Yoshi's New Island Struggles to Justify Its Existence

Sticking so close to the original's blueprint raises the question, "Why can't we just have the original?"

Preview by Bob Mackey, .

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.

If you liked Yoshi's Island for the pastel baby graphics, you'll love Yoshi's New Island. If you like Yoshi's Island for the way it was radically different in style and tone than any platformer that had come before... well, good for you.

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.

Becoming a helicopter now launches a tilt-based minigame, which is way more fun than Yoshi Topsy-Turvy.

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.

Yes, it's true. Yoshi is now literally a bootlicker.

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.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for DiscordInc #1 DiscordInc 4 years ago
    I want this game to be good, since Yoshi's Island DS was so meh, but I really want to see some more new ideas out of it. I'm okay-ish with the remix style of design in the NSMB series, but I want to see them experiment more with Yoshi's Island.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #2 sam-stephens 4 years ago
    I don't mind the visuals. They seem clean and well presented. From what I have seen of the trailer, it looks like the game will be mixing things up at least a little bit, but as long as it is well designed, it has no need to "justify its existence." Tezuka's involvement is also a good sign of things to come.

    If you want a unique twist on the basic gameplay of Yoshi's Island, I would suggest Yoshi Touch & Go (if you can find it).Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2014 by sam-stephens
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  • Avatar for vincentgoodwin88 #3 vincentgoodwin88 4 years ago
    Part of me wonders if Nintendo is bad at demoing games or they're showing press sites the wrong parts of the games.

    Both A Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World had underwhelming reveals, because they initially appeared so stiff and generic. They didn't reveal what made them unique until much later and some people had already written the game off.

    I also wonder what they showed you and chose to hold back. I remember that in the weeks before Super Mario 3D World's release, there were review embargoes where people could only talk about the first two worlds. The problem is the game doesn't really start doing anything interesting/innovative until World 3 (except the cherry mechanic, which shows up at the end of World 2).

    I've been on a Nintendo kick lately, and it seems like the first third of any Zelda game or any Mario game are pretty boring for me. They don't start layering new mechanics in the beginning (even Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World do this). It's only when they start mixing mechanics, introducing new ideas, and increasing the challenge do the games really start showing their life.

    Maybe Nintendo was only showing you the first few worlds, and the back half is where the game really gets cooking. Again, that's putting a lot of faith in Nintendo. I've been burned by their "play it way too safe" sequels.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #4 sam-stephens 4 years ago

    Nintendo doesn't mix things up at the beginning because that is the part of the game where the core mechanics are featured and taught.
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  • Avatar for vincentgoodwin88 #5 vincentgoodwin88 4 years ago
    @sam stephens I agree. But I also think that contributes to the article's general "I've seen this all before" malaise.

    The game is setting up all its core mechanics at the beginning, before it does all its cool, new stuff. But if Nintendo is just showing off its core mechanics to a writer who likely played and loved the first Yoshi's Island, then it's really easy to get the Bob's conclusion that this game is just sticking to the original's blueprint and not doing anything new or interesting.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #6 sam-stephens 4 years ago

    "But I also think that contributes to the article's general "I've seen this all before" malaise."

    But this is the problem. Gamer's have become so warped up with "anything new or interesting" that they fail to appreciate when a fundamental concept is well designed or even miss the smaller, more nuanced changes being made (gyroscopic controls, a timer for certain abilities, new level elements) that change the game in more significant ways then they seem to think.
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  • Avatar for tsamba #7 tsamba 4 years ago
    Maybe this was intentional, but I've left this article more confused about this game than before.

    It's a rehash. But it's a good rehash. But it's nothing special. But it's almost as special as the most special game ever.

    The fact that Yoshi's Island games have not yet saturated the Nintendo catalog makes me care a lot less about how similar it is to the original. Is Yoshi's New Island a fun game?

    I agree that something about the graphics in Yoshi's New Island looks unpolished, and I think, as you suggest, a black outline would've fixed that. However, if the 3D effect blurs the background like it did in NSMB2, I think the art will look fine and the lack of black outlines will be justified. I suspect this is the case, and if it is, the game will, like most 3DS games, look much better in-person.
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  • Avatar for vincentgoodwin88 #8 vincentgoodwin88 4 years ago
    @sam stephens You make an intriguing argument.

    I would like to say, "Why even make a new Yoshi's Island when you can just re-release the old one again?" But I know I'm a hypocrite. My favorite game of the last few years is Super Mario 3D World. I would love Nintendo to make 400 new levels in the vein of 3D World, and I would pay $200 for it. Yet I would complain if they broke up those same 400 levels into 4 different games and released them annually.

    This week's Retronauts about Harvest Moon touched on this a little. People always say whatever new Harvest Moon is not as good as their first Harvest Moon. Even though, objectively, the first Harvest Moon is the weakest and the series grows more refined with time.

    Part of the pleasure of the original Yoshi's Island comes from its art style, its well-tuned gameplay, its music, and its boss battles. But a major part of why I enjoy it so much is its freshness. It feels a lot different than any other 2D platformer from its era and any that came after it. So for me, Yoshi's Island's greatness is tied to how unique it is and how I felt the first time I played it. And any new Yoshi's Island game will never be able to capture that feeling for me. But maybe Yoshi's New Island isn't for me. Maybe it's for new players, who will get that "new" pleasure from.

    So I come right back to my earlier question, "Why even make a new Yoshi's Island when you can just re-release the old one again?" And I have no good answer.

    EDIT: Fixed typo.Edited January 2014 by vincentgoodwin88
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #9 sam-stephens 4 years ago

    "But a major part of why I enjoy it so much is its freshness. It feels a lot different than any other 2D platformer from its era and any that came after it. So for me, Yoshi's Island's greatness is tied to how unique it is and how I felt the first time I played it."

    I can understand what your saying. I also appreciate how you honestly tangle with why you like something. There is no way any of us can un-see the previous experiences we had with a game. That is, the desire for "freshness" is insatiable when talking about a refined sequel. But I guess that is the problem I have with this article. What's the point of writing about a game that can not fulfill these impossible requirements? What made the original great was not its originality, but its execution (eggsecution if you like bad puns). The article should focus on what the game is trying to do, present a series of established concepts with some new ideas on new hardware, and try to judge the execution of these ideas (the quality of the design). With this goal in mind, we can refute the silly title of this article and answer your question "why even make a new Yoshi's Island when you can just re-release the old one again?"
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #10 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    Well, visually, this is the game I wanted 19 years ago*. By which I mean that this looks just like the intro/ending to Yoshi's Island, and I was really into the rendered stuff at the time.

    I didn't mind the additional babies in Yoshi's Island DS, but the two-screen gameplay was a bit of a pain. It was decent overall, worth one trip through at least, but I've yet to replay it after beating it, and I shudder to think about going for 100% completion.

    *Honestly, I'm surprised they didn't save this for the 20th anniversary. Maybe we'll get a Yoshi Anniversary Collection with the original game then?
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #11 Critical_Hit 4 years ago
    Here's the lesson to be learned. If Nintendo puts the word, "New" on it, they're just being ironic. It's lazy to just call it, "New (whatever)", and the games will always just be lazy, safe, direct sequels; just look at the New Super Mario Bros. series.

    At least Yoshi's Island has better core gameplay. And they HAVE done a bang-up job of treating it like it's more precious than Mario's classic games. So there are certainly gamers - like the article says - that haven't experienced either of the previous two Yoshi's Island games.

    And while I've played the SNES one, I'm looking forward to this one simply because it's more level designs. It's like an expansion pack in my eyes, because I'm old enough to remember what those are :) I even don't mind the new sprites; all the frames have clearly been hit with a "pastel"-type filter (like in Photoshop) in an attempt to mesh better with the backgrounds, not stand out. And I dig it.

    Shame to hear Artoon is no more though; even though they reformed the studio into this "Azrest". I enjoyed some of their games, and thought they particularly did a great job with Blue Dragon on Xbox 360. If Nintendo were smarter, maybe they would've used them and their experience making HD games to MAKE SOME STUFF FOR WII U >:(

    This really seems like a waste of their skill. I'm sure Nintendo doesn't even know what Blue Dragon is, though.
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