Going into Yoshi’s New Island, I wasn’t expecting very much. I thought it was going to be a simple cash grab that would siphon off the success of Yoshi’s Island for SNES. The trailers leading up to the game weren’t that great, the art style looked muddy and overall, it just looked lazy. Thankfully, I can be wrong and what I received was an unexpected delight of a platformer with a few drawbacks that hold it back from true greatness.
Yoshi’s New Island stands out, thanks to its surprising well-realized art direction. The screenshots prior to release didn’t really do it justice, as the game looks great when played on the 3DS. It’s a nice mix of crayon, water colours and chaulk, and it all comes together very naturally and beautifully. The best level aesthetically are the ones that mix and match the two types of art, such as the when the level is made from chaulk and the background is a water painting of trees. It is simply beautiful to look at and I would like to have some of the backgrounds hung up in my house. While not impressive on a technical level, it’s yet another example of demonstrating good artwork over sheer amount of pixels.
While visually stunning, the game is also cute and has a layer of charm. Yoshi himself is as cute as ever and very expressive, whether he’s standing still and rubbing his chin, trying to lick an inedible object, or the sound he makes while doing the signature flutter jump. Baby Mario isn’t as annoying this time, but still cries relentlessly when an enemy lands an attack. Enemies in the game are mostly returning from previous entries, but they still work well within the art style and game world. Stomping on a Goomba will simply flatten him and then, he proceeds to scuttle away, Koopas can be licked up and spat back out, and seagulls flap their wings harder when Yoshi stands on one. The game has a ton of personality and, despite being similar to Yoshi’s Island, it’s still a joy seeing this world in action.
This being on the 3DS, Yoshi’s New Island does offer the 3D effect, but it’s hardly worth mentioning. I find the 3D to be just pointless; some levels barely even seem to have a noticeable difference and the game isn’t designed that makes the feature worth it. Nothing pops out nor does the world environment benefit from any additional depth. I often forgot about the feature, as it does add very little to the experience.
The music, on the other hand, may be one of the worst soundtracks from a Nintendo game in recent memory. For starters, there aren’t many tracks at all and the main theme, which may be described as simply “alright,” is repeated constantly throughout the game. Despite feeling at times like it is jazzy or having a tropical feeling, it is the only song I remember, only because of its repetitiveness. Those boss tracks lack any real tension. The jingles that play during the level select screen or when a level’s completed sound like a random ensemble and is grating on the ears. Considering how great the original Yoshi’s Island soundtrack was, this is an utter disappointment and one of the biggest flaws with the game.
However, a game obviously stands on its gameplay more than anything and, while Yoshi’s New Island is working off a template, it still stands strong with new ideas and mechanics. The series continues to have some of the tightest controls in a 2D game. Jumping is responsive and momentum is perfect; holding the jump button will activate Yoshi’s flutter jump, which gives him a little extra height and more time in the air. This can be chained repeatedly, but isn’t necessary to complete the game. He can carry up to six eggs at once; this can be controlled via motion controls or by the traditional method of lining up the cursor with the target. Lastly, pressing down while in the air will allow Yoshi to do his ground-pound move and this was the only thing that gave me issues in the minute-to-minute gameplay. The analogue nub is a bit too sensitive and, as a result, I ground-pounded m way straight into a bottomless pit on more than one occasion. It doesn’t completely detract, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Each level presents a new idea or mechanic to add variety to the game and, while some are truly fun and engaging, they more often than not won’t appear again in the game. One example is Yoshi’s doppelganger — he copies your every move and you must lead him into a bed of spikes. It’s surprisingly fun, but never shows up again. Chain-chomps can chase Yoshi relentlessly, but they’re so very brief that the impact on these short, but fun, sections is dampened. Other ideas may reappear but are such a short part of the level that it’ll be over as soon as it starts ramping up in difficulty.
There are thankfully also fun mechanics that appear often enough to be a part of core gameplay, but sporadic enough to not be overutilized. I’m referring to the egg-dozers, which come in giant and metallic flavours; giant eggs can destroy walls, pipes and enemies, often leading to alternate paths or hidden collectables while metal eggs, while similar, make Yoshi sink in water. The fun with metal eggs is that, once Yoshi throws them, he’ll begin to ascend once more, so it’s crucial to know when to throw, so that the player can guide him safely through obstacles or grab collectables. They add a surprising sense of empowerment to the player; there is nothing quite like watching Yoshi throw an egg ten times the size of him and destroy everything in the immediate vicinity.
Some levels feature a portal that takes Yoshi to a “race to the finish” course in one of his alternate forms, which include submarine, helicopter, mine cart and more. These are hit-and-miss, as they are all controlled by the 3DS gyroscope. The mine cart works well and is quite fun — simply tilt the screen in the direction you want Yoshi to go in and press any button to jump. Helicopter stages, on the other hand, aren’t executed well. Some stages require turns around tight corners but, no matter how much the 3DS is tilted, Yoshi will only turning so much, meaning that it’s easy to hit walls and lose precious time. All of these transformations are controlled by tilting and, while some work better than others, the fact that there isn’t an option for traditional controls is a bit of a letdown.
Unlike most games, Yoshi can’t die simply from being attacked; if an enemy lands a blow, he’ll lose Baby Mario and the star count will decrease, but once Baby Mario is back, it’ll slowly work its way back to ten. With hidden star points, Yoshi can increase his count to thirty, but if attacked, it must drop below ten before points may be regained. As a result, I only died once due to the counter reaching zero, but died multiple times from bottomless pits and instant-kill hazards, like spikes and lava. If you plan on simply rushing through each level, Yoshi’s New Island offers very little difficulty, especially with boss battles. Each world features two boss stages and, while they are creative and unique, challenge is not their strong suit.
Each stage has its own feel, theme and ideas that make it stand out from the rest. One fire level, for example, features Yoshi on a platform following a rail that dips below the lava, meaning that you need to jump to another platform or balance on a boulder that can also possibly crush enemies. The water stages are great as well; one stand-out level features a hard-to-reach exit, so Yoshi must explore to raise the water level, collecting a metal egg to position himself beneath the exit so that he may ascend to victory.
Hidden in each stage is twenty red coins and five happy flowers, as well as an optional side objective of finishing each level with 30/30 star points, and it’s here where the game truly shines. While playing through a level, ignoring everything is easy and generally fast; taking the time to uncover invisible flowers, alternate routes, or avoiding damage outright can be a challenge to most gamers. One level in particular is basic in design — just run to the right while jumping over fire pits and avoiding the enemy. However, this level comes alive due to what is essentially a “second level” on top of it, just out of sight. Another example is the chain-chomp sequences I mentioned earlier. What was once a quick dash to the finish now becomes a white-knuckled experience as you try to collect all the red coins.
Another thing that sets Yoshi’s New Island apart from other platformers is its constant rewards. Collecting everything in one world unlocks a bonus stage — which truly cranks up the difficulty — and secret vehicle level. I often say how good I am at 2D platformers, but some levels make me think otherwise. Every time a world is cleared, on top of these special stages, a new mode is unlocked for the multiplayer.
Speaking of multiplayer, Yoshi’s New Island comes equipped with a local-only, two-player mode. These games are focused on co-op only and involve receiving a high score. Such examples are making as many eggs as possible by eating enemies, flutter-jumping as far as possible, or ground-pounding balloons. They function well and can offer a quick laugh, but it’s lacking in replay ability due to no competitiveness whatsoever. In the mode where players make eggs, there is only one counter between the two players, meaning at the end of the match, no one knows who made more eggs. Multiplayer is a high-score only mode that could has potential and, to its credit, does work hassle-free, but it gets old quickly.
I find Yoshi’s New Island very surprising. I’m amazed at how much fun I had, despite how close it is to the SNES classic. It thankfully introduces some great new ideas that lift it above a simple cash grab, but it is also let down by some motion controls and levels that don’t stand as strong as they should if you don’t plan on finding everything. It’s because of this that I mostly recommend Yoshi’s New Island to people who are already fans of 2D platforming and enjoy hunting secrets. If you plan on rushing through the game without a moment’s pause, there are better offerings on the 3DS. If you feel burnt out by the genre, this particular adventure won’t suddenly rekindle the magic, but for people who can’t get enough, this game is a great experience. At the end of the day, it’s just good to be Yoshi.
Low Score: 6 / 10
- Underwhelming soundtrack
- Lack of challenge in normal stages
- Lackluster multiplayer
- Forced motion controls
High Score: 9 / 10
- Hidden secrets and alternate pathways
- Imaginative level designs
- Charming and full of character