Review by SmockJoc
"The Finest 2D Sidescrolling Prequel of the 16-bit Era"
At the cusp of a new gaming age, when a fresh console is just released, the public can expect to encounter the next evolutionary step in our favorite pastime. Yet, at this stage, many game developers are still somewhat inexperienced with the new system and have yet to coax out its entire potential. Towards the waning years of a console's life, some of the most impressive titles are released, as the programmers have adapted to making the most out of their electronic limitations. It was during this time for the SNES, when Nintendo released a superb sidescroller known as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.
This is the title that established the character of Yoshi, more so than any subsequent title. To those who have been introduced to gaming via the N64 and Gamecube generations, know this: Almost every acrobatic move that Yoshi has at his disposal in the Super Smash Brothers series came from this single game. Whether it was the frantic floating jump, the earth stamping ground pound attack or the ability to swallow nearby foes and turn them into chuckable eggs, it was first pioneered in Yoshi's Island.
The gameplay mechanics of Yoshi's Island never grow old, as new abilities or environment interactions are steadily introduced practically every few minutes. The player will have to adapt their baby saving styles, as each area offers constant variation to the controls. One place may find Yoshi having to transform into one of many vehicle types in order to progress, while another will switch the main character from Yoshi to baby Mario. My favorite section includes having the player avoiding fuzzy hallucinogenic spores, that once come into contact with Yoshi, cause the poor fool to swing out of control in a euphoric daze. Watching a crayola colored dinosaur suffer from an addictive contact high is one of the greatest digital experiences I have ever witnessed and was quite enjoyable, until Yoshi uncontrollably stumbled over a very lethal bottomless pit.
Every boss battle offers a new twist. The excitement and challenge of these encounters stems from the process of trial and error, figuring out how to damage the beast. To a first timer, it can often take a few rounds of experimentation, to discover just what moves are required. These bosses are clearly the highlight of each world, each being uniquely separate from the rest. A giant piranha plant, a battle on the moon, and the inside of a frog's belly all wait to be bested by your gaming skills.
The graphics sport brilliant mock-ups of paint stroked environments, while the sprite characters are left crisp and clear. Overworld stages are filled with bright flowers and trees, while caves reflect light from their polished stone walls. Most importantly, each of these locales complement each other, by having a consistent graphical style. The design themes of each separate world remain distinct, yet are closely artistically related.
All of the best SNES tricks were used to incorporate those nifty visual effects. The processing technique that allowed the SNES to smoothly scale sprites, dubbed as Mode 7, has been used in many, many other contemporary titles. But Yoshi's Island uses it in innovative ways: The villain swoops forward through the sky, growing in size as the illusion sets that he is rapidly approaching. Walls collapse toward the view of the player. Bosses quickly expand and shrink in size. And I won't give away the final boss battle, but consider it suffice to say that it rocks, using Mode 7 to create an entirely new gameplay mechanic, just for this climactic final scene.
From light and blissful tunes, to dark secretive tones, Yoshi's Island engulfs the player with music and sound effects that have grown from the roots of the Nintendo sound library. Every spring-jump, egg attack and tongue lick sounds as if it were pulled from a wacky Saturday morning cartoon. Cavernous crawls feature echoed overlays, which add to the illusion by making every noise sound slightly muffled.
However, the cream of the audio is easily the music itself. Cheerful and bright levels have appropriately cheery and bright melodies, all feeding off of a tromping, bopping synthetic beat. Boss lairs swiftly change the mood, playing an eerie tune to passively remind the player to tread lightly for traps. The opening plays through a windup musical box, complete with the gradual deceleration of the tempo, until an unseen hand must rewind the gears in order to restart the song.
My only real beef with the title is with how easy it is to beat. Although fairly long in the standards of its time, today's 3D platformers easily provide 2-3 times the amount of playtime. Still, reconciliation stands in the form of the unlockable stages. Once a player has earned 100% completion in each of the levels for a given world, a single extra stage is provided, a stage that is so incredibly frustrating that you will burst several blood vessels when hurtling a busted controller at the nearest solid object. There are six such hidden levels. Now, to be a true gaming completest, you must not only reach the finish line, but also manage to acquire 100% for each of these damning trials as well. I've only had the sheer pluck and determination to accomplish this mighty feat once, but I clearly remember the events that immediately followed. A choir of digital angels appeared above my console, took hold of my worn and ragged skin and guided me to a magical cloud where Miyamoto himself proceeded to bestow upon me the revered title of Gaming Master! Try it and see.
Rent or Buy:
Well here's a toughie. Of course you should purchase this wonderful offering, but SNES games are a little harder to find today (excluding online auctions). However, if you are an owner of the GBA, then find yourself a used copy of Yoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3. It's a near carbon copy port of the original, only portable. Either way, grab this title and experience one of the best 16-bit era games.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/05/04
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