Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island just wasn’t pretty enough at first. 1994’s mega-hit Donkey Kong Country had raised the bar for graphics on the SNES with its use of Nintendo’s Super FX chip to create wondrous pre-rendered imagery. Then-president of Nintendo Hiroshi Yamauchi believed that Rare’s achievement would have to become the norm for all future SNES releases in order to remain a viable opponent for Sony’s PlayStation. Thus, legendary producer Shigeru Miyamoto had to go back to the drawing board with his team and craft a new look for Yoshi’s world.
While Miyamoto is wont to not put out rubbish, Yamauchi’s objections ultimately yielded one of the most stunning games on the SNES. You’ll immediately notice the crayon-like aesthetic that permeates every inch of Yoshi’s Island. Backgrounds appear scribbled and rough, with an illustrator-esque take on enemy and environmental design. Miyamoto’s team had implemented the most varied and interesting use of the Super FX 2 chip that the system would ever see. I’d go so far as to site Yoshi’s Island as one of the first true examples of Nintendo creating a deliberate and exacting visual style for a game. I’d be a fool to not mention the incredible soundtrack by Koji Kondo. This game features some of the best music in any Nintendo game. The atmosphere of each level is perfectly complemented by the soundtrack and will glue itself into your mind.
Yoshi’s Island is, interestingly, a prequel to Super Mario Bros. Both Mario and Luigi are babies being delivered by a stork, when the latter is suddenly stolen by Kamek while the former hurtles to the earth below during the scuffle. Baby Mario is saved by the Yoshis, who decide to help the child to reunite with his brother. A 2D platformer, Yoshi’s Island sees the player take control of Yoshi, with Baby Mario riding on his back. While Yoshi does retain some of his moves as established in the first Super Mario World (including his prehensile tongue that lets him eat enemies) Yoshi’s Island‘s gameplay deviates in many ways.
In terms of combat, while Yoshi is capable of jumping on enemies as a means of attaching, your primary form of offense comes from throwing his eggs. Instead of simply inhaling enemies, Yoshi can now turn many of them into spotted missiles of death. The eggs can ricochet off of walls, activate switches, and burst through certain types of obstacles. Tapping “A” activates a sweeping targeting-cursor that moves in a 60 degree arc; either tap or release “A” and the egg goes flying. It’s visceral, fun, and fluid. Yoshi’s Island also marked the debut of butt-pounding and flutter-jumping for Yoshi, moves that added another layer of exploration to the game.
While your objective is to escort Baby Mario safely through each stage, you are also responsible for retrieving him when he falls off of Yoshi’s back. When Yoshi is touched or hit by an enemy/obstacle, the infant will float off within a bubble as a timer ticks down. If Yoshi can’t save Baby Mario within the time limit, Kamek’s minions will steal him away and it’s game over. That doesn’t mean Baby Mario is totally defenseless, however. Touching a Super Star pops Yoshi into a giant egg that trails behind the now-superpowered infant, who rushes through enemies and can glide using his bright, yellow cape. Super Baby Mario is fun, but Yoshi can also change forms throughout the game, becoming everything from a car to a helicopter. The variety of gameplay is perfectly balanced and never too intrusive, just enough to prevent any sense of monotony from setting in.
Yoshi’s Island is a testament to the creativity of Nintendo’s developers. While Yoshi‘s Island could easily have been a cash-grab generic platformer, the game instead introduced an enjoyable new style of gameplay and established an entire separate series. Its amazing that Yoshi’s Island could draw so heavily from Mario’s universe and still ensconce its own distinct vibe and style. Sadly, this game remains a no-show on any of Nintendo’s Virtual Consoles. Though 3DS Ambassador’s have access to the Game Boy Advance port of the game, everybody else will simply have to track down a copy for the SNES or… the actual GBA port! As a side note, there is a sequel to the game on the Nintendo DS titled (appropriately) Yoshi’s Island DS. It’s a fun game in its own right and introduced new babies and play mechanics. Regardless, if you’re looking forward to the upcoming 3DS installment , then do yourself a favor and play the original!
Released 1995. Developed and published by Nintendo.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is available on the SNES. A port of the game is available on the Game Boy Advance, titled Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island. This port was also made available to Nintendo 3DS Ambassadors via the eShop.