Review by Derek Zoolander

"Fun cartoonish fun, although I wonder how Yoshi can use digested food to produce eggs"

Yoshi's Island: one of the finest platformers to ever grace the Super Nintendo. From start to finish this game exudes a cartoonish charm and an irresistible combination of originality, variety and fun. Instead of the usual ‘run, jump, and shoot fireball' formula of the other Mario titles, we're set to control Mario's helpful buddy Yoshi, who flutter-steps, butt-stomps, and eggs his unorthodox way to victory. With beautiful landscapes as surroundings, and unique enemies and bosses to fight (or eat, as it were), it's easy to be captivated by this unabashedly comical elegance of Yoshi's Island.

The background story is simple. A stork carrying the then-infant Mario Brothers to their loving parents was intercepted en route by Bowser's villainous henchmen. Baby Luigi was captured, but Mario fell from the sky and landed, fortuitously, on Yoshi's Island – the domain of these lovable, rainbow-coloured dinosaurs. The Yoshis are going to help baby Mario save his brother, plodding through six worlds of eight levels each with baby Mario perched on their back.

As with other 2D platformers, levels entail just getting to the end, with coins and other items available along the way. Yoshis, however, are not your usual platformer-types. Their fluttering feet enable them to hover briefly, and they can bash the ground with their bums as a humorously effective method of wearing down pillars, breaking through dirt and uncovering secrets.

But it's their tongues that really set Yoshis apart. They can use their tongues to eat enemies, and then spit them out as projectiles, or digest them and – somehow – turn them into eggs. (Hey, I'm not a biologist, so I won't question that, except in my tagline.) These eggs, usually green, trail loyally behind Yoshi like the affable little things they are. You can have up to six of them at a time and, to use a mixed metaphor, they are the backbone of your quest. Yoshi can aim eggs and spit them out at enemies, switches, items and anything else he encounters, which ranges from your basic shy guys (and their cousins on stilts) to more exotic dishes like fake flowers (masquerading as their innocent relatives), edible fireballs, hallucinogenic puffballs, and even chain-forming monkeys. Certainly a flavoursome banquet.

None of these enemies is particularly hard to beat, but then again the focus isn't necessarily on defeating enemies but using them to help get through some of the weirder worlds you'll encounter this lifetime. With names like ‘Burt the Bashful's Fort' and ‘Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy', one can easily imagine the comically dark, fiery castles, partly cloudy partly surreal skies, lucid waters and plainish plains Yoshi gets tofrolic around in. Neat and colourful, with fitting artistry but without going overboard, the levels look as pleasantly unique as their titles suggest. And the now-famous pastel-shaded, multi-layered backgrounds of Yoshi's Island serve as a perfect complement to the active foregrounds.

With such creativity, it's no surprise that something like old-fashioned platform jumping up in the clouds is twisted by the appearance of bouncy arrow balls – useful, if volatile, launchpads – as well as see-saws, haphazard moving platforms, and outlined stairs that seemingly appear on a whim. It's a good thing you have your flutter jump; but even that can't protect you from the collapsing walls, colourful puzzles, blobby gelatinous expanding bosses, naughty monkeys, and the 1001 other innovative troubles that'll confront Yoshi and Mario as they go along.

If any of these troubles gets to Yoshi, Mario will be thrown off his back and you'll have a few seconds to grab, eat or shoot him from his protective bubble (and back onto Yoshi's rump) before the evil henchmen arrive. Help is sometimes at hand, especially in dangerous terrain where Poochie (of Simpsons fame) leads the way for baby Mario. He's hard to control, but you can't fault his speedy enthusiasm. Every now and then Yoshi himself can transform into a mole tank or other machine to literally dig himself out of trouble. Elsewhere, more staid powerups in the form of collectable melons can empower Yoshi with fiery or icy-cold breath, or lend him a few clips of watermelon seed bullets. Yoshi can also spice up his palate by eating things like fireballs.

More generic collectables like coins, flowers and stars also appear. They aren't vital for completing levels, but they lengthen baby Mario's resistance to the henchmen, and give you extra lives. More importantly, they're what you need to attain a ‘100%' rating for each level; and while this would seem empty challenge in a lesser-designed game, Yoshi's Island turns this scavenger hunt into a fun quest in itself. You see, these things are hidden in the damndest places – on isolated ledges, attached to flying enemies, and wherever else you'll need skilful, adept hands to safely tread. Now this is a Good Thing, as the rest of the main quest is a bit on the easy side. As a reward for your collecting you can open up bonus levels -- like regular levels, only much harder and somehow, even more ingeniously designed.

If these bonus levels are the pinnacle of gameplay, the boss fights are the zenith of oddness and sheer fun. I can't imagine how developers would have put forth their boss ideas (‘Oh I know, how bout a huge translucent blob? He has a name, too'), but amongst the giant, parachuted-seed-bearing piranha plants and magically inflated frogs is enough creative energy to power the sun for a few weeks. The atmosphere, as always, is great as well, with playfully menacing musical pieces and comical sound effects. It's impossible not to smile, even if you don't know what the hell you're doing. The only thing better than the fighting Yoshi's Island's bosses is eating your way up to them.

All in all, Yoshi's Island is one of the most enjoyable and addictive games I've played in a long while. Beautiful and creative worlds swell with never-repetitive, superbly designed levels, unique enemies, and one hell of a protagonist. The only thing stopping this game from earning a perfect ten is that its quest is on the short and somewhat easy side, but there's enough replay value floating around to excuse that. And anyway, the best things in life never last very long, do they?

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/12/01, Updated 06/24/04

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