Super NES Retro Review: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

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Mario brought the SNES into the world, and Mario held the console's hand as it started its journey into obsolescence. Uh, except Mario was an adult when the SNES was born, and he was a baby when the N64 began opening its mouth to swallow up its predecessor. It's complicated.

Nowadays, the Yoshi's Island games are considered a spin-off of the mainline Mario series, but Nintendo rocked the "Super Mario World 2" title extension on the box of the premiere Yoshi's Island. Looking back, that decision was a bit of a risk: Released in the latter half of 1995, Yoshi's Island plays differently from popular platformers at the time, e.g. the Donkey Kong Country series. But anyone who takes a chance on this indescribably charming sequel (prequel?) to Mario's first SNES adventure is guaranteed to be smiling within five minutes.

Mario is an infant throughout the entirety of Yoshi's Island. The man's name is right there in the game's title, but he probably can't even read it. Our future hero is incapable of doing anything except staring and screaming through what's canonically his "first" adventure (and pooping, I guess – woe to the Yoshis carrying him on their backs). Though I doubt the Yoshis who find baby Mario have any rules against barbequing babies that fall out of the sky, the plucky pack of dinosaurs instead pledges to reunite Mario with his kidnapped twin brother across the island. Yoshis are good people.

If a bad guy is holding something, that's your cue to serve them an uncooked omelette.

Controlling the Yoshi Rescue Squad (one dinosaur at a time, thankfully) comes naturally to anyone who's ridden a Yoshi in other Mario games. But the Yoshis living on Yoshi's Island are better-equipped than the critters native to Super Mario World. They can flick their tongues upwards as well as sideways. They can flutter-jump over big gaps. They can eat fruits that give their breath a devastating kick. Most importantly, they can suck down foes and turn them into eggs, then lob the protein-rich projectiles at objects, event triggers, and other enemies. When you think about it, Yoshi's Island is full of Shyguys who watched their brothers get eaten by dinosaurs, then had the remnants of their loved ones literally thrown in their face. Brutal.

Speaking of brutal, Yoshi's Island isn't nearly as forgiving as the first Super Mario World title. Completing a vanilla run of the game isn't too tough, but if you want to find everything each stage offers – Red Coins, Stars, and Flowers – start cracking your knuckles. Even the game's earliest stages take a lot of work to complete fully. You need to attain a sharp eye for anything that looks slightly out-of-place in your candy-coated surroundings, and you also need to become a crackshot. Eggs collect items as effectively as bodily touching them, and there are a whole lot of goodies that stay out of reach unless you're adept at angling your bullets.

If you don't talk to your kids about Touching Fuzzy and Getting Dizzy, who will?

Unlike most collect-a-thon games, however, Yoshi's Island rewards you well for your efforts. If you get 100% on every level in a world, you gain access to a secret level (two secret levels if you happen to be playing the Game Boy Advance port of the game). It's tough going, but it's ideal post-game content for anyone who's up for a hearty challenge.

Luckily, it's no chore to re-visit Yoshi's Island; getting sucked into the exotic locale is easier than swallowing a Little Mouser. Yoshi's Island might be the liveliest-looking place Nintendo's ever designed thanks to its storybook-inspired graphics. Everything in this game moves, breathes, dances, sings, and walks on stilts. Crystal-studded caves are complimented by tall waterfalls, and even familiar death traps like mini-fortresses surprise you with hazards that pop out of the background. And then there's the epic boss fights with huge enemies that squash and stretch across the screen thanks to the Super FX2 Chip. Though Nintendo revisited Yoshi's Island again and again on its other consoles, it couldn't rekindle the first game's visual spark until Yoshi's Woolly World for the Wii U.

"Not it." Not it." Not it." Not it." Not it." Not it." Not it." "Not -- dammit."

Ironically, Mario is the weakest link in his own sequel. The little squirt doubles as Yoshi's life bar, and if the dino gets hit by a foe, Mario falls out of the saddle and screams like all the devils of hell are after him. And, well, I guess that's not an inaccurate simile: A timer counts down as soon as Mario gets separated from Yoshi, and if that timer hits zero, Mario is whisked away by Kamek's goons and Yoshi loses a life.

If you ran a cheese grater across your scalp, you'd have a physical equivalent of enduring Baby Mario's cry. I get it: You're supposed to be prodded into action when he starts wailing. A baby's cry is biologically engineered to make people react. Still, talk about the one video game sound effect that's more capable of stressing you out more than Sonic the Hedgehog's underwater suffocation countdown. It's a good thing I never played Yoshi's Island when I still lived at home. Mario's cry has surely driven some parents to say, "OK. Turn that off. Now."

In other words, make damn sure you play Super Mario Bros 2: Yoshi's Island if you haven't already, but make sure you play it well enough so Mario stays planted firmly on Yoshi's back. I'd say, "Just turn down the volume," but then you'd miss out on one of the best Mario soundtracks of all time. Man. Life's rough.

Nintendo's tried to re-capture the charm of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island again and again, but the dinosaur's SNES adventure is still his best one, hands-down. Yoshi's Island is lively, clever, challenging, and fun – even though Baby Mario's scream can peel paint off walls.

5/5

Tagged with Nintendo, Platformer, Retro Reviews, Reviews, SNES, Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Classic Edition, yoshi's island.

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