Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 08/15/1995
    • US 10/04/1995
    • UK 10/06/1995
Score: 95%

This review was published on 05/24/2013.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995. The game stars Yoshi, the friendly dinosaur introduced in Super Mario World. Yoshi was merely a mount for Mario in the first Super Mario World, but he's the protagonist of Yoshi's Island. Don't let this game's title fool you; this isn't a sequel to Super Mario World. Mario isn't even the star of the show in Yoshi's Island, although he does play a major role in the game. Yoshi's Island features mechanics that are a drastic departure from all the other Mario games, so it wouldn't be right to lump this in with the rest of them. Nintendo wasn't confident that a game starring an unimportant side character would sell very well, which prompted them to put Mario in the title to get more people to buy it. Did it work? I would say it did, considering the game was a commercial and critical success. Yoshi's Island was the start of stardom for the green dinosaur, as it later spawned a series dedicated to Yoshi as the main character. When looking at most top ten lists for the Super Nintendo, Yoshi's Island is often placed somewhere near the top. Some people would even go so far as to say that this is one of the greatest games of all time. While that might be overestimating things a little bit, it's not hard to understand why the game is loved by so many people. Yoshi's Island is an excellent game that deserves its place as one of the best Super Nintendo games of all time.

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Even though the game's title makes it seem like it's a sequel to Super Mario World, it's actually more of a prequel. Yoshi's Island goes back to the beginning, all the way back, to when Mario was a wee baby. You could say that this is the prequel to end all prequels. This origin story starts with baby Mario and his baby brother, Luigi, being carried by storks across the ocean. The evil Kamek, a Magikoopa, rides in on a broom much like a witch would and rams right into the stork, stealing one of the babies and knocking the other one away. Kamek manages to capture baby Luigi, but baby Mario ends up falling onto an island. This island is Yoshi's Island, a place where a Yoshi gang of many different colors live. The colorful dinosaurs get together to investigate the strange thing that fell into their home. They have a meeting and decide that they're going to help baby Mario save his tiny brother and take the siblings back to their home, wherever that may be. It's a heartwarming tale of wonderment in Yoshi's Island, though the heartwarming effect may be lost on you if you choose to skip the cutscene. There are a lot of problems with this story if you're the sort of person who cares about cannon. I'm not really going to delve into that here, because I'm no expert on Mario cannon myself, nor am I interested in becoming one. It's safe to say that the designers don't take the cannon of the Mario universe seriously, so I don't see why anyone else should. In any case, the story does what it's supposed to do by setting the stage for the dinosaur's big adventure.

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The first thing you'll notice about Yoshi's Island is the graphics. Yoshi's Island is one of the few Super Nintendo cartridges that utilize a special chip to expand the graphical capabilities of the console. The chip in question is the Super FX 2 chip, an improvement on the original Super FX chip. The first Super FX chip was used in games like Star Fox to allow the Super Nintendo to push out polygons, but Yoshi's Island doesn't really do much with polygons. This game instead elects to do all sorts of crazy things to the sprites, like stretching or rotating them. There were also other effects that were possible with this thing that were sophisticated for the time. Some of these effects were referred to as "Morphmation," although that was probably just silly jargon cooked up by the commercials. These kinds of effects were similar to what 32-bit consoles could do, so it was quite a feat for the 16-bit Super Nintendo to pull them off. The top executives of Nintendo originally wanted Yoshi's Island to be done in a pre-rendered style similar to Donkey Kong Country, but that didn't end up happening. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game's producer and creator of the Mario series, insisted on doing his own thing with Yoshi's Island's graphics, much to the chagrin of the top dogs at Nintendo. It paid off, though, because Yoshi's Island has some of the best graphics on the console. Everything looks as if it had been drawn with crayons and pencils, giving the game an amazingly artistic look that almost nothing else on the system can afford to match. These graphics have aged really well, too, so they look great even today. The only issue with the visuals is that some of the special effects done by the Super FX 2 chip can make the sprites look a little pixelated, but that's a relatively minor problem.

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Because Yoshi is the protagonist this time around, it stands to reason that you control Yoshi in this game and not the Italian plumber that we all know and love. Yoshi handles fairly differently from the way Mario does, as you can expect. I mean, he's a dinosaur. You don't expect a dinosaur to handle the same way a plumber does, do you? Yoshi can run and jump around like any good platform hero can, but he can also do what many refer to as the "flutter jump." The flutter jump happens if you keep holding the jump button down after performing a regular jump, and it allows Yoshi to hover for a very short period of time. You can sort of do this repeatedly if you quickly let go of the button and then hold it back down again, enabling you to chain together multiple flutter jumps. That's an advanced technique that beginner players probably won't be able to do right off the bat, but it's quite handy. Yoshi can also perform the famous ground pound move if down is pressed while in mid-air. This move will demolish anything beneath Yoshi's rear with the power of dinosaur butts. Just like in Super Mario World, Yoshi can shoot out his tongue to grab foes into his mouth. What's different is that he can now aim his tongue upwards, and he also has a choice on whether he swallows enemies or spits them back out as projectiles. If Yoshi swallows an enemy, he'll lay an egg. Up to 7 of these eggs will follow him around like confused children. The hapless eggs can be used as ammunition for a long range offensive assault on enemies, provided the A button is pressed. An aimer will show up and automatically move around, allowing you to shoot in various angles if you have the right timing. Aiming this thing can be hectic, but it's pretty quick and simple once you get a feel for it. The controls in Yoshi's Island allow for a lot of flexibility, though they're a little on the complex side.

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A central mechanic to Yoshi's Island is baby Mario. Sure, Mario's baby self may not be the main character this time around, but he still has a big role to play in the game. That role is as an obnoxious crybaby. Baby Mario rides on Yoshi's back, just like he did in Super Mario World, but he provides no assistance to the dinosaur. Mario is actually a hindrance in this game. Yoshi has no life bar or power-ups, so you might be wondering what will happen when he gets injured by a baddie. What happens is that baby Mario gets knocked off Yoshi's back and trapped inside a bubble that slowly floats around the screen. A timer will start ticking down at this point, and this signifies how much time is left before the baby is gone for good. Since the objective of the game is bringing baby Mario safely to the goal at the end of a stage, losing him for good means you lose for good. Well, not for good; you can retry the stage as many times as you have extra lives. The game saves your progress, so no need to worry about an impending Game Over. Baby Mario's bubble timer starts at 10 seconds by default, but it can be increased up to a maximum of 30 seconds if you collect stars. Think of the timer as Yoshi's health, and the stars replenish or increase it. If the timer counts down below 10 and Mario is saved, the timer will automatically replenish itself back up to 10 in a few seconds. It won't go above 10 unless stars are collected, though. This essentially means that you can get hit an unlimited amount of times, provided you always save baby Mario in time. Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule. Falling into pits, lava, or spikes all count as an instant death, regardless of Mario's status. This is easily the most unique mechanic of the game, but it's also the most divisive. Why is that? Because of baby Mario's baby wail. He constantly cries as he waits for you to rescue him, like a real baby would. It's most annoying thing about the game and the one thing that prevents certain people from enjoying the game. As cool as this mechanic is, that obnoxious crying will get on anyone's nerves.

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One big way Yoshi's Island differs from Super Mario World, aside from the fact that you play as Yoshi, is that the game is completely linear. The big draw to Super Mario World was its massive, nonlinear world map design, and Yoshi's Island doesn't do that at all. It does quite the opposite, in fact. The world map to Yoshi's Island is a straight line with no alternate paths. The positive to this is that it makes the game a lot simpler, so the focus is more on the levels themselves as opposed to the map. Still, the vast world to Super Mario World was fantastic, and it would have been downright amazing if Yoshi's Island featured the same concept in some form. There are six worlds with 8 levels each in Yoshi's Island. Six worlds might seem a bit less than usual for a Mario game, but the individual levels are long, and 8 is a lot of levels. Yoshi's Island is actually of a decent length for a game of this type, especially given how linear it is. Whether or not you think the linearity in Yoshi's Island is a good or bad thing, it's true that this results in tighter level design. At the end of the day, not everyone likes to get lost in a huge map exploring levels. What's nice about the world map in Yoshi's Island is that the music gradually changes as you finish worlds. The more worlds you complete, the more instruments get added to the world map theme. Yoshi's Island might have a linear map, but at least the map has some nice personality to it.

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This is a beautiful game with lots of cool environments to see and great level design to accompany those environments. The levels in this game love using as much as the color palette that's possible on a Super Nintendo, featuring some of the most colorful environments of any SNES game ever. You're treated to lush, flowery fields at the start of the game, but there are also crystalline caverns, aquatic jungles, and plenty of other places that vary the color palette in stupendous ways. It's not all about colors, of course. Yoshi's Island has some wondrous level design. Similar to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, there are no shortages of ideas in Yoshi's Island. Almost every single level brings a new idea to the table, making the game an exciting adventure that you won't want to forget. There's a level where you get chased by giant metallic chomping beasts, a level where you transform into a helicopter and fly around, a level where you ride on a dog as he walks on spikes or boiling hot lava, and the infamous level where you get dizzy if you touch fuzzy. The Super FX 2 chip effects on that last one are pretty impressive. Levels rarely focus on a single mechanic, so most of the examples I listed are only a single thing that you'll see in those levels. The greatest strength of Yoshi's Island is its level design. It's the prime reason the game gets so much recognition.

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There are two castles in each world, each one with a boss in it. The castles are markedly different from all the other levels in the game, as they have a more maze-like design to them. They even incorporate a few elements from The Legend of Zelda series into them, like keys and locked doors. Every so often, you'll have search the area to find a key in order to unlock a door. Keys follow you around like the eggs do, and they take up one of your egg slots, so you can only have 6 eggs when a key is in tow. It's nice that you don't actually have to do anything to carry the key around, since it automatically follows you everywhere. That solves the issue of dropping keys into pits or lava, which is something that could happen in Super Mario World. The castles in Yoshi's Island are atmospheric, sporting some great music and gloomy visuals to set the mood just right. My favorite castle is the one all the way up in the clouds. It's a floating fortress under a dark, moonlit sky. This place looks and feels amazing. A lot of the castles have unique themes like this, like the watery jungle castle. The castles are where some of the game's most interesting mechanics are introduced in, too. All manner of traps and mechanical gadgets can be found in these perilous palaces, requiring you to use everything you've learned from the rest of the game to get through alive. Castles in Yoshi's Island are serious business.

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While Yoshi's Island is indeed a linear game, that doesn't mean that it has a lack of optional stuff to do. Every level has a number of collectibles that you can shoot for if you want, like red coins, flowers, and stars. Each level has the same amount of collectibles and a handy dandy checklist accessible at any time when you hit the start button. When you first start off the game, getting every collectible is extremely simple, as they tend to be easy to find. However, as you progress through the game, it gets much tougher to find these things. Some collectibles are hidden in really devious ways, like the red coins. Red coins often camouflage themselves as regular gold coins, with only a slightly different shade to clue you in on their true nature. The game is normally pretty easy if you don't bother collecting anything, but some levels can be incredibly difficult if you decide to get all of the goodies. Part of the reason why it can be so hard is that you have to minimize the amount of times you get hit so you can have the necessary amount of stars by the end of the level. You don't necessarily have to complete the level without getting hit at all, since you can regain any stars you lost by finding power-ups, but each stage has a limited amount of those, so you can only get hit a few times before it irreversibly destroys your score. In that situation, you'll just have to replay the entire level. You can see why this makes the game substantially harder. Getting all the collectibles in a given world unlocks additional levels. These levels are insanely hard, the hardest in the game. If the main game isn't enough for you, then Yoshi's Island has you covered with its challenging collectibles and insanely hard extra levels.

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Big bosses will provide you with big fun in Yoshi's Island. The majority of the Super FX 2's effects are used on the game's bosses, so every fight is an impressive technological feat. Well, it's impressive for 1995. The boss fights are more than just technological marvels, though. They're also marvels from a game design standpoint, because every boss is conceptually brilliant. Bosses in Yoshi's Island aren't simple affairs that end with three stomps to the head. Each boss is fought in a creative, unique way. Some examples are in order: one boss is fought on a small spherical object with physics akin to Super Mario Galaxy. You defeat this boss by running around the sphere to a space that's underneath it and ground pounding a pole right up into its anal cavity. I bet that hurts. Another boss is a ghost coming out of a pot; you defeat this one by simply pushing it off the platform. Yoshi gets shrunk down to size and swallowed by a frog for a single boss battle, requiring him to battle the insides of an amphibian to get out alive. There are many more bosses, and they are all absolutely spectacular. The final boss is also one of the best final battles in any video game ever. I don't normally like talking about the final boss in a review, but this one deserves special mention. You fight a baby Bowser transformed into a gargantuan beast via Kamek's dark magic to the tune of intense rock music in the background. Baby Bowser completely demolishes the entire castle and you fight him on its broken remains. Yoshi's Island dominates the scene when it comes to awe-inspiring boss battle mayhem.

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Yoshi's Island is a masterpiece with very few flaws. It has it all; great graphics, great music, great level design, some of the best bosses in the world, and colorful dinosaurs. It should be obvious at this point why the game has such a stout cult following. The only downsides are that you'll have to deal with baby Mario's incessant crying and the game is totally linear. I don't think any of that really hinders the game, though. If you haven't already played this game, then I highly recommend that you do.

Word Count: 3,100

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