Game Review

by Heidi Kemps,

Yoshi's New Island

Nintendo 3DS

Yoshi's New Island
Shortly after the ending of the original Yoshi's Island, a hapless stork discovers that Baby Mario and Baby Luigi arrived at the home of the wrong parents. En route to the proper address, the stork is ambushed by Kamek. Baby Luigi is kidnapped, while Baby Mario falls into a nest of Yoshis. Once again, the dutiful dinosaurs carry infant Mario across colorful landscapes in search of his family.
There are a lot of folks out there who accuse Nintendo of cashing in on nostalgia. Of course, it's pretty easy to trot out examples to prove these people wrong. Amazing games like Super Mario 3D World, A Link Between Worlds, and Pikmin 3, while part of established franchises, are cleverly designed, wonderfully engaging efforts that add creative new surprises and delights to well-established formulas.

The problem is that—especially in recent years—Nintendo seems more and more content to prove these critics right, regurgitating old ideas cloaked in new 3D-models with added “innovations” that are lazy at best and painfully ill-conceived at worst. The biggest offender in this regard is the New Super Mario Bros. series, which has experienced diminishing returns with every new installment despite Nintendo's feeble attempts to make them superficially interesting. Chaotic, confused multiplayer! New and unexciting power-ups! Shoehorned-in controller gimmicks! Yes, they're perfectly adequate platformers, but they're also boring stretches of ideas predominantly culled from previous installments, assembled in workmanlike fashion to make a game that is merely playable rather than truly magical.

It's this approach to game design that transforms the joyful, deliriously fun gameplay of the SNES masterpiece Yoshi's Island into the utter mediocrity that is Yoshi's New Island. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that I've played romhacks that had more imaginative design than this game. At least some of those put preexisting assets to use in inventive ways, which is certainly more than I can say for this exercise in mediocrity.

It's pretty obvious that things are off from the get-go. For starters, Yoshi's New Island is just plain ugly. In an ill-conceived effort to replicate the brilliantly stylized pastel colors and sketchy 2D look of the original game, the game's developers at Arzest have completely botched the visuals. Instead of sprites, everything is rendered in 3D with really gross-looking faux-crayon textures and filters all over everything. The overall effect is less “childlike whimsy and creativity” and more “sixth grade art class colored pencil nightmare.” At least some of the 2D backgrounds look pretty nice.

The visuals have degraded, but the basic gameplay concepts here are essentially unchanged from the 1995 original: the entire Yoshi clan is doing a relay with Baby Mario to find and rescue his brother from Kamek the Koopa wizard. Yoshi's offense revolves around eating enemies with his long tongue and turning them into eggs, which can be thrown at various enemies and objects. Movement abilities, like a hover-jump and a jumping ground pound, help Yoshi find his way around the obstacle-laden levels. Yoshi himself is effectively invincible (save for some bottomless pits and insta-kill spikes), but getting hit by an enemy sends Baby Mario flying off his saddle, and Yoshi has to grab him again before a timer ticks down. (And no, they did not get rid of the much-abhorred wailing Baby Mario does when he's separated from you. And no, there's no way to turn it off.) You still try to find thirty stars, twenty red coins, and five flowers throughout the level for a perfect score, though there are no end-of-level bonus games (or booster items) this time around.

There's really not much noteworthy as far as additions or changes to the gameplay formula. You don't have multiple ability-granting Mario Universe Babies, nor do the stages occupy both screens at the same time like in Yoshi's Island DS. (Admittedly, those ideas panned out pretty badly in that game, which was done by much of the same development team.) What you do have, however, are some new mid-stage transformations like a bobsled, a hot-air balloon, and a jackhammer, all of which involve frustrating gyro controls absolutely nobody wanted or asked for in their precision platforming game. The other “big” addition is giant eggs capable of causing massive environmental destruction when thrown. The eggs occasionally serve an interesting purpose in level design (Yoshi is naturally buoyant, so carrying a heavy egg lets him go underwater), but mostly they just appear in small, set areas that ask you to solve a very simple egg-throwing puzzle. It's less of a game-changer and more simple gimmickry.

Which leads to the biggest issue with Yoshi's New Island: it's by-the-numbers and utterly boring. Remember playing the original Yoshi's Island for the first time? It's full of memorable stuff. How about the stage where you ran away from a giant Chomp eating the land behind you? That funny level with the rats that would keep on stealing your eggs? The giant water monster in the jungle that would completely block your path and need to be egged down to size? And who can possibly forget Fuzzy, everyone's favorite psychedelic-simulating floating obstacle?

Well, apparently the developers did, because there's no trace of Fuzzy, but everything else mentioned above is here, completely unchanged from the first go-around. It's like they're saying to us “well, since you loved it so much the first time, it'll be even better now!” all while being completely unaware of the law of diminishing returns. The majority of the game feels this way: It's all enemies and obstacles and course-design concepts you remember from Yoshi's Island, transplanted here in the vain hopes that they'll somehow seem as delightful and original as they were before. They aren't. Part of what made the original Yoshi's Island so magical was its brilliant twists on 2D platform-game ideas and mechanics; but with Yoshi's New Island, Nintendo seems to want us to think that the original was the genre's evolutionary peak, and they can't possibly add anything to the mix that would innovate and surprise us anymore--which is blatantly untrue. Every now and then there's a boss that shows up that offers a spark of ingenuity, only to be quashed when you learn that beating them generally requires very simple strategies.

While it's not a truly bad game—it controls well enough, the music is pleasant, and there aren't any massive game-wrecking oversights—Yoshi's New Island just really isn't much fun to actually play. In trying to make Yoshi's Island again, Arzest has made a game that can't hold a candle to the nearly two-decade-old original visually or creatively. There's the saying that “everything old is new again,” but Yoshi's New Island should have spent less time trying to recreate the past and more time crafting wondrous new experiences we'll remember far into the future.

Overall : C-
Graphics : D+
Sound/Music : B
Gameplay : C
Presentation : C

+ Cute soundtrack, lots of hidden stuff
Visually messy, utterly boring to play

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