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LONG BLOG

Games That Time Forgot: Yoshi's Safari

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Welcome back to Games That Time Forgot, where we take a look at games that have been lost and forgotten by time. And by the time this goes up, the 4th of July is going to happen, is happening or has already happened because I am lazy. So happy 4th of July everybody! Well to all my fellow Americans; everyone else can kind of just celebrate it being the weekend. And to commerate this momentus day, let's celeberate by talking about a game where blow things ups with explosions and big guns, because this is America! That's right, we're talking about Yoshi's Safari for the Super Nintendo!

What, you've never heard of it? A Mario (Yoshi?) game where you're on rails and shooting Goombas and Koopas with the failed SNES peripheral, the Super Scope? The game that came out before Yoshi's Island blew us away and laid the groundwork for all games starring the green dinosaur for years to come? Nobody remembers Yoshi's Safari? Honestly, I'm not really surprised to hear that, despite it being a game from my childhood.

Yoshi's Safari is definetly one of the weirdest games in the Mario and Yoshi series, and not just because of its premise. It came out as the Super Nintendo was starting to wind down, it came out before Nintendo had decided what to do with Yoshi, and it was made as the last hurrah of the Super Scope, which you may know as that big bazooka weapon in Super Smash Bros. Spoiler alert: this game did not help the Super Scope, and it was shortly discontinued and never talked about again. Hell, the game's 25 anniversary happened and Nintendo said nothing.

But despite all of that, there is still something to this game that has it stick out in the mind to the few people who remember it, and in some ways, it played an important part in the way Nintendo did games from then on. Even as a kid I thought it was weird and interesting game, so much so that when I started doing Games That Time Forgot, this was going to be the first game I talked about. And it was supposed to have started last year. So join me as we look to see if this was a forgotten gem or if this was a massive dud as we look at the first, and only, on rails Mario shooter. This is Yoshi's Safari.

What is Yoshi's Safari?

Yoshi's Safari, or Yoshi's Road Hunting in Japan (such a cooler name!), was released for the Super Famicom in Japan on July 14th, 1993, the Super Nintendo in North America in September of 1993, and Europe in late 1993 or 1994; it's hard to say as I've seen some sources say it was released in 1993, while others say it was in 1994. It was developed in-house by Nintendo's R&D 1, and that most if not all of the people known for making Mario had nothing to do with this. That's not usually a good sign, but in the game's defense, the team didn't have much of a choice.

That's because Yoshi's Safari was designed around a weird time in Nintendo's history. While the Super Famicom dominated in Japan and Nintendo mostly had given up Europe to Sega, there was a bitter rivalry going in the US between Nintendo and Sega. I won't bore you with the console wars of the 90s, since there's so many other places that have talked about it, but for the sake of Yoshi's Safari, we have talk about the one thing Nintendo did during this era to try and compete with Sega: the Super Scope. Released in 1992 and meant as the successor of the NES Zapper, the Super Scope did terribly in all its markets and was quietly disconutined in 1993. But before that happened, Nintendo wanted to give it one last chance to succeed, so they proposed a Mario game would be just what the plastic bazooka needed to stay relevant, and so the game that was going to be Yoshi's Safari was greenlit.

While that was going on, Nintendo had another problem; sort of. You see, ever since the release of Super Mario World in 1990, Yoshi had become a popular character, and was showing up in games outside of World. From the self-titled NES Yoshi (which was one of Game Freak's earliest game) and Yoshi's Cookie, both of which are possible future Games That Time Forgot fodder, to games not developed by Nintendo like Mario is Missing and Mario Teaches Typing, and even playable apperances in games like Super Mario Kart and Mario & Wario. Yoshi had easily become one of Nintendo's biggest characters, and there was plenty of opportunity for him to be in his own major franchise. The problem became that most of the games Yoshi was in were pretty terrible, and the ones that peope could consider good had little to nothing to do with what Yoshi was known for in World, which was using his tongue to eat enemies. It really did feel like Nintendo threw Yoshi into games because they just didn't know what to do with him or they needed him to fill in a roster in the case of Super Mario Kart. And for reference here, a lot of the traits we know Yoshi as a character for today, his ability to make eggs and use them as projectiles, his flutter jump, love of fruit etc., wouldn't exist until Yoshi's Island released in 1995. That means for a good five years, Yoshi was struggling to find his identity.

So what we have is a game that stars a character that Nintendo is just throwing into whatever game they want, in a genre that is outside of most of the companies comfort zone, and is basically the last chance for a struggling peripheral. Surely all of this is the recipe for a stellar and beloved game, right? Right?

How does it play?

One of my earliest gaming memories was when I first got this game and it didn't work because we didn't have a Super Scope, which we only figured out we needed after 20 minutes of running the game. My late father took the game back to the Toys 'R Us he bought it at, and instead of getting a refund, me and the clerk convinced him to buy the Super Scope instead. So Dad, wherever you are, if you're reading this from the great beyond 1) I miss you dearly and 2) I'm really sorry for convincing you to spend your hard earned money to buy a peripheral that I would use once to play a game that is pretty mediocre. At least the pack-in game for it was decent.

The first thing that you need to know about Yoshi's Safari is that in order for you to play it, you need the Super Scope to play; it's one of the few Super Scope games that requires it, and due to how it's designed, you can't use it on modern televisions. I'm telling you all of this because unless you're willing to shell out the money for a Super Scope and an old CRT TV, your best bet is to play this on an emulator. It's also because of this that I won't be focusing too much on the controller itself because it's not worth pulling out my old one and hope it works or going out to buy a new one just to play a game. I do remember it being a little flimsy and having a hard time picking up my inputs even when I was a kid for what it's worth.

Moving from the controls, let's talk about the game: it's an on rails shooter, but with Mario characters. Okay there is actually a little bit more than that, but not really a whole lot. You play as Mario riding Yoshi who must save King Fret and Prince Pine of Jewelry Land after Peach asks for your help (fun fact this was the first time in the West she was called that). To do that, you must explore 12 levels, shooting various Flying Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Spinies, etc. and occasionally jumping over gaps and floors that can hurt you. Some levels have minibosses, usually a Hammer Bro, which reward items that you can use for the boss fight at the end of the level; the first seven levels you fight one of the Koopalings, while the last four before the final level are one of Bowser's minions, with the final battle being against Boswer himself. To give the game some credit, the boss fights, at least early on, are actually quite creative with unique designs for each of their mechs that they ride, except Wendy, who you have to drop and anvil on her as she pops out of pipes. It isn't much, but there is a little bit of variety with these bosses beyond "show them until they die". Unfortunately, getting to these few moments is a bit of drag.

One of the biggest problem with Yoshi's Safari is ironically Yoshi himself. During gameplay, Yoshi's head takes up part of the screen, to simulate you riding on him. The problem becomes the fact that he gets in the way of the game, as not only does he make an obnoxious sound while getting hit, but you can also accidentally shoot him, which also deals damage. This may not seem like a big deal, but due to how weird the controls and accuracy of the reticle can be, there's a good chance that you will hit him on accident more than once. But even if you made every shot perfectly, it doesn't take away from the boring levels. While they look and sound great, thanks to the use of Mode 7 and the great soundtrack, the levels are so short and lifeless with barely anything happening. Enemies show up every once in awhile, but they're so easy to dispatch of that it doesn't feel worthwhile. There's even a handful of levels where you fight the miniboss, and then 30 seconds later you have to fight the boss! There is a cool down meter for your Super Scope so that you aren't blasting all over the place, which I think is supposed to add some strategy, but because there are so many moments where nothing happens, you don't have to worry about it, especially after getting the Fire Flowers that increase your rate of fire. The levels don't take that long, so its not like its boring for very long, but when you have games like Time Crisis or House of the Dead that are short games but make excellent use of their levels and strike a nice balance of down time and intense shooting, it's really easy to notice Yoshi's Safari's shortcomings.

All of this adds up to a game that feels more like someone was rushing to get a homework assignment done at the last minute. It isn't a bad game by any means, since the game does look and sound okay, but it doesn't make it up for its short boring levels, lame enemy placement, and just being overall feeling so half-hearted, like the developers wanted to get it done and over with. If this was maybe a game that came out today and cost like $19.99, I would be a little kinder to it, but the fact that Yoshi's Safari needs an expensive, poorly working peripheral to play legitamately is just unforgivable. 

Seriously Dad, you could have used that money for something else.

The impact and why it was forgotten

It should come as no surprise that Yoshi's Safari didn't do well sales wise and failed to save the Super Scope from obscurity. Reviewers felt the game looked and sounded nice, and that despite the hiccups, was easily the best game that uses the Super Scope, which as sad as it is to say, they're right about that. As for the impact, while the Super Scope went on to be an item in Super Smash Bros. and was even mentioned in the infamous Senate hearing about violence in video games (where Senator Joe Liberman thought it looked like an assault weapon), Yoshi's Safari has been lost and forgotten by Nintendo, with it never getting a rerelease, an acknowledgment, or even a mention in future Mario games; hell after this game, Peach went back to being called Princess Toadstool, and was called that until Super Mario 64! I have covered games that are obscure and will talk about even more games that are obscure in the future, but to see a game this thoroughly buried is just unbelivable to me. How did this happen?

While doing research on Yoshi's Safari, I did read some pieces argue that the controversy over the Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat 1 having the blood and fatalities removed is the reason, but I don't buy that for a second. I'm sure it played a bit of a part, as Nintendo of America's PR had to explain why they did it, and the game came out the same month as Yoshi's Safari, but that alone shouldn't have been enough for this game to bomb so horribly and be forgotten entirely. It also had next to no marketing behind it, but again, that alone shouldn't be the reason this game has fallen off the face of the earth. So then what is the reason for it being forgotten? Simple: it's not what a Mario game should be.

And when I say that it's not a Mario game, I don't mean from a "Mario uses a gun!" angle; there are quite a few Mario games where he uses weapons like the Rabbids and Olympic games with Sonic, not to mention in the Super Smash Bros. series. No, when I see it doesn't feel like a Mario game, I mean that it's a generic on rails shooter with a Mario coat of paint. It has nothing that makes a Mario game what it is, and it just feels so shallow, which is disappointing to see. Some people may point to Mario's Time Machine or Mario's Missing as other worse examples of that, but neither of those games were developed by Nintendo, and were only made for a quick buck. Yoshi's Safari on the other hand feels undercooked and unwanted, like no one really wanted to do it. Replace Yoshi with some guy in a jeep and you're shooting aliens or killer bugs or something, and you would lose nothing, or hell even make it a Metroid game and it would fit better! But as it is, Yoshi's Safari is just a game with Mario characters plastered on it without any of the fun or interesting gameplay to back it up, and I think the developers knew that. 

This game wasn't going to save the Super Scope, so Nintendo had the team do what they could, push it out the door, and hope that some gullible sap (me) would buy it and they could get some money out of the Super Scope before it drifted off into the sunset. And you know how I know this? Because while doing said research for the game, I found out that apparently Shigeru Miyamoto himself was less than thrilled with this game, so much so that it inspired him to make the next game, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, a much more authentic experince. It's hard to say if this is true or not, and I'm sure if someone asked Miyamoto about it, he'd probably wonder what the hell you were talking about. But at the time, I could totally see him telling someone at Nintendo how disappointed he was with Yoshi's Safari and Nintendo doing something about it.

So at the end of the day, what we have is a game that was just doomed from the start and had no chance of succeding under the best of circumstances. But at least we finally got an amazing Yoshi game and one of the best 2D platformers for the SNES, so at least it wasn't a complete bust. Yoshi's Safari crawled so that Yoshi's Island could run.

Is it worth playing now? And does it deserve better?

..........This game has aged terribly.

While I can't completly hate Yoshi's Safari due to being part of my childhood, I don't think that alone qualifies it as some under apperciated gem. Maybe if the developers took more time with it or really cared, they could have made something decent, since their are elements of the game that work (seriously, go listen to the soundtrack). However, they didn't and it's very clear that no one had faith in this game or cared enough to do better, and in that regard I guess it deserved a little better. Though at the same time, I don't think the game would have been enough to save the Super Scope.

At the end of the day, this was a C- paper done by a student who just wanted to get the assignment done so they can go on to do better things. And better things they did. Seriously, go play Yoshi's Island instead. Happy 4th of July everybody.

- Dynamite with a laser beam!


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About GoofierBruteone of us since 9:03 PM on 08.22.2010

I'm just a dude in his early thirties who loves video games, movies, anime, and a bunch of other stuff. I don't write on a regular basis, so if you came here expecting that, you'll be disappointed. However, I do hope you enjoy the few things I do write here.

I'm a freelance programmer/web designer, so if you need someone to do a webpage or to make a game with, PM me.

My five favorite games of all time are:

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
2. Super Mario Galaxy
3.The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
4. Metroid Prime
5. Portal
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