The original Yoshi's Island is one of my favorite Mario games of all time. I don't know if it's the numerous and remarkably unique boss battles or the whimsical charm of throwing strategically bounced eggs, but it really resonated with me. I've gone back to it time and time again, and the DS remake was great for when I was on the go in its own way.
Yoshi's New Island for the 3DS seeks to bring back those good times, and the good news is Yoshi fans will mostly enjoy it. The bad news is it's not all that special.
Yoshi's New Island (3DS)
Released: March 14, 2014
True to form, New Island isn't going for an elaborate setup. As it turns out, the stork from the original game took Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to the wrong house, and in a quest to get them to the right one, the story resets back to square one. Of course, Baby Luigi has gone missing, and is in the clutches of Baby Bowser. Cue adventure!
Likewise, Yoshi's New Island offers up an equally simple control system that series veterans will immediately pick up, since all you can do is gobble up enemies and spit them out, jump and flutter, and make eggs to throw. It's something you can experiment with for around 30 seconds and master accordingly if you've played any platformer before. So what's "new" with Yoshi? Not much, actually.
There's a new gimmicky "big egg" system that allows you to eat large enemies to form giant eggs of the normal or metal variety, but it's only used in certain parts of select levels, and feels canned as a result. While I was initially excited at the prospect of periodically picking up these power-ups and smashing up pieces of scenery to open up new areas at will, I quickly realized that they're more like isolated puzzles than an actual evolution of gameplay. Drat.
Another so-so addition is the introduction of motion-controlled "Yoshi vehicle" sections by way of the 3DS' gyroscope. Similar to the original, Yoshi will morph into crazy forms like a hot-air balloon or a minecart and traverse obstacles built around his shape. The problem with these portions is that they force you to waggle the 3DS around, and offer no option for tactile controls. Thankfully, they're few and far between, as most of them are optional endeavors for those of you who wish to collect every red coin and flower in the game. As such, it was hard to really get angry over these sections since they're roughly 30 seconds long and sparingly delivered.
Having said all that, that same old Yoshi formula still works even to this day. Yoshi's flutter ability makes him more mobile than your average platforming hero, and the ability to shoot and bounce eggs off various angles like you're shooting pool is still just as fun as it was almost two decades ago. Even if you're just gobbling up enemies and finding hidden areas, Yoshi's New Island offers up a distinct amount of charm that many other genre staples can't replicate.
This is especially true if you've never played a Yoshi game before, and thus will be able to experience some of the franchise's concepts for the first time. The development team very much employed an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality with the core gameplay, which makes the "New" moniker feel all the more out of place.
Despite the general stable gameplay are a few downgrades, however -- most notably in terms of the presentation. Despite your gut reaction based on screenshots, Yoshi's New Island is actually a decent-looking game in motion, and the brighter pastels are a nice contrast to the darker hues and heavy outlines of the original. The 3D effect is also subtle and not dominating, which is the perfect balance for a platforming game that can offer up the occasional tricky jump.
But there's something missing from time to time, as a lot of the levels tend to blend together despite the switching up of visual motifs. For instance, in the original Yoshi's Island, each level on the map screen had a distinct, unique icon. Before you even went into the level you got a little tease of what to expect, and I still remember a lot of those stages to this day just by looking at the corresponding picture. But in Yoshi's New Island, all the stages have the same generic selection frame, and the designs themselves really don't do anything to differentiate themselves beyond the fact that they're next in line.
The boss fights are missing that same pizzazz, and part of the problem is that every mid-castle in each world (stage four) features Kamek as a recycled boss. The level layout is always different, but the fights feel the same, which is a stark contrast to the high barrier of quality the original set with a host of memorable encounters. There's a minor surprise at the end that fans will appreciate, but that's it. Thankfully, there's still a heap of red coins and flowers to find in each level, which is where the real meat and challenge of the game lies. Red coins are usually hidden deep within collections of yellow coins -- more so than ever before -- which makes them that much harder to find.
If you're the type of person who rushes through games and doesn't care about collectibles, you're going to be severely disappointed in Yoshi's New Island when you breeze through the game in a few hours, tops. But those of you who take the time to try and find everything will have a lot to look forward to. The "Super Guide" also returns, and bestows you an optional wing power-up if you die too many times in one area.
Outside of collectibles there's one other extra Yoshi's New Island offers -- two-player co-op minigames (with support for single-cart download play). These are very brief, and are centered around timed activities like "butt-stomp these balloons," or "flutter as far as you can." When I say "mini" I mean it, as these usually last a minute or so each round, and the objectives are extremely simplistic.
I relatively enjoyed these, but one thing that struck me as odd is that each player isn't scored individually -- the game simply adds up the total score and displays that on each device as a running total. I don't mind the forced co-op personally, but at the very least there should be an individual score on each player's 3DS, to be added up at the end -- that way competitive players could have some semblance of fun.
As you can probably tell from my time with it, Yoshi's New Island isn't a "must have," but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. It's very much by the books based on any genre standard, and there's pretty much nothing new here that you'll need to run out to experience. But even so, fans of the genre will still dig it.