Yoshi’s New Island is a game that’s rather dependent on entering it with the proper expectations.
It’s very easy to write off the cutesy, colouring book-esque world and annoyingly baby-ish sound design as the telltale signals of a lightweight kiddie platformer that’s not worth a real gamer’s attention. Of course, if you’ve had the pleasure of playing one of the Super NES’s top classic platformers, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, then you would hopefully know better. The game may look juvenile on the surface, but Yoshi’s New Island is a solid 3DS side-scroller that will entertain both the nostalgic and the young-minded.
But of course, we have to get this stark, predictable fact out of the way; It’s not as good as the original. Yoshi’s New Island is more comparable to the previous Yoshi’s Island DS in fact, being a reasonably enjoyable game that’s just let down by some unfortunate design problems. With Yoshi’s Island DS, it was the sometimes absurdly high difficulty level. With Yoshi’s New Island however, it’s more of an unfortunate lack of creativity outside of what it’s borrowing from its Super NES predecessor.
Yoshi’s New Island will still sustain itself for young children, and especially rosy-eyed adults who grew up on the 16-bit side-scrollers of the Super NES era, thanks to sharp, varied level design, clever, albeit easy boss battles, and a healthy offering of well-hidden, rewarding collectibles that make each stage worth revisiting until you master the lot of them.
In the end however, it’s just a little too forgettable. The game seems oddly afraid to experiment and run with its handful of new mechanics, which gives it an aftertaste of lost potential. If, as the title suggests, you just want a new Yoshi’s Island game for yourself, or have a young child gamer that needs a reliable 3DS birthday gift or something, Yoshi’s New Island gets the job done, but it likely won’t be remembered as one of 2014’s defining releases for Nintendo’s current handheld.
Yoshi’s New Island has clearly had an immense amount of effort put into its art style. The craft-like, colouring book-style environments feel like a natural evolution of the visual sensibilities pioneered in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and are definitely more visually striking than the less remarkable graphics of Yoshi’s Island DS. Character models and environments alike, especially later in the game, look very charming and well-rendered, using the 3DS’s graphical capabilities exceptionally well.
In fact, the only thing that doesn’t feel utilized all that well is the 3D effect, which obviously won’t be an issue to anyone playing on a 2DS, or preferring to keep the 3D Slider switched off. Some of the outdoor levels benefit slightly from the mountains and valleys appearing to stretch off into the distance, plus playing in 3D does tend to manage effects like lighting and smoke puffs a little better, making it all bleed less into the scenery.
For the most part however, you might as well just play Yoshi’s New Island in 2D, because the way that the visuals are designed just don’t seem to be a good fit with the 3D effect.
Fortunately, the simple, innocent visuals make the gameplay run and perform smoothly at all times. The only time you may see a mite of lag is during the two-player Minigame Mode, especially if you’re utilizing Download Play for someone who doesn’t own their own copy of Yoshi’s New Island. It’s minor, but it can be a nuisance nonetheless.
All in all however, the sharp visual design is one of the key strengths of Yoshi’s New Island as a high-profile 3DS exclusive, even if you don’t lose anything by just playing in 2D.
The entire soundtrack is rife with childish instruments of all kinds, everything from kazoos, to xylophones, to bongos. It works in the sense of capturing both the tropical and baby-themed presentation of the game.
On the other hand however, some of the music is composed better than other portions of it. The same set of notes, beginning as a pleasant, toe-tapping piano tune in the game’s first stage, are constantly repackaged and done in various instrumental variations, depending on which stage you’ve found yourself in. That’s well and good to a point, but the soundtrack really needed more variation. Said variation seemingly only exists when you get to the tower and castle environments that serve as halfway points and end points of each of Yoshi’s New Island’s six worlds respectively.
That’s only when the music is repetitive too. There’s certain parts of the game where it’s downright annoying, and adult players especially will be tempted to mute their handheld for the remainder of that stage, at the very least. On the bright side, the music now has life and energy to it, which it sorely lacked in the underwhelming, lethargic soundtrack of Yoshi’s Island DS, but you sometimes have to wonder if annoying, repetitive tracks are a fair trade for sleepy, boring tracks.
Speaking of annoying, Baby Mario’s incessant wailing will still grate on your nerves if you have a habit of getting hit by enemies. Some players may be sick of the same recycled Yoshi and Shy Guy voice clips that the series has had in place since Yoshi’s Story on the N64 as well, which are recycled yet again in Yoshi’s New Island.
Fortunately, other sound effects are better-realized. There’s a good mix of sound effects that feel like more refined, clearly-realized renditions of the sound effects from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and the new effects, which sometimes substitute for the more dated effects from the preceding Super NES game, along with some New Super Mario Bros.-esque cheering crowds every now and again, work pretty well for what the game is.
It’s still nothing essential to gameplay if you need to mute your 3DS/2DS because your ears are bleeding from some of the more unfortunate music though.
Yoshi’s New Island brings with it the exact same gameplay foundation as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, coming dangerously close to feeling like a rehash, but just narrowly avoiding that fate. Even the scenario is the same, with the Yoshi’s having to transport Baby Mario across an island via relay system to lead him back to Baby Luigi, whom he was separated from after Baby Luigi was kidnapped by Baby Bowser’s attendant, Kamek, once again forcibly trying to find Baby Bowser a playmate.
Oh, and apparently the sweet, fulfilling ending of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is ruined, since the stork delivering the Baby Mario Bros. to their parents apparently brought them to the wrong house, which gave Kamek another opportunity to kidnap them, again only netting Baby Luigi successfully. For fans of the original, this scenario feels more than a little contrived, not to mention far too similar. At least Yoshi’s Island DS tried something a wee bit different, even if the objective of rescuing Baby Luigi from Kamek was the same.
Still, the thin scenario is not why one would play Yoshi’s New Island. What matters most is the gameplay, and fortunately, the game is still fun for the most part. Again, fans will feel a bit annoyed when they see some partial level designs ripped wholesale from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, but thankfully, it’s pretty rare, even if it does feel rather lazy.
Most of the time however, you’ll get fresh, interesting landscapes that do a good job of varying each set of challenges. In one stage, you may be leaping across spinning platforms situated atop bottomless pits. In another stage, you may be balancing a Chomp Rock on a moving platform to get rid of enemies trying to attack you. In yet another stage, you outrun a rising lava pool, clearing away blocks and choosing whether to keep gathering eggs or keep running.
As with the previous Super NES and DS offerings, Yoshi’s New Island maintains the core mechanics of gulping up and swallowing enemies with Yoshi’s long tongue to generate a certain amount of eggs. The eggs can then be aimed and thrown to attack enemies, reveal items, create pathways, and occasionally interact with some sort of mechanism. Yoshi’s familiar moveset of ground pounds and hover jumps is also intact, and the smooth, responsive button controls continue to have it all work in a very satisfying fashion.
Also as before, Yoshi himself can only lose lives if he falls into a bottomless pit, lava or a bed of spikes. Otherwise, it’s Baby Mario that you’re actually looking out for, as hitting enemies will knock Baby Mario off your back and cause him to float around in a bubble, crying while a timer ticks down. You need to touch Baby Mario again before the timer runs out, lest Kamek’s Toadies kidnap the tot, also resulting in you losing a life. It remains a cool, interesting new spin on platformer convention, even if the same novelty won’t be there for people who have played the previous games.
Much of Yoshi’s New Island won’t be all that challenging for fans of the Super NES original especially, and these veteran players can probably easily complete the entire game in around 5-6 hours, depending on their skill level. Of course, collectible stars, red coins and flowers remain with which to master each stage completely, but it won’t be a difficult romp for those who know what they’re doing.
To accommodate young children and less skilled gamers however, should you lose a certain amount of lives in the same stage, you’ll get the option of grabbing some wings that can let you easily get through the rest of the stage, allowing you to proceed further in the game. These stages will be specially marked until you complete them properly, as with similar features in recent Mario and Donkey Kong Country games.
This likely won’t be necessary for most of the game however, though a difficulty curve is still slightly noticeable as you move toward the final stages. Even the bosses are pretty lightweight and simple, with Kamek duels taking place in every tower midway through each world, and the same oversized boss enemies from the previous games standing against you at the end of every castle stage. These boss battles are all very clever and interesting in concept, representing the game’s better new ideas, but it’s a shame that they’re all rather simple to beat, presenting no real sense of peril.
The new ideas in the actual stage designs usually consist of Egg Dozers, which come in simple over-sized varieties and metallic varieties. Mega Egg Dozers can be thrown to bounce around natural level landscapes, destroying any enemy or obstacle in their way, and looking remarkably cool in the process. Metal Egg Dozers can be rolled and followed to perform a similar function, but also allow Yoshi to sink underwater and navigate stages below sea level when required.
Unfortunately, as promising as these new ideas are, they feel very scripted and arbitrary, and the game doesn’t do nearly enough with them. You don’t even incorporate Egg Dozers against bosses until the final boss fight, which feels like a massive missed opportunity. It’s a shame, but these actual all-new mechanics are among all of the least interesting moments of Yoshi’s New Island, exacerbating the idea that the game is a little too rooted in recycling what was already done in the original Super NES game especially.
The game makes another attempt at novelty by having you steer Yoshi’s transformations, returning from the original Super NES game with a few new variations like a jackhammer and a snowmobile, using your handheld’s gyroscopic controls. It’s not terrible, but it does feel a bit unnecessary and gimmicky, especially if you’re actively striving to scoop up as many coins and collectibles as you can while a demanding time limit ticks down.
The completely tacked-on two-player Minigame Mode doesn’t help this feeling of lazy novelty, not even being accessible for quick time-wasting unless you have a second person with their own 3DS/2DS to play with you, plus not actually having a suite of activities on offer until you beat worlds in the main game. You can at least exploit Download Play, only necessitating one copy/download of the game between two players with their own handhelds, but the minigames themselves are still redundant. See how many eggs you can make. Try to hover jump farther than your opponent. It gets old very fast.
Yoshi’s New Island doesn’t even bother to incorporate the Super NES original’s bonus stages or inventory of perks that you can pull out in a pinch either, both of which helped to make the game more charming and interesting. This would have been far better than some forced, pointless Minigame Mode that’s only taking up space on the game card/download!
Still, for all of the missed opportunities that sadly abound in Yoshi’s New Island, what the game does contain is reasonably enjoyable, if you’re actively interested in a Yoshi’s Island game. The gameplay feels serviceable, but perfunctory in terms of the main adventure that you’d buy the game for exclusively, and while it will entertain you, it will probably leave fans especially wishing that there was just a bit more to it.
Yoshi’s New Island isn’t all it could have been, but for what it is, it’s a solid 3DS offering with friendly, nostalgic play value. It’s not a complex game, nor a wholly fulfilling one, but it’s a good way to keep you busy on your handheld while you wait for bigger and better games to release for the 3DS lineup during its 2014 slate.
Even so, Yoshi’s New Island should have been more memorable than it is. Once you’ve mopped up every collectible and seen the end of this latest Yoshi’s Island escapade, you’ll probably just put the game down and forget about it. It doesn’t have nearly the staying power or replayability of the original Super NES classic, and feels like a far cry from the robust, consistently rewarding adventures on offer in Nintendo-made 3DS offerings like Super Mario 3D Land, or even Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D.
For an undemanding child that enjoys gaming on their 3DS/2DS, Yoshi’s New Island will likely prove to be a fun platforming romp without issue for them. As for adult fans hoping to recapture the same classic pedigree of the original Super NES offering though, they’ll likely feel a bit let down. Those fans should still absolutely play Yoshi’s New Island, as half of that magic is better than none of it, but this new 3DS follow-up probably won’t hit the spot quite the same way.
Yoshi's New Island is an undemanding, reasonably fun side-scrolling romp, only let down by a lack of novelty and a sense of missed potential.