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Yoshi’s New Island

18:5911/04/2014Posted by Zoheir BeigOne Comment

Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho may be one of the more pointless endeavours in recent cinema history, but thanks to its provocative concept the film did perhaps unintentionally prove that, however faithful an attempt to copy an artistic template is, a certain ungraspable genius will always appear to lie frustratingly beyond the surface of most great works – separate from basic inspiration, far removed from workmanlike technical efficiency, out of the grasp of most talents.

Newly-established developer Arzest’s return to Yoshi’s Island is another example of this. The aesthetics, mechanics, collectables and even the world map structure are as they were back in 1995, but otherwise Yoshi’s New Island is a hollow experience, devoid of the charm, character and audacity that still feel fresh in Nintendo’s near-two decade old Super Nintendo classic.

The beginning of Yoshi’s New Island reveals that the stork from the ending of the original actually ended up delivering the babies Mario and Luigi to the wrong parents. It’s when the stork is back in the air, on his way to the correct parents, that he is ambushed by arch nemesis Kamek. Baby Luigi is kidnapped, while Baby Mario, once again, falls into the Yoshi clan’s care.

For those unfamiliar with Yoshi’s Island the game is, brilliantly, all about caring for Baby Mario who obviously, and unlike in every other Mario platformer, isn’t able to look after himself. Baby Mario sits passively on the back of Yoshi, whose main weapon is his tongue. He can use this to eat enemies and swallow them, which turns them into eggs that then follow behind. These eggs are used as projectiles, which are aimed by using a rotating cursor. If Yoshi is hit then Mario will fly off his back, and a counter will start to tick down – let this reach the end and Kamek will grab Mario, and you’ll be forced to start the level over.

Back in 1995 Yoshi’s Island was a thrilling twist in 2D platforming, the design of which the company had pretty much perfected across first Super Mario Bros 3 and then Super Mario World. The bravery in Nintendo’s approach paid off, but Yoshi’s Island wasn’t just notable for the sense of protection over Mario it engendered in the player – its levels were packed with quirky asides, hidden mini-games and little moments of invention, the sort of restless experimentation which are still hallmarks (and that some would say are taken for granted) of the recent Mario games.

What’s most disappointing in Yoshi’s New Island is the absence of any of this ingenuity. Although the visuals are in a similar childlike, hand-drawn style, they look a little too clinical to generate the same warmth, while the bland soundtrack is a far remove from the wit of Koji Kondo’s classic score. All this would be reasonably forgivable if the level design was interesting, but the majority of courses are strictly linear affairs with little imagination evident in important areas, such as the scope for exploration and variety of engagement with the worlds (of which there are six, passing by in an amorphous blur).

To regularly compare Yoshi’s New Island to its illustrious forebear may seem a little unfair, but given their slavish adherence to the original formula, Arzest invite much of this on themselves. In the game’s defense, it’s clearly been targeted towards younger gamers, perhaps as a first platformer for new 2DS owners. Such an objective isn’t a convincing excuse for this most basic interpretation of a platformer, but it would explain the game’s relative lack of challenge and its gentle, albeit perfectly playable, pace (I had over 100 lives left upon completion, and this after a little over 9 hours).

The more lacklustre Yoshi’s Island games there are, the more Nintendo continue to suggest that the original was a glorious one-off, released when the company was approaching the very peak of its creativity. How symptomatic Yoshi’s New Island is of Nintendo’s current malaise is a discussion best left for another time, but for now it’s enough to say that it does more than most videogames to suggest that the gap between genius and mere inspiration can sometimes be very big indeed.

Yoshi’s New Island was reviewed on a review copy provided by Nintendo.

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