Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yoshi's Island

Throughout the 1980's and 1990's the name Nintendo became synonymous with gaming. On top of successfully launching several franchises which are still alive to this day, it can be argued that their Mario series singlehandedly revived gaming after the great crash of 1983.

So, in 1995 when Nintendo released Yoshi's Island, the highly anticipated sequel to Super Mario World for the SNES, gamers around the world opened their wallets to enjoy the further adventures of Mario. Except this game didn't star Mario and was nothing like any other entry in the series.

The first thing that strikes a player upon starting Yoshi's Island is the style. This game has style in spades, from backgrounds drawn with crayon and water colors to the colorful characters, everything about the game screams attention to detail. Miyamoto once again outdid himself bringing his ideas to life.

There is a story from within Nintendo that the higher ups wished to see the new Mario game look like Donkey Kong Country. However, Miyamoto was not fond of DKC and did not wish to strive for that realistic look, therefore he pushed Yoshi's Island in the complete opposite direction. And the graphics, while dripping with happiness and cute smiles absolutely work within the context of the game. But games are based on more than visuals and gameplay is where Yoshi's Island really shines.

Unlike previous Mario games you do not die if struck by an enemy. In YI, if you are poked, prodded, slapped or otherwise hit, Baby Mario falls off your back and floats around the screen in a bubble, wailing loudly. Fail to pick him up before your timer reaches zero and you'll lose a life.

Much like Mario, Yoshi can attack certain enemies by jumping on their head. But Yoshi also has some other tricks up his sleeve, such as the ability to swallow and digest his enemies, defecating them back out as eggs, which he can then lob at his enemies.

The egg throwing mechanic seems gimmicky at first, but after a short while you begin to see how the game utilizes the eggs for the puzzles and combat situations. Before long throwing the eggs becomes second nature.

The game's music fits the mood perfectly, with songs ranging from jaunty to mysterious. The soundtrack always fits the mood of the levels.

The game's difficulty curve slowly ramps itself up. Early levels are a breeze to run through and get perfect scores on, while the later levels prove to be quite challenging, though never unfairly difficult.

There is a massive variety of enemies and puzzles and almost every level introduces one or two new play elements, ensuring that the player never becomes complacent or bored.

For the OCD types out there, YI offers a ton of things to collect, in the form of flowers, red coins and stars. How much of these you collect determines your score at the end of the level. (Up to a possible 100 points.) Get 100 points on all 8 levels in a world and you unlock two extra levels. There are mini-games galore to be found in YI, accessible either through a roulette system at the end of each level or by unlocking for permanent play.

For my money, Yoshi's Island offers about as close to a perfect gaming experience as you're ever likely to find. It is challenging, cute, colorful, entertaining, and above all fun.

Out of the thousands of games I have played through in my life, YI easily ranks in the top 5, and I find myself popping it in about once a year to do a 100% run.

If you haven't played this game, I cannot urge you strongly enough to go do so. There is a remake available for the GameBoy Advance, if you do not have a SNES. If you do not have access to original hardware, I suggest you get an emulator and find a copy of the ROM. (For my money, SNES9X and ZSNES are the best SNES emulators around.)

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