1995's Yoshi's Island stands as one of the most lovingly crafted, content-rich games Nintendo's ever produced—but with the way it's been treated over the past two decades, you'd never have guessed.
Even though Nintendo's released plenty of 2D platformers in the wake of Yoshi's Island, the game still feels like the logical conclusion of classic Mario action—and with their 3D-focused system right around the corner at the time of development, it very well might have been. Despite its critical acclaim and place within a very popular franchise, though, Yoshi's Island has been conspicuously absent from the last seven years of Nintendo's combined Virtual Console services, though 3DS Ambassadors were given access to a compromised Game Boy Advance port that remains unavailable to more recent adopters.
My point with all of this preambling? If you're going to revisit Yoshi's Island while continuing to keep the original out of reach, by god, you'd better do it right.
So, in a way, it's refreshing to see Yoshi's New Island take such a conservative approach, seeing as the original didn't leave much to improve upon. The misguided DS sequel took the opposite strategy by cluttering up the original design with added characters and spreading its action clumsily across two screens—in comparison, Yoshi's New Island feels like a by-the-book remake. But if you're thinking Yoshi's New Island plays with expectations a la A Link Between World's reworking of its own SNES predecessor, think again: Nintendo could have given this game the much more fitting title of "Yoshi's Other Island" if they were aiming for corporate transparency.
That isn't necessarily a dig. Getting a chance to play five stages of Yoshi's New Island showed me, at the very least, the developers at Arzest—who haven't worked on anything of note in their short history, though in their former life as Artoon they developed Yoshi's Island DS—understand what makes Yoshi's Island so special; what I experienced would be right at home within the confines of the original cartridge.
Yoshi's New Island follows the same tack as the 1995 game: It's slower, bigger, and full of enough ideas to fuel half a dozen games. And, as with Yoshi's Island, the stages I played each had their own had unique design quirk ranging from Lakitus launching projectiles to take out the ground beneath you to a gauntlet of unstable balloons being your only means of travel from start to finish. Yoshi's New Island retains the series' focus on perfection as well; it might be easy to finish a level, but finishing it with five flowers, 30 stars, and all eight red coins? Not so much.
The only substantial addition to Yoshi's New Island can be found in its Mega-Eggs, which feel sort of like New Super Mario Bros.' Mega Mushrooms: They can be used creatively, but, really, they exist purely for the sheer joy of watching a massive object blasting apart smaller ones. Yoshi's transformations—one of the most unusual elements of Yoshi canon—see somewhat of a makeover in Yoshi's New Island, where they feel a bit more like mini-games built around 3DS functionality. The two shown to me, the helicopter and the mine cart, are strictly controlled with the accelerometer in a way that evokes Nintendo Land's quirky input schemes—the mine cart in particular bears a striking resemblance to Donkey Kong's Crash Course. These sections, while a little gimmicky, manage to offer some unique challenges, though the question remains as to whether or not you'll always have the ability to tilt and turn your 3DS while you're on the go.
In the face of mania over pre-rendered graphics, Yoshi's Island committed to a bold art style that still looks fantastic today, and, unfortunately, this is where Yoshi's New Island falls short. The environments themselves feel like a fitting upgrade, but the characters are fuzzy and indistinct—a far cry from the thick, black edges that made the characters pop in the original. It's strange that Nintendo decided against capitalizing on one of the elements which made the original so notable; you have to wonder how much better this game would look with revamped sprites in the style of DuckTales Remastered.
As it stands, Yoshi's New Island is somewhat confused; it's new, but not really, and while its attempt to capture the original's magic should be commended, the fact that the original is still so unavailable leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Discounting this baggage though, what I played came tantalizingly close to one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time, so hey, maybe I'm the one who's confused. I guess when you've been hurt by Nintendo's continued inability to treat Yoshi's Island with the respect it deserves, this is the sort of skepticism and paranoia that breeds.