This is why dinosaurs are extinct

For many gamers who grew up in the SNES era, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was nothing short of extraordinary. Not only did the game look and play great, but no one would’ve figured that playing babysitter with Yoshi—a character himself just introduced in Super Mario World­—would be as charming or as addictive as it was. Since then, we’ve visited Yoshi’s Island a couple more times, but those subsequent sequels and spin-offs never quite lived up to that original outing that featured Baby Mario.

Nintendo never stops trying to improve on past iterations, however, so they brought in Takashi Tezuka—the original Yoshi’s Island creative director—to find a way to finally top his 1995 surprise hit. So, with the help of relatively new developer Arzest, Tezuka, now in a producer role, presents Yoshi’s New Island. But you can’t recapture the magic of Yoshi’s Island without the proper team in place, from top to bottom.

Chronologically, Yoshi’s New Island picks up immediately after Super Mario World 2. That dumb stork that let Baby Luigi get kidnapped in the first game realizes that he delivered the Mario Bros. to the wrong house. Taking flight, bundles in beak, the stork begins to search for the Bros.’ proper parents. Kamek, Baby Bowser’s caregiver and head Magikoopa, sees another opportunity to kidnap the twins. He again snatches Baby Luigi, and again lets Baby Mario slip through his fingers and fall to an island below. Luckily for Baby Mario, this happens to be the Yoshis’ second island—their summer home (kind of like those jackasses from my home state of New Jersey who vacation on Long Island). The Yoshis snatch up the future plumber and quickly realize they must unite the twins, no matter the cost.

At the very least, most of the elements you’d expect to be quality in a Nintendo game shine through here. The music’s great—I found myself sitting on the title screen while writing this review simply because I found the theme song that enjoyable. The game also looks very nice, providing the bright colors and stark contrasts that make enemies and allies alike really pop off the screen with the series’ trademark coloring-book art style. If only the same could be said of the 3D effect, which doesn’t do all that much to the world except provide a little roundness to Yoshi and some of the enemies.

Yoshi’s New Island also controls nicely, and Yoshi can use all the same moves from previous games like his stutter-step float and chowing down on enemies to turn them into eggs. He also gets some new moves that provide a little variety compared to the original game, such as making giant eggs out of giant Shy Guys to destroy the environment, or making giant metal eggs out of—you guessed it—giant metal Shy Guys to help him sink to the ocean floor.

As a fan of Super Mario World 2, I really wanted the game to reinvigorate this spin-off series. Instead, Yoshi’s New Island falls far short of its ambition. On paper, it’s as long—and features as much replayability—as the original. Six worlds, each with eight stages, and each with a bevy of collectibles in the form of stars, red coins, and flowers, could keep completionists busy for hours on end. Here, though, the stages are far shorter than in the original Yoshi’s Island, and I completed the game, with most items found, in fewer than 10 hours. This lack of depth in each stage meant I felt no joy of discovery when I came across a new warp pipe or hidden crevasse, no sense of accomplishment when I found every item on a stage. It all just felt like a cheap—and far easier—rehash of the original.

How easy, you ask? This is possibly the easiest Nintendo game I’ve ever played, and I died only a little more than a dozen times. And that’s after I killed myself several times stupidly in the last few stages because I’d become so disenchanted with the entire experience. Before this game, I don’t remember any Mario game feeling like a grind, no matter how simple it may have been at its core. Here, I found myself running into enemies a few times and letting Baby Mario cry until the timer ran down to zero, just to punish the little brat. That incessant whine served doubly as a personal torture for the fact that I ever got my hopes up in the first place.

While on the subject of torture, the game also features a multiplayer. At first, the six minigames (each unlocked after beating a world), sound like they could be a positive element if they proved worthwhile. Instead, they’re the biggest facepalm moment of all (as EGM’s Andrew Fitch can probably attest to, since he helped me test them out). Instead of versus minigames, they’re all co-op-oriented, so you’re just trying to work with a buddy to beat your own high scores over and over again. How sweet and innocent and not at all what I want from a multiplayer minigame. Could it have been that bad for the two players to face off against one another in competitive enemy-eating, coin-collecting, or balloon-popping?

Even the things Yoshi’s New Island gets right feel watered down compared to the original. I loved the boss battles from the first Yoshi’s Island.  I remember Burt the Bashful, Salvo the Slime, and Naval Piranha like it was yesterday. And while the bosses start off well here, they fall into simple patterns and die in a predictable three-hit fashion, which most of the original Yoshi’s Island bosses never did. Three hits to kill not just the first boss, but every boss, just seems so antiquated now, and it’s shocking games so often still adhere to that rule.

The Yoshi transformations remain a lot of fun but falter for different reasons. Like before, our tongue-happy dinosaur pal can become a helicopter and a submarine, but he can now also change into a bobsled, a jackhammer, a mine cart, or a hot-air balloon. But even this is spoiled by the fact that you’re forced to use the 3DS’ gyroscope to control Yoshi through the special sections, making what could’ve been a saving grace clunky and awkward instead.

You can’t blame Nintendo for trying to capitalize on a character that clearly holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. In retreading ground most of their audience will be familiar with—and doing it less successfully this time around—it just seems they went about it the wrong way. As a platformer, Yoshi’s New Island works fine, but it’s definitely not up to Nintendo’s usually stellar standards.

Developer: Arzest • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.14.2014
It may say “new” in the title, but there’s simply not enough to get excited about in Yoshi’s New Island. Fans of the original will probably be turned off by this inferior and all-too-familiar retread.
The Good Fun boss battles; new eggs and transformations for Yoshi.
The Bad Relies too heavily on nostalgia to cover up gameplay deficiencies.
The Ugly The return of the most annoying sound in videogames: Baby Mario’s crying.
Yoshi’s New Island is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive and was reviewed using a retail code provided by Nintendo.