Original Release: 11 October 2002
Original Platform: Game Boy Advance
Virtual Console Release: 24 April 2014
While Kirby is my homeboy and there isn’t a game on the planet starring him I wouldn’t play, Yoshi also holds a very special place in my heart (if for nothing else, because he’s allowed me to kill him so many times to pull off an effective super jump in New Super Mario Bros. U). The original SNES version of Yoshi’s Island isn’t available to play on any of Nintendo’s current systems (I understand this has something to do with copyright and the chips that were included in the original cartridge), but in its place we do have Super Mario Advance 3, the Game Boy Advance port of the game. For those who played the original I’m sure this isn’t ideal, but I since I haven’t I was perfectly happy to pick up the GBA version of what is, to be quite honest, a masterclass in platforming perfection.
It’s a Mario spin-off platformer, so you don’t really need a lot of story to get things going, but what plot there is is undeniably adorable.
Taking place long before Mario ever had to set out to rescue Princess Peach ad nauseam, our story begins when a stork is on his way to deliver a baby Mario and Luigi to their new parents. While in flight the stork is attacked by Kamek, who foresees that these brothers will be nothing but trouble for Baby Bowser when he grows up. Kamek manages to grab Luigi, but Mario slips away and tumbles towards the ocean.
Thankfully Mario’s resourceful and manages to safely land himself on Yoshi’s Island. Mario has a very deep bond with Luigi and can psychically sense where he is. The Yoshis, being the good-hearted creatures that they are, agree to carry Mario across the island to find his missing brother.
While the original version included Super Mario World 2 in its title and this version is part of the Super Mario Advance series, it plays very differently to anything starring the grownup version of the red plumber. It has standard 2D side-scrolling platforming with jumping and running, but controlling a Yoshi is a very different beast.
The first thing that sets a Yoshi game apart from a Mario game is the lack of a timer. So long as you have baby Mario on your back (and there aren’t any enemies running after you), you can take each stage at your leisure. Coming into contact with an enemy will knock baby Mario off your back, and you have a limited amount of time to get him back (how much time you have is dependent on how many stars you have found littered throughout a level) – run out of time and Kamek will come and grab him, and you’ll have to restart the level.
While you can still jump on enemies heads to defeat them, it’s actually far more fun (and completely essential to gameplay) that you use Yoshi’s tongue to grab them, eat them, and then crap them out as eggs. These eggs can then be used as projectiles to defeat larger enemies, bosses, or to reach items that are either hidden or too far away to get to by just flutter jumping.
The game is split over six worlds, each with eight stages, and these are some of the most gorgeous things you are ever going to see. The entire game has been visually designed like drawings done with crayons, which gives it a very child-like and whimsical feel. The visuals are accompanied by equally magical music that create some of the happiest environments I think I’ve ever encountered in a game. Don’t let the cuteness fool you though – Yoshi’s Island has some devilishly tricky sections and many hidden items littered throughout each stage (finding all the hidden items in a particular world will unlock bonus stages unique to this version of the game). I died a good few many times, and checkpoints are just a little further apart than you’d like, but the game succeeds at being so damn gorgeous that you just don’t mind repeating certain levels over and over again.
The fact that this is a GBA port does mean that the screen is zoomed in to compensate for the GBA’s smaller screen size. This means that parts of the stage which would have been perfectly viewable in the SNES version are out of shot here, and this requires that you explore each stage a little more thoroughly than would have been the case in the original. As part of the Wii U Virtual Console I opted to play the game mostly on the GamePad alone, which doubles up quite nicely as an oversized GBA. With screen smoothing enabled it looks absolutely fine on a TV as well, but then the sound takes a bit of a hit. It won’t ruin the game by any means, but my personal feeling is that since this was designed for a small screen, play it on a small screen.
It’s very rare that a game manages to balance being fanciful, challenging and engaging, but Yoshi’s Island did just that. There really isn’t a bad thing you can say about it because it does absolutely nothing wrong. Now a mature 20-year-old, Yoshi’s Island is as competent and compelling a game (if not more so) than most of what’s on the market today, and deserves to be played by anyone who enjoys platformers (or just wants to let their inner child loose on a mad run for a while).
My Final Rating: 10 / 10