After a lot of dredging used game shops and eventually eBay, I managed to find myself a copy of the oddly hard to come by GBA version of Yoshi’s Island and have recently been playing the hell of of it since it’s one of the all-time classics. In fact I was so inspired by the greatness that I decided to try out something which might turn into an occasional feature – a retrospective. We’ll see how this one goes.
Yoshi’s Island may carry the subtitle “Super Mario World 2” and feature Yoshi and Mario, but that’s really where the similarities end. One of the last great SNES games was originally going to be Nintendo’s reply to Rare’s Donkey Kong Country, featuring the same kind of realistic (for the time, at least) CG sprites that had blown everyone away in 1994.
Instead they took a wholly different path, going for hand drawn storybook visuals and some heavy use of the Super FX2 chip for advanced sprite scaling and rotation, giving the graphics unbelievable amounts of life and personality. In screenshots it might look colourful but basic, but in play it looks about as good as 2D platformers get. It’s a fantastic demo for the screens on the GB Micro and SP+, as well.
Technical coolness aside, Yoshi’s Island is quite simply my favourite platform game ever made. There’s so much imagination and variety to the gameplay that almost every single one of the 48 levels has its own gimmick, whether it’s enemies on stilts to stop you easily swallowing them or, amusingly, floating spores that make Yoshi trip out when he touches them. The fundamentals are always the same – swallow enemies to turn them into eggs which can be thrown, and try not to lose Baby Mario along the way – but they’re so simple and intuitive yet versatile that they’re essential in even the weirdest levels.
As with the best Nintendo games Yoshi’s Island is absolutely full of secrets and unlockables for the completist. The levels get pretty labyrinthine and each one hides a set number of collectibles that are needed for the maximum score, and by getting a high enough score on each world, extra bonus levels are unlocked. The game is a decent length as it is, but for the real completists it can take a very long time to truly finish it.
In short this is the best 2D platformer ever, without a shadow of a doubt. Now that I’ve finally played it at decent length it would probably even make my top five games full stop.