2D platformers have always been close to my heart. They are what I grew up with, and is the closest thing to a comfort food that I’ll ever have in video games. The modern resurgence in sprite based 2D platformers has inspired nothing less than absolute joy in me, as well as a burning, intense hatred for my rapidly shrinking amount of free time. Like many people, I have a gold standard to measure such things against. A game that I think is so great, still to this day, that should it ever be surpassed, I will collapse to my knees, paralyzed by happy sobs while silently making grateful prayers. That game is Yoshi’s Island.
There are so many aspects to this game that I am fond of, but the one that is immediately apparent is the art direction. In the era of burgeoning polygonal graphics, it is a love note to what great sprite art can be. And held against many games of its era, and I would argue many modern games, it is still a thing of beauty. The game has an aesthetic reminiscent of watercolor paintings, which is brought to live by a very bright and vivid color palette. Every sprite looks painstakingly created with care and thought. And befitting of Nintendo games, the whole game just looks so HAPPY. It’s pretty amazing when just looking at a game makes you happy, rather than only when you’re playing.
But the gameplay is hardly a slouch, either. It is my lowly opinion that Yoshi Island has some of the best level design and mechanics of most any 2D platformer ever. While most levels are more of the ho hum left-to-right fare, the levels aren't as flat as previous Mario games. A course may slowly build up, suddenly drop down or go back and forth between the two. It makes the game feel less artificial and much more dynamic. And the more complex levels, such as the cave and castle levels, become a puzzle to solve instead of just a dangerous obstacles to overcome.
And the way levels work in the egg throwing mechanic is brilliant. To help with collecting various objects, to open up the way to progress through the level, to conquer certain enemies. When done with great skill, it adds another layer to the feeling of satisfaction some players feel when they can quickly and expertly run through a level. Being able to make perfect egg throws while effortlessly weaving around a level's pitfalls is gratifying to a ridiculous degree.
One thing that can be said for Mario games is that the bosses often lack challenge. But Yoshi’s Island is a very striking exception to that rule. Mundane mooks are given inspired twists, taking place in special environments such as on a moon or inside the boss itself. Sometimes it involves using eggs in clever ways, or by allowing a player to quickly vanquish a boss through proficient egg use. And it was the last time I could say that the last boss in a Mario game was memorable. The rogue gallery in this game is among the best in the series.
I cannot say enough good things about this game, but I'm going to stop here for the sake of berevity. It is absolutely one of the defining moments in my vast and varied history. And while that may color what I see to some degree, I’m positive that what I’m overlooking are trifling missteps. It would take a lot of effort to find something glaringly wrong in this game. To this day I believe this game is the classic it was once it was released, and I will make every possible effort for it to be continually at hand for my immediate enjoyment.