Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Platformer, Super Nintendo Entertainment System
1995 Nintendo 

Yoshi's island is a spinoff from the original Mario series of platformers, with the character roles reversed: Yoshi, the noble reptilian steed of Mario, is now the hero. It's actually a sort of prequel to the other Mario games, because in this one Mario is an infant. His brother Luigi was kidnapped by baby Bowser, so Yoshi takes the helm to save the day.

Anyone who has played a Mario game will already understand the basic gameplay principles in Yoshi's Island. The controls are similar, jumping on the heads of enemies kills them, and there are lots of gold coins! Some familiar characters make appearances like the Piranha Plants, but most creatures are entirely new to the series.

Yoshi has very different skills than Mario ever did. He can eat most enemies and small objects, instantly pooping them out into a trail of eggs that follow behind him (what a digestive system he must have!). Those eggs can then be used as projectiles against enemies or to destroy objects. He can also pedal his legs mid-air to sort of glide across long spans, and he can stomp down on objects to smash them. Later in the game, he can use powerups to transform into different vehicles like a helicopter. If Yoshi is hit by an enemy, the baby Mario on his back floats into the air on a bubble and a timer in the top corner begins to count down. If you don't nab Mario before time is up, then you lose a life.

This broadening of concepts from the Mario game series is great, but how does it play? In short: amazingly. Even as a child I remember noticing how finely tuned the controls were. Yoshi moves intuitively and with pixel-perfect positioning. He glides over the often rolling and diverse terrain with ease; gone are the perfectly flat, horizontal platforms of Mario games past. Visually, the painterly landscapes feel vibrant and alive and like they are pushing the SNES to its very limits.

The best part of Yoshi's Island are its logic puzzles. With the basis of tight controls, a predetermined set of skills, and fairly realistic physics, you're led through progressively harder and harder levels. Most of the hardest puzzles are not required to progress through the game, but your desire for 100% ratings on all levels will be so strong you'll do them anyway.

This guy looks like he means business.

I also feel that this is the first game in the Mario series where bosses became a more integral component of the gameplay. There are some intriguing and amazing bosses you'll encounter that are unlike anything else in the franchise. Some are quite challenging, but the game is structured so that an analysis of your surroundings and Yoshi's abilities will yield a solution to any problem.

Yoshi's Island is an absolute joy to play. It takes the tried-and-true concepts that make Mario great, then adds about a million things more to keep your interest. It controls better than most platformers, it's visually stunning, and holds up very well to the test of time. It is among the best platformers ever, and is a must-play as far as I'm concerned.

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