Yoshi's New Island Review: I want my baby back
It's been a while since I've played Super Mario World 2 on my SNES (which, by the way, still works). However, I do have fond memories of experiencing a Mario game through Yoshi's eyes. The new mechanics like Yoshi's Egg Throw or jump hover added a new and challenging layer on the classic Mario platforming. Fast forward to 2014, and Yoshi is making a comeback in a big way, though in a game that plays it safe a lot more than it tries to innovate.
Yoshi's New Island once again tells the story of Baby Mario and Luigi being separated and landing on a floating island full of Yoshis. It then becomes their task to deliver Baby Mario safely to each subsequent world and ultimately reunite him with his baby brother.
It's interesting how closely Yoshi's New Island tries to emulate the original, right down to its aesthetics. Part of the original's charm was its storybook-like graphics. Everything from the environments down to the enemies looked like they were ripped out of a children's book, and it worked. Even the DS game managed to keep the charming look of the original.
Yoshi's New Island tries to emulate the same, but without much success. The crayon shaders layered on top of characters and levels don't look nearly as good when the game itself now isn't simply a 2D game.
However, despite the odd aesthetic choice, the game controls and plays great. If you've taken control of Yoshi in a previous game, you'll already be one step ahead. With a hold of the jump button, Yoshi will get an extra boost in height, letting him reach higher platforms or hover for a short time over a larger gap. He can also swallow his enemies and turn them into eggs that he can later launch at other enemies or even collectibles. If it sounds like I'm describing Yoshi's Island on the SNES, that's because the mechanics and gameplay are pretty much identical, save for some cool new surprises along the way.
There are various checkpoint doors that turn Yoshi into various objects like a balloon, mine cart or a submarine. Most of these require you to use the 3DS' gyroscope, which I didn't always enjoy, and took away from the core platforming which makes the game so great.
Each level also has some replayability thanks to its cleverly hidden collectibles. There are always five flowers that you can collect, and aside from the first level, they're not always going to be visible without exploration. Additionally, there are red coins that you collect through collecting regular coins that are disguised as red, and tiny stars that act as Baby Mario's health bar. Run out of those when Yoshi gets hit and Mario will fly away in a bubble, requiring you to restart the level.
As is pretty standard in Mario games and spin-offs, the early game levels are a cakewalk. The later levels ramp up the difficulty, making precision platforming necessary. Yoshi's New Island never gets as tough as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for example, but you'll feel the difficulty increase as you progress.
Even though the game is great on its own, it never takes much risk, which is Yoshi's New Island's underlying problem. Where various Mario games tried to at least innovate themselves with new powerups or even new gameplay mechanics like Super Mario Galaxy, there is nothing inherently "New" about Yoshi's New Island. It's Nintendo being Nintendo.
If there was one thing I absolutely loved from start to finish, was the game's charming soundtrack. Sure it's repetitive, as is also pretty standard for the Mario franchise, but it's just so damn catchy!
Yoshi's New Island may scratch that nostalgia itch you might have for the series, and the platforming is always entertaining, especially later in the game when it actually gets challenging, but if you're expecting innovation, you won't find that here.