I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t really like Yoshi’s Island. You could argue that is because I’ve only ever played the supposedly compromised GBA port, but I think I just don’t like the game. I have played most of its recent follow ups, like Yoshi’s New Island for 3DS and Yoshi’s Woolly World, and while enjoyed those games, there is still something about them that I wasn’t quite to my taste. Compared to other Mario games, Yoshi’s Island is a slow and pokey game, focused more on exploring and collecting that traditional platforming challenges. I get why people would like it, but it is not for me.
It is a great looking SNES game. While at the time most games were either ugly 3D (Star Fox) or ugly approximations of 3D (Donkey Kong Country), Yoshi’s Island went for a detailed, colorful hand drawn look, with plenty of effects thanks to using the same advanced on cart chip that Star Fox used to make the SNES capable of its primitive 3D graphics. There is no getting around that this is one of the best looking games on the SNES. The same is true for the excellent music. And Nintendo wasn’t content to just run out the Mario World formula again, they gave the idea of a platformer a fairly extensive overhaul and produced a fresh and tightly designed game.
The problem I have is that no matter how well made the game might be, I simply prefer what came before. Super Mario World was already more of an exploratory game than previous Mario games and Yoshi’s Island slows the pace even more to focus on poking around expansive levels. I couldn’t even begin to say that they aren’t well designed, but they end up being more like mazes than obstacle courses. It is rarely that difficult to just clear a stage, but the game judges based on how well you collect things and finding all of the things in each stage is a tedious and involved process. Many people bemoan the collect-a-thons that 3D platformers became in the wake of Super Mario 64, but that trend was started with Yoshi’s Island. There are five flowers hidden throughout each stage, a perfectly fine collectable, much like the three giant coins in later Mario games. Each stage also has 30 red coins to collect, some of which are hidden, some sit in plain sight and some look like regular coins until you nab them, meaning you have to go for every stupid coin in the game on the off chance it is one of the important ones. Then there are the stars, which are tied in with the game’s worst mechanic.
The stars represent how much time you have to rescue Mario if you get hit and he becomes dislodged from Yoshi’s back. Because yes, you control Yoshi, not Mario in this game. And Baby Mario’s wails as he floats around are insufferable. To then be also graded on maintaining 30 of those damned stars is frustrating. Finally there is the egg throwing. Yoshi is able to eat just about anything and turn it into an egg. The player must then throw those eggs at just about everything. This brings up the not especially intuitive aiming mechanic and the often limited supply of eggs. It is a good idea, but one that is often too complex to be enjoyable.
I do question whether Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is really a Mario game. The unignorable fact is that the game is titled Super Mario World 2. But that doesn’t make it all that different from Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. There Wario gets top billing, but Nintendo was still hedging its bets by keeping it in the Mario series. In both games, Mario has been replaced as the protagonist and the mechanics of the game are significantly different from what came before or happened since. None of Yoshi’s Islands sequels or follow ups are considered a part of the main Mario series. I counted it at least as much because it is one of the few Mario games I haven’t beaten than for any other reason.
The thing is, I see a lot of Yoshi’s Island’s DNA in the “New” Super Mario series. It has been scaled back quite a bit, but things like the hidden giant coins feel like something from this game. Though Yoshi’s Island’s mechanics have been directly continued in what most people call disappointing follow ups – I would argue the only thing disappointing about Yoshi’s New Island is how it looks – its impact continues to be felt in the main series as well. I guess I just have to finish coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really like it.