome. Then the delays came. Months passed. Years. Finally, a last-minute announcement was made the developers had chosen to completely change the direction of the game, altering its atmosphere into Yoshi's Story. No longer was the game a straight-up Yoshi's Island sequel, not was it simply lighthearted and suitable for all ages. It was now child's play. When the final product came, the side-scrolling action was indeed there, but it came in the most mediocre way possible.
Like the title implies, Yoshi's Story tells a tale, and it's an embarrassingly elementary one. Likely well before Baby Mario drifted from the sky and enslaved the dinosaurs for human use, Yoshi's Island was protected by the Super Happy Tree. No, I'm not making that name up. As long as the tree flourishes, the Yoshi species will live in paradise. Baby Bowser wakes up cranky from a nap one day in his lovely castle that's surrounded by rushing magma. Just because he feels like it, Baby Bowser decides to make everyone else miserable by stealing the Super Happy Tree. Stupid tree. And so the Yoshis start whining. Unfortunately, the tree's displacement results in chaos, as Baby Bowser turns the entire island into a giant pop-up book, which has no apparent benefit to him. Thus, the Yoshis must regain their happiness by retrieving the Super Happy Tree by completing each chapter of the book, or else Yoshi's Island will never again be a happy place.
Mind you, I would have no problem with such a dumb set-up if the game itself were enjoyable. It's a Mario universe title, for crying out loud. Unfortunately, it's not enjoyable. Before each stage, you will choose from one of the different-colored Yoshis. These Yoshis basically represent the amount of lives you have. Ability-wise, they are practically identical, though they do have their other differences. Yoshi's Story does not follow a standard method of reaching the end of a stage in order to complete it. Rather, you must swallow thirty fruit scattered throughout the stage in order to progress. It's not a fun method of stage progression, focusing on mindless collecting over platform action. Eating fruits that have a similar color to that specific Yoshi will increase more points to your flower health meter. For instance, Green Yoshi will regain the most health from devouring a watermelon, and the Red/Pink Yoshis will benefit most from swallowing apples. Yoshi's tongue can also gobble enemies for health and eggs.
More elusive than standard fruit are melons, third of which are hidden throughout each stage. Players seeking full completion must seek out all thirty while avoiding anything else, but there really is not much incentive for doing so. On top of all, doing so can prove to be an extremely tedious task fairly quickly. For instance, in some of the game's beginning stages, you must ground pound certain parts of the ground beneath you to unearth melons. Unfortunately, since there are no hints for many of these locations, you have to literally sniff out and pound every little segment of each stage. This is the epitome of tedium. The locations get clever later on in the game, requiring you to solve a puzzle or defeat a batch of enemies. On the whole, however, these are much more trouble than they are worth, and if you accidentally eat another type of fruit, you have to completely start over from the beginning. The stages can be a slog on their own eating normal fruits, and the melons would change things if the exploration were fun, but it's not.
Yoshi's Story only contains six worlds with four stages apiece. Each time you complete a stage, you will advance to the next world rather than the next stage. Consequently, you only need to complete six stages in order to save Yoshi's Island from Baby Bowser's idiotic schemes. Likewise, to complete all the stages, you will have to tread back through Story Mode a minimum of four times total. Again, if the stages were fun, replaying them for new routes would not be such an issue. As is, it's a cheap ploy to lengthen a very short game. The stages are extremely simple even when finding all three hearts, and going for the melons only makes them tedious, not challenging. Boss battles are unfortunately another disappointment. They are quick and easy, including the final battle, and if you want to play through every stage, you have to play the same damn thing at least four times. The game also features a Trial Mode where you can try to beat your stage scores and completion times, but again, there is no incentive for doing so.
It's not coincidence that the game only excels when it draws inspiration from Yoshi's Island. Eggs are your primary source of ammunition. You now have complete control of the cursor rather than being forced to time it at a certain position. This freedom is actually more practical than the original method. When released, Yoshi will fire the egg to explode on its target. The strong combat only makes it a bigger shame that the game lacks great boss fights, though. Shockingly, the one area this game actually holds up today is graphically. Thanks to its unique storybook art style, Yoshi's Story has the best-aging visuals on the Nintendo 64. The backgrounds and assets are creatively designed, featuring stitches and patchwork to make the game feel like a real virtual storybook. If only that charm carried over to the audio, which is deplorable. The soundtrack is unmemorable, and then there's the singing. Yes, the singing. Several tracks are comprised of toddler squeals that are supposedly the Yoshi cries of joy, and it's truly terrible.
Yoshi's Story remains one of the most disappointing Nintendo games ever released. Once brimming with potential, the final product is so simplistic and unbearably obnoxious that I cannot help but call it child's play. I suppose it's a good thing that Nintendo decided to change the game's name at the last minute, as calling it a sequel to Yoshi's Island would be an embarrassment to its supposed predecessor (more recent games with "Yoshi's Island" in their title, on the other hand, were not as polite). Collecting melons to progress to the next stage turns enjoyable platforming into a tedious scavenger hunt with no incentive for full completion. The sound effects are absolutely intolerable, making Barney songs sound like a godsend in comparison. All of this is a true pity, considering how what it does offer can actually be relatively fun at times. Classic Mario foes simply are not enough to bring a smile to one's face. The winning platform game formula is present. There's just no soul.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 01/02/07, Updated 01/11/15
Game Release: Yoshi's Story (US, 03/01/98)
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