As all Super Nintendo aficionados know, one of the great underrated achievements of that sweet little system was Yoshi’s Island. Designed to look like drawings in a children’s book, it was one of the most beautiful 16-bit games ever produced and a nifty little unconventional platformer to boot. It never really took off as a franchise (just an uninspired N64 version and a decent DS edition), but remained beloved by those who care about such things. So it was with big dollops of excitement and stomach pains of anxiety that Nintendo fans reacted to the fact that the company would dust off the old franchise for a 3DS sequel. It was always a game crying out for a sequel and Nintendo is pretty good at the nostalgia gaming (sadly it’s pretty much all they do these days), but at the same time it was such a unique and beloved title it seems like the only thing the designers at Arzest could possibly do was screw it up. Thankfully, Yoshi’s New Island is a fun little platformer that captures the style and experience of the original well. Sure, it’s nowhere near as good as the original or as strong as the company’s finest new platformers, but if you adore Yoshi’s Island and own a 3DS, it’ll sure scratch an itch you’ve had for years.
What works best about the game comes straight out of the original. Once again, you’ll play one of various Yoshis transporting Baby Mario across an island filled with adorable danger. There are some hints of a story involving a stork who screwed up and a baby Luigi kidnapping, but like all Mario games, the plot is irrelevant. This title is all about the playing experience, and it recaptures Yoshi’s Island well. Once again, you don’t really worry about Yoshi getting hurt as much as protecting Baby Mario. Get hit and he floats away until you catch him. Wait too long and that baby will be kidnapped for God-knows-what purpose. You toss eggs around with a manual aiming device, solve some mild platforming puzzles, and deal with the increasing difficulty level Nintendo doles out oh-so-well (early levels are almost insultingly easy while later ones will have you screaming and smashing out of frustration).
There are some changes to the formula, and they aren’t necessarily for the best. Sadly, the storybook art style has been toned down significantly, and that’s really a shame. The original game is abso-freaking-lutely beautiful and looks like it was hand drawn from top to bottom. This one retains some pencil-sketch details, but mostly looks like a standard issue contemporary 2D Mario title. It’s a real bummer because the decidedly stronger than 16-Bit 3DS could have elevated the visual style to a whole other level. Still, on its own merits, the game looks quite nice, plays smoothly, and even has some nice 3D visuals (eggs popping out of the screen here, some rich background depth there. It’s good). The music doesn’t add much at all. In fact, it’s pretty awful and distracting, which is odd because Nintendo doesn’t normally drop the ball on that end of things.
Other new additions include motion control based vehicle levels in which you move Yoshi in a submarine, car, helicopter, and other vehicles by tilting the controller. On their own, these sections are amusing. However, they never feel like more than tacked on mini-games and distract from the overall experience. Worse is the multiplayer option, which offers little more than six time-based challenges that are sloppy, dull, and uninteresting. It was clearly hastily tacked on to expand playing time and completely pointless. Honestly, nothing the designers added to this sequel improves it in any way. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. When the game works best is when it’s aping or recreating experiences from the original SNES game. Any time it departs or expands, it falls flat. That’s not nostalgia talking either, just cold hard fact.
It’s a shame that New Yoshi’s Island didn’t turn out as well as the classic that inspired it since 3DSers have been starving for new content lately. Sadly, everyone involved went the safe route and delivered a 20 year-old-gaming experience with a couple of pointless add-ons. It’s pretty short and not particularly challenging or groundbreaking, but it is ultimately fun and satisfying. The Yoshi’s Island core design remains one of the most unique and entertaining that Nintendo ever dreamed up. So, there’s plenty of fun to be had here, just nothing new. Clearly, everyone at Arzest played it safe with this one, but at least you’ll get the game you’d expect. That might not necessarily be the same thing as the game you want, yet with so few new titles coming to the 3DS these days we gotta’ take what we can get. Hopefully, Nintendo has some big things planned for their handheld beyond releasing a 2D version of the system because we’ve been playing a lot of placeholders lately and there had better be something genuinely worthwhile at the end of this tunnel.