Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island Review

I’m willing to bet that every gamer has a game like Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island in their life; a game that they followed, obsessed over, and consumed every scrap of information about in anticipation of its release. I've actually had some of my older friends tell me that they did this with the original Super Mario World by absorbing anything Nintendo Power could throw at them about that game. I, however, was a bit young to be that obsessive about a game’s release when the first installment came out, but oh how time changes a person.

When Yoshi’s Island was announced, I was quickly consumed by this highly anticipated and brilliant looking game, so much so that I begged my parents for a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine just so I could read more about it. From that moment on most of my gaming purchases and interests hinged on the words of this magazine or that article or some website. Still, at the age of nine could you blame me for being charmed by this amazing game? The look and feel of the game is whimsical and the characters familiar enough to draw you in, and the gameplay is both challenging yet forgiving enough for gamers of any age.

It's so adorably whimsical, it's almost sickening.
I remember how excruciating it was that I couldn't buy the game immediately after its release. At the age of nine I still relied on birthday and holiday gifts to increase my gaming collection, but when I finally got my hands on it, I never let go until I had collected every red coin, every flower, and every star I could find for that 100% completion. Sadly, for a game I loved so much, I gave it an undeserving, unceremonious farewell when I sold it on eBay years ago along with most of my gaming collection. However, after a long separation and some reconciliation, I recently picked it up a copy through some deft CraigsList business. Then, through the power of the internet you, my readers, voted that this would be the next game for me to review. I was a bit disappointed I wouldn't be able to crack open my new copy of Dead Island, but that disappointment was almost instantly forgotten when I heard the Yoshi’s Island’s intro boot up and my heart was warmed like it was back in 1996. But would the game hold up well after all these years, or was it only the power of nostalgia from my younger years that was holding this game in high regards?

Before you can get into the gameplay, story, or anything else about the game, you first have to acknowledge its look and style. And just like I remember as Elementary-School Gamer, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Forgive me, but I’m going to pull one of those “I’m not just anybody” moves, but this game warrants it – I've played a lot of games in my life, including plenty of games on the SNES, and I can say that none of them looks as brilliant as Yoshi’s Island does in my opinion. Even after playing some damn good looking games on modern consoles (Final Fantasy X and Borderlands 2 come to mind) I’m still in awe over the graphics of this 2D side scrolling platformer.

Even the menus look gorgeously hand-drawn by children.
What makes the graphics so special? It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing above all others, but for me the variety of level design is tops. In the same level you can be in the sun-soaked hills of the island, then spelunking in shimmering underground caverns, and end up finishing a level cloud-hopping. There is no cookie-cutter approach or blandness to these levels either. Even when you visit various caverns across worlds, you’re treated to different backgrounds, enemies, and environmental puzzles or hazards to challenge you. This ties into the gameplay, but it all begins with the creative design of the levels. You get the feeling that the game artists loved the work they did on this game and took pride in the final product. Hell, even the backgrounds feel alive, something that previous Mario titles tried to accomplish but to me never really pulled it off as well as Yoshi’s Island does.

I could go on and on about the beauty of this game, but then I’d lose you and forget that I have to review the game as a whole (for more on why I love the look of this game so much, check out my “Let’s Play” series on YouTube). Therefore, we’ll move on to the gameplay. If it’s one thing Nintendo knows how to do, it’s platformers (obvious statement if obvious), and Yoshi’s Island is no exception. Yoshi has the ability to jump and stomp on baddies just like his buddy Mario, but he also has a few other tricks up his sleeve. We all know that Yoshi can lay eggs, but in this game we’re introduced to Yoshi’s skill at using them as projectiles. Not all enemies are stompable or easily reachable, so in order to take them out you can have Yoshi take aim and save yourself the danger of close-quarters encounters. This is pulled off creatively by giving you a moving aim function once you activate the throwing function. You can aim the cursor using the directional pad if you have the time, and actually freeze the cursor in place to line up a perfect shot. However, if you need to fire off a shot quickly, you can always flex your hand-eye coordination skills by firing the egg while the aiming cursor is in motion. What becomes a simple way of safely dispatching enemies soon becomes an essential skill to master if you want to take on the games many bosses, but it never feels clunky or frustrating.

Nintendo also gave Yoshi the ability to perform a double-jump of sorts where he can exert himself and float in mid-air a bit longer to reach higher or further platforms in the game. This is rarely needed to actually complete stages, but mastering it can help you complete stages in an easier fashion. You can use it to avoid certain baddies and reach out-of-the-way areas if you’re a completionist like me and want to collect all those hidden flowers, stars, and red coins. Apart from the double-jump and egg firing, Yoshi can also use a ground pound. This isn't so much used to dispatch enemies as it is to interact with the environment’s multiple poundable obstacles. All of these moves combine to give you a unique and complex gaming experience unseen in previous Mario titles.

Seriously, even the bosses are cutesy in there own ways
Let’s talk soundtrack for a brief moment, shall we? After playing a few hours of Yoshi’s Island, I soon found myself humming and whistling along, even making up my own lyrics (something I do frequently to instrumentals). Graduated GamerGirl actually got annoyed with me once while playing because I wouldn't stop doing my own rendition of the end-stage tune. As far as soundtracks go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one as catchy as this. It meshes well with the look and feel of the game, treating you to sounds that uplift and inspire you. Where previous Mario games would have some “gloomier” music for some levels like in the castles or underground, Yoshi’s Island always seems to feel upbeat and positive, even in those more dreary or dangerous places. It’s definitely made my list of best gaming soundtracks, worth a listen by any fan of video game music.

Lastly, the game itself is just so much fun to play as a whole. From the story of the twin baby brothers you’re trying to reunite, to the look and sound of the game, to the amazing variety in enemies and boss battles, this game has something for everyone. Don’t let the kiddy look fool you – this game is challenging no matter how old or experienced you are, but above all else it’s a blast to play. I was actually sad each time I ended a Let’s Play session because I could easily play this game for hours on end. The fun factor is off the charts, and the game isn’t without humor as well. Seeing as the game takes place in the past of the Mario Bros. timeline, you’ll be smiling at the nods to the “future” games and you’ll snicker when you first hear Yoshi exert himself during a double-jump. If you play this game and have a hard time enjoying it, you might want to check to see if you have a gamer soul – it’s that fantastic.

So there you have it – after nearly 10 years separating me from my first playthrough of the game, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and all the joy it gave long ago hasn't aged a bit. I was reminded why this game garnered such praise and attention in the nineties, not just from me but from SNES owners the world around. If you love retro gaming and need a change of pace from brutally serious and/or difficult titles, you can’t go wrong with this game. I’m racking my brain and I can’t seem to find one thing wrong with this game…well, except for baby Mario’s crying, but that’s why remotes have a mute button. Thank you readers for voting this as my next game review. It’s been a truly wonderful experience. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some red coins and flowers to find.

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