Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES) Review
Here's one I didn't get around to until much later. I first got to play the Game Boy Advance port through the 3DS Ambassador Program around ten years ago. For those unaware, basically the 3DS was given a noteworthy price drop shortly after release, and anyone who had purchased the system beforehand was given a handful of exclusive digital games, namely NES and GBA titles. Among them was Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island. I did eventually end up getting the SNES version, which is the version I'll be covering here, though most of this will apply to every version of the game.
How does one go about topping one of the most well-loved Mario games, Super Mario World? Well, Nintendo took a left turn at this question and decided to take the sequel in a totally different direction. It's a side-scrolling action game featuring Mario, but the similarities just about end there. The game stars Yoshi, introduced in the previous game, with Mario as a baby riding on his back. The gameplay is entirely different to the first Super Mario World, which only makes me wonder why it was branded as a sequel at all. Thus, Nintendo didn't really try to top its prequel, and instead opted to take it in a way different direction.
In Yoshi's Island, the main mechanic is making and throwing eggs. Yoshi can eat bad guys and turn them into eggs, then hurl them at enemies and obstacles. The act of throwing eggs can be pretty finicky. You press the button to activate a cursor which automatically moves up and down, and wherever the cursor is when you press the button again is where you'll throw the egg. This mechanic is a bit cumbersome in more frantic sections when you don't have much time to stop and aim.
The game has a unique health system. Sure, you can die by falling into bottomless pits or pools of lava, but when you take a hit from an enemy, Baby Mario falls off Yoshi's back and floats around in a bubble as a timer begins to count down. When the timer hits zero, a swarm of evil goons swoop in and steal the crying infant, and you're out a life, so you have to grab him before that happens. Luckily, you can collect little stars to extend the timer up to a maximum of 30 seconds.
For 100% completion, you have to finish each stage with a perfect score. This means collecting all 20 red coins, all 5 flowers and finishing with a full 30 second timer. This can be a real pain, especially in the tougher levels, but the game does cut you a bit of a break. When you collect flowers in a stage, they're added to the goal roulette, and if it lands on one of the flowers, you're taken to a bonus game where you can win cards to use during the stages. The cards can give you eggs, reveal hidden items or give you seconds on your timer, among other things. I'm definitely guilty of using the timer star cards in the late game stages where I'm barely alive by the end.
As a fan of simplicity, I think the gameplay here can be a bit much at times. It takes a bit to get used to and there are plenty of scenes that really slow things down, for example, some of the transformations. There's also an effect in the game where you'll walk into a small cave, and the game will freeze for a whole second and play a transitional animation where the foreground disappears. I wouldn't think twice about it if this animation didn't play when you enter and when you leave, and if there weren't often several of these areas all lined up in a row. It's totally unnecessary and annoying and it really slows down the gameplay. It sounds like a nitpick, but I always groan to myself when I get to those areas, and the worst offender is only in the second level.
As a whole, while it's weighed down by somewhat cumbersome controls and a helping of tedium, it isn't bad once you get the hang of it. It's not as easy to pick up and play as its predecessors, but it's certainly not rocket science, either. It's more like... rocket-intro-to-algebra. Solve for Y.
The game carries the traditional Super Mario torch of having only around 5 or so level tunes, but they're all quite memorable. Yoshi's Island does have a notable weakness of containing several annoying sound effects. Most people will be quick to point out Baby Mario's crying as he floats off in a bubble when you take damage, but for me, the most annoying sound is a squeak which is used for several different things during the game. For one, it's used when the little mice enemies are on screen, and they'll squeak repeatedly until you take them out or get far enough away. The same sound also plays when you're running on ice, which is admittedly a clever reuse, but unfortunately it's even more annoying because the sound is on rapid fire as you slip across the frozen floor.
As for the music, I do quite enjoy most of it, such as the athletic and miniboss themes, and the ending theme, well, don't tell anybody, but it makes me cry. It's not JUST the music, but when I hear the song, I can see the rest in my head, and the waterworks begin, and lemme tell ya, you don't want to be in the splash zone. It isn't even a sad ending, it's just so sweet and pure that it makes me fall to pieces. I'm specifically trying not to visualize it as I write this or else... or else... ahem! Or else nothing. All is well. I'm fine! Really!
The game looks fantastic. It's vibrant and colorful with wonderful artistry behind every little creature that inhabits the island. I've heard of this being people's sample game to check the colors when buying a new TV. The hand-drawn crayon art style (later adopted by Kirby's Dream Land 3) is a pleasure to look at, and the animations are also excellent, especially Yoshi's facial expressions. I always laugh at the look on his face when he gets pooped out by the frog boss.
The game also takes advantage of the Super FX chip for a few tricks, namely 3D objects, which can cause somewhat of a stylistic break from the flat, drawing-like look of the rest of the game. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, as it just adds to the uniqueness of the art direction. Besides 3D effects, there's lots of stretching and squishing and rotating, which makes it just feel almost like a gallery of visual effects. When you touch a Fuzzy, the screen goes all wavy and psychedelic. It's a cool effect, which is probably why there's always like 50 Fuzzies on screen at once; they really wanted you to see it. They threw every effect they had at it, which makes it stand out even today.
It's another Nintendo story. There's a beginning and and end, but nothing but gameplay in between. That's not exactly a bad thing, because barring a few standout examples, namely RPGs, I typically play games for the gameplay anyways. The story in this game is noteworthy however for being, as I mentioned before, extremely cute. The ending does indeed make me cry. I guess this is a spoiler, but in typical Mario fashion, the ending is exactly what you'd expect based on the beginning. You rescue Baby Luigi and the stork that delivers babies, and off the twins go to their parents. Sniffle... It's just such a cute ending. I'm really glad Mario and Luigi were born. Thank you, Yoshi!
I have a decent amount of gripes with this game. In fact, when I think of this game, for whatever reason, the negative aspects are what my mind immediately goes to. However, once I pick it up and get past the first few levels, it can be a tricky title to put down. It has a few stinkers when it comes to stages but the general flow of gameplay is fairly solid. I definitely don't prefer it over the Mario games before it, but as its own thing, it's worth checking out. It has a little something for everyone.