The pace of the Yoshi’s Island franchise has always served as its trademark: its timer-free approach makes it a contemplative, measured sort of game… until you get hit or reach a special section, at which point it becomes one of the most stressful games you’ve ever played. It embraces the idea of being a good caretaker for baby Mario, and encourages players to focus on completing levels by whatever pace-slowing means necessary. The new release, Yoshi’s New Island, magnifies these elements: it’s all about taking the time to think before you flutter-jump.
The mission of Yoshi’s New Island is clearly just to deliver you some more Yoshi levels. The plot just serves to reset everything, and there’s no unnecessary complication and dual-screen craziness like in Yoshi’s Island DS. This is just about you, the little plumber-to-be and some egg-happy platforming, making it feel a bit safe at times but reliably well-thought-out. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect out of the first large-scale project from Arzest: the company is full of platforming veterans from Yoshi’s Island DS developer Artoon (including Sonic designer Naoto Oshima), but the team’s still getting its legs back under it and isn’t willing to take too many risks.
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Yoshi’s New Island is the first appearance of a new SpotPass function. The game collects play data and sends it back to the company, letting it use that information to tune and adjust future games. It’s optional, so don’t fret, but we’re interested in whether this will become a large part of Nintendo’s development strategy.
There are some things here that feel decidedly of this era, though: the new “Eggdozers” are large eggs that break through walls and sink you to ocean floors, and their inclusion is clearly intended to bring “excitement” in a marketing-campaign sort of way. Generally, there’s not too much to them, though. New Island also makes use of the gyroscope for some of the title’s special transformations, and the result is surprisingly enjoyable. Occasionally, the submarine gets a bit finicky, or you forget to turn off the 3D for motion segments and get a bit disoriented, but those are minor issues.
Aesthetically, New Island strays further from the original than DS. It feels like it’s getting a bit closer to the Yoshi’s Story aesthetic, emphasizing the depth of objects and playing into the slightly off-pitch nature of that game’s speech and sounds. There were many worries about the game from pre-release looks, but the final product is much more visually pleasing (and looks way better in motion), incorporating lots of textures and drawing effects into the world and giving it a heavy coat of colorful character.
Lives and coins: irrelevant?
Yoshi’s New Island once again includes collecting coins and 1-ups, but it’s a great example of how these just don’t matter anymore. Within an hour, we had over 50 lives, and we never went below that number, despite dying quite a bit. It may be time to drop the concept altogether.
Levels seem to be designed to two extremes: New Island wants to be a kid-friendly game in many ways, and making it from one side of each map to the other ends up not being particularly difficult. Finding all the collectibles and not getting hit at the end to keep all your stars, on the other hand? That’s a Herculean task, and one many players will be tempted to make with no time limit to dissuade them. Mid-level checkpoints tend to show up right after a particularly tricky segment, which is a relief when you get it right and an absolute nightmare when you almost do.
On the other hand, the little side areas tend to be frantic without frustration, due to lowered stakes. Transformation segments, like the mine cart challenges, are fun and fast collection-fests, and the Super Yoshi power-up fuels the sort of pattern-memorization auto-running challenge that’s made some mobile games very popular. Even the little battle puzzles, one-screen rooms with a collectible and some enemies in the way, are a fun change of pace.
The package doesn’t include too many frills, but it does support unlockable two-player minigames, available through multi-card or download play. They’re sort of like the Yoshi Olympics, testing your abilities at egg-throwing and flutter-jumping, but without being tied to anything, they’re not much more than a silly extra. Bonus levels have been tweaked a bit, now unlocked by collecting enough “medals” in a world. How do you get medals? It’s a matter of luck: the end-of-level roulette lands on a flower, and you get medals equal to your flower total. You’ll need 30 medals to get a bonus level, and while we applaud the idea of making bonus stages more accessible, this way just seems arbitrary and weird.
Yoshi’s New Island is definitely a slow burn. It starts off feeling a bit too close to the SNES original, and makes you just a bit tired of the franchise as a whole. Once it gets going, though, it justifies its place, establishing a feel and pace that’s just distinct enough to keep you going. It can feel a bit empty when you’re not trying to collect everything and a bit brutal when you are, but once you settle on a play style that feels the most fun to you, everything becomes a bit clearer. Whatever you do, though: take your time.
Pros: Solid platforming design, surprisingly-fun transformations
Cons: Often-infuriating collectibles, off-kilter audio