A universally-praised platforming classic from the SNES days is a lot to measure up to when you make a game called Yoshi’s New Island and yet, that’s what Nintendo has ordered from developer Arzest for the 3DS. Although not a bad game by any means, it feels clunky, uninspired, and certainly not new.
It wouldn’t be a Yoshi’s Island game if Yoshi weren’t swallowing enemies, throwing eggs, pushing boulders, and flutter jumping through each level. All of these iconic abilities return in Yoshi’s New Island, but this time, they’re all so very slow. To throw an egg, Yoshi must go through an entire animation of him turning around, grabbing the egg, and facing forward again. At first, it threw me off because I kept thinking I was aiming my egg the wrong direction, but even after I got used to that, the overall slowness kept causing me to die in certain parts that required quick maneuvers. Even running and jumping feel significantly less nimble than they did in the past.
Transformations return, this time turning Yoshi into a hot air balloon, a submarine, a jackhammer, a pair of skis, a mine cart, a helicopter, and more in a race against the clock to reach checkpoints in time. For reasons I cannot fathom, every single one of them forces you to use the 3DS’ tilt controls to maneuver. Some aren’t as bad as others, specifically ones that can be completed by going in one direction and jumping on occasion, but the helicopter and submarine levels have you navigate tighter passageways where bumping into anything results in a lot of time lost and, likely, a one-way ticket back to the beginning of that section. But like in the past, these portions are short and do bring some variety to all the jumping and egg throwing.
Yoshi does come with some previously unseen tricks, however. Giant Shy Guys appear in certain levels and can be turned into giant eggs to be thrown through walls and pipes to clear your path and earn extra lives. There are even giant metal Shy Guys that roll along the ground when thrown instead of ricocheting off walls and can also act as anchors, enabling you to walk on the bottom of water-filled rooms. The giant eggs seem like they’re supposed to be the big new and exciting thing in this game, but honestly, they just feel like a repeat of the Mega Mushroom from New Super Mario Bros. and are, therefore, much less memorable.
Even the enemies and level designs feel like retreads of the past. Remember the level with the Chomps raining from the sky? The spores that become Nippers? The bandits stealing Baby Mario? Those and lots more are back just as you remember them with very few twists or new enemies to break up the familiarity. Even the New Super Mario Bros. games, sometimes criticized for “recycling,” change things up by introducing new enemies or even giving classic ones raccoon tails or some kind of spin to make them different. Yoshi’s New Island pulls very few tricks of its own and the result is a repeated feeling of, “Yeah, I’ve been here before.”
I will give some credit to the clever parts of the game in which you control two Yoshis at once. At certain points, a minion will transform itself into an "evil" version of Yoshi who mimics your every move. It's kind of dark, but the idea here is to trick it into impaling itself on some spikes to move on. If you've played some of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, it's a similar concept. Even though these segments are a bit more interesting than much of what Yoshi's New Island offers, there were only three of them that I could remember in the whole game. In fact, the only reason I'm making mention of them at all is because I remembered at the last minute that they were even in there. Obviously, they didn't leave much of an impression on me.
A lot of the SNES original’s charm came from its presentation; cartoony visuals, great sound effects, and infectious music you probably still hum from time to time. Yoshi’s New Island, by comparison, is toned down in all aspects with standard 3D graphics and tunes so sedated that they make the New Super Mario Bros. soundtrack sound like a rock concert.
No, seriously, the music is a major drawback for me. The title screen greets you with what I can only describe in words as “out-of-tune noise,” and practically all the music from the original that you would recognize sounds like it’s performed by an ensemble band of three-year-olds playing a busted kazoo, wooden spoons on a cooking pot, and a broken squeaky dog toy… and not in the it’s-so-bad-it’s-cute way, either. The most memorable tune in the game is the theme used in the trailer and its variations, but even then, it’s way too pleasant for a game calling itself Yoshi’s New Island. All those times you throw a three-story tall egg through walls? They’re accompanied by music that belongs in a child’s nursery. It doesn’t change the fact that you’re still obliterating things with an oversized egg, but it’s a bit like having Bob Dole commentate wrestling, don’t you think?
Like most Yoshi games, “difficult” is not in this game’s vocabulary. The vast majority of my deaths were from me missing an obvious heart or red coin and burning a life from my ever-increasing life pool just to quickly restart the room and try grabbing it again. Even so, by the time I cleared the sixth and final world, I had nearly 100 lives on stock. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze had similarly large life payouts, but the difference is that deaths in that game were the result of my own error, not me having so many that I saw fit to waste one just to save time on returning to a collectible.
Regardless of the reason, if you die enough times on a segment of a level and Mr. Pipe, this game’s version of the infamous Super Guide, will let you use a pair of wings to endlessly maintain whatever altitude you wish. Lose another life with that powerup and he’ll give you an enhanced version that has the added bonus of total invincibility to any minion. Accepting the help is totally optional, but like with any Super Guide offering, purists may find them borderline insulting. Short version: you have no excuses for not being able to clear a level, though whether you take the easy route or not is always up to you.
One improvement Yoshi’s New Island makes over its predecessor is utilizing the bottom screen for tracking your stars, flowers, and red coins. These collectibles will be your primary reason for wanting to revisit the single player mode, should 100% completion be your aim.
If not, a head-to-head two-player mode exists both for those who have their own copy of the game and those who don’t. There are six minigames in total, each unlocked after clearing a world in single player, and to be frank, none of them were fun. The biggest reason: you don’t compete against each other. Whatever the goal was for each game, the score posted was of our cumulative point total, making the whole thing feel pointless. Please note that I was the only one in the office with a copy of the game, however, the digital manual did nothing to indicate the differences between download play and multi-card play. Supposing that the goal really was to try and best each other, the minigames are still a clear afterthought and added in for a perceived bonus value.
I’ve been trying to remember the last time I felt this “meh” towards a game. Functionally, Yoshi’s New Island certainly works, is competently designed, and even has a few surprises, as late in the game as they appear. I was never counting on it to match, much less beat, the brilliance of the SNES Yoshi’s Island, but I was taken aback at how far off the mark it missed the spirit of that game. Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I booted up the original for a few minutes and found Yoshi’s athletic maneuverability, the cheery and hummable music, and the new challenges presented in each world to be in stark contrast to Yoshi’s New Island. Yoshi’s latest outing is slow, lifts its most interesting challenges straight out of the first game, and is overall far too tame to belong in the spirited company of its ancestor. Those looking for a 3DS platformer will find one here, but if it’s challenge and fun you want, allow me to recommend Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D first. If you already own it, you’re better off just playing through it again instead of paying full price for Yoshi.
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