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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: Yoshi's New Island

Developer: Arzest
Publisher: Nintendo


Nintendo keeps on crapping on the Yoshi's Island series, and it bothers me.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was one of the most innovative games to come out of the SNES years. The music was great, the levels were smart, it had a totally unique aesthetic that no other game could quite copy, and it was fun.

Nintendo handed off the series to Artoon for 2006's Yoshi's Island DS, and the results were disappointing. It looked like Yoshi's Island, certainly, and the controls were lifted wholesale from Yoshi's Island, but it didn't feel like Yoshi's Island. The bosses were rehashes of the first game, the levels weren't as innovative, and it just felt... off. It wasn’t a terrible game, just limp.

Fortunately, Nintendo cut ties with Artoon, so Yoshi's New Island wasn't going to end up in their hands. A new developer, Arzest, turned out to be the developer of Yoshi's New Island.

But wait, where did Arzest come from?

They're old developers from Artoon.

Crap.

Arzest threw out the unique style of the first two Yoshi's Island games and switched to a more watercolor-esque look that more closely resembled the N64 game Yoshi's Story. Yoshi's Story was the worst Yoshi game, so I don't understand why they would consciously try and emulate its look, but the look of Yoshi's New Island is actually the least objectionable part of it. Most of the time, Yoshi’s New Island looks good, if not great.

No, the art style isn’t what hurts Yoshi’s New Island. What makes Yoshi's New Island problematic is that it brings nothing new to the table. Nothing at all. For example, the worlds follow the same progression: World 1 is a grass land, World 2 introduces Koopa Troops, World 3 is a wet jungle with monkeys, World 4 is in a sunset landscape, World 5 is a snow world, and World 6 is going to the castle. This is the same progression from the first two games. The final boss is even an enormous Bowser, for goodness sake! I mean, the first time you fight him in the original Yoshi's Island, it's amazing. After that? Much less so.

A few other quibbles that add up to a big deal:

  1. Yoshi delays for a split second before throwing an egg. In the first two games, he didn't have to "grab" an egg, he would just have it immediately in hand when you pressed the button. In this one, he has to grab an egg and then throw it. That little delay throws off the timing of experienced players, which makes it that much harder to line up shots.
  2. You don't get a score at the end of a level anymore. Instead, the game tells you if you got all the coins, stars and flowers and checks them off for you on the map screen. This is a big, big deal. For example, if you only get 86/100 on a level or 46/100 on a level, the world map shows both level as looking the same. Granted, in the grand scheme of things the most important thing with each level is, "Did you get all the coins, stars and flowers?" Still, knowing the difference between a level you juuuuuust missed and one you were way off on is huge, and they excised that for no good reason.
  3. Yoshi’s New Island's big addition is "giant eggs," and they do nothing important. At certain points, Yoshi can pick up really large eggs that he can throw and break barriers. They only can be used once, and just in those specific areas. In other words, they're not a new gameplay mechanic or a new idea, just another thing that the original Yoshi's Island did better.
  4. The "transformations" are pointless. In the original Yoshi's Island, there were times where Yoshi would transform into a helicopter, submarine or car for a bit. They weren't that exciting, but they changed up the gameplay for just a bit. The transformations in Yoshi's New Island, though, are pretty drab. You go into a door, change into something like a jackhammer and then drill your way through a maze. It's a race against time to get to the end of the transformation area, which means that important stuff gets missed unless you want to go back through the level, which you won't. You also have to tilt your 3DS to get through these areas, which is ridiculous and makes something frustrating even more so.
These complaints, taken individually, aren’t a big deal. When you add them all up, it just underscores the fact that Arzest has gotten further away from what made Yoshi's Island great. Yoshi's Island was a wild experiment from a mad scientist that just happened to work.

I mean, none of the original game should have worked. Yoshi’s Island had a weirdo art style that was widely panned before release, a strange egg-throwing mechanic that could have been too complicated, a baby that would cry like nails on a chalkboard if you got hit by an enemy, and bosses that were way beyond what people were used to. Somehow, it all came together.

The Yoshi's Island series has lost that experimental edge, preferring just to run over the same territory laid down by Miyamoto all those years ago with minor changes that just ruin it. So why would Nintendo willingly allow Arzest to rehash Yoshi's Island while still calling it "new?" Beats me. Maybe they assume that most people haven't played the original, but the people who are interested in a new Yoshi's Island game are interested because the original generated so much goodwill. By pointlessly redoing Yoshi's Island over and over, they ruin what made the first one so good.

So, if you've never played a Yoshi's Island game before, maybe you'll like Yoshi's New Island. If you've played the original, though, and you're wondering if you should play Yoshi's New Island, you might enjoy it if you lower your expectations. Like, way lower.

Final Rating: D