IGN Review of Yoshi's Island DS
It is not hard to rank the original Super NES Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2 as the finest 2D platform game yet created. The combination of advanced FX technology and brilliant game and level design was like the digital version of chocolate and peanut butter, and Yoshi's Island's lastability was further proven in the excellent Game Boy Advance port just a couple of years back. It is also not hard to be excited to revisit the platform design in a full-fledged follow-up, and what Nintendo has done for Yoshi's Island DS won't disappoint those looking for more of the same. The game is more a dual-screen stroll down memory lane than it is an advancement of the franchise -- as sequels go, this one plays it conservatively. It's definitely one of the better Mario spin-off platformers on the DS, just don't expect anything drasticly different to the original format.
When last we left Artoon, the company had butchered its first Nintendo-produced game for the Game Boy Advance: Yoshi Topsy Turvy, a tilt-sensing platformer that was repetitive, abrupt, and hollow, and overall it just didn't feel very "Nintendo" in presentation or design. But Nintendo must've seen some merit in this development studio as the company handed the keys to its amazing Yoshi's Island franchise to this B studio and let them take it for a spin on the Nintendo DS. It's certainly a risky move, but it's pretty clear that Nintendo had a tight leash on Artoon throughout the development since the game really doesn't stray very far from the original concept. Perhaps that's why this is "Yoshi's Island DS" and not "Yoshi's Island 2."
Everything about Yoshi's Island DS, from the story, background, player interface, musical theme, visual style and -- most importantly -- game and level design, is tightly centered around what Nintendo did for the original Super NES game more than a decade ago. On the one hand, Yoshi's Island was -- and still is -- an outstanding platformer; the original game introduced some amazingly clever devices in the side-scrolling hop-and-pounce genre. Enemies, for example, could be used as offensive weapons by consuming and spitting them out, either via the mouth or turning them into eggs for more precise projectiles. The game offered so much to really give the game an enormous amount of variety -- shove boxes to get up on higher ledges, turn into a helicopter to float around the level or turn into a mole to dig in through dirt mazes...the list goes on. The Nintendo DS game takes all of this and essentially rearranges it. It's not so much a "new" game as it is a "rearranged" one.
There are certainly new elements within Yoshi's Island DS, so don't think the developers were simply lazy in the DS production. One of the main elements is adding strategy to Yoshi's piggyback partner; the original concept was to simply get Baby Mario to the end of the game, which hasn't changed in Yoshi's Island DS. But here, Mario's not helpless. Or, rather, the package Yoshi hauls actually changes things up: Mario gives Yoshi a running ability. Pick up Baby Princess Peach in the later levels and you can float on the currents of wind. Baby Donkey Kong gives a nod to Donkey Kong Jr. and climbs vines, and a Baby Bowser gives a fireball spitting ability. At the very least, we've now got four more characters that Nintend can add to its next set of sports games.
Though this baby element really allows the level designers to change things up and add a newer puzzle element to the established game design, Baby Wario feels like he's a last minute addition that wasn't tested properly. His ability is in his magnet he carries around, attracting metallic objects like coins and metal platforms and ledges. Problem is, his magnet is incredibly wonky, sometimes missing items that are right next to him. Sure, you have to let Wario face the object you want to attract, but it doesn't work some of the time, and clunks up what should be seamless gameplay.
This game spans both screens and combines them as one display, similar, in fact, to the Nintendo DS simple and fun Yoshi's Touch 'n Go. This dual screen format gives players a much larger view of the level layout thanks to the added viewing real estate, which is something that's played out well by the level designers since you'll have to constantly look up and down to see all the twists and turns the platforms take in each challenge.
On the downside, to tie the two screens together, the developers made the hinge of the system viewing space as well. So, in essence, there a blind spot because the two DS screens don't sit flush together vertically. It's something that had to be adjusted to in games like Metroid Prime Pinball on the system, but that blank area tends to become a lot more bothersome because the developers didn't create a "smart camera" to make sure things don't get lost. It's important to have this gap as it makes aiming thrown eggs a bit more intuitive. But items tend to hide in the area between the screens, and while on occasion this is due to the "cleverness" of the level designer sticking things in there to make things more difficult, while other occasions it's just because the camera didn't adjust to let players see the stuff. Holding down the X or L button and pressing up and down will shift the view one screen up or down, which is a control mechanism that helps locate these blind items. But it's not a very intuitive command and makes things a little awkward when you have to constantly shift the entire screen upwards or downwards.
But much of what's here in the Nintendo DS product is what made the GBA game fun: lots of clever platform and egg throwing mechanics to progress through the different worlds, and lots of challenge in the designs that make it incredibly difficult to beat each round a hundred percent. Yoshi's Island DS follows the recent trend of Nintendo's insistence in making it easy to score tons upon tons of 1-up extra lives, so you'll really never run into a problem here. But you'll die frequently in the later rounds, and it'll take you quite a few tries to snag every required point in the levels to unlock the extra challenges.
Perhaps the designers stuck too close to the established design in this new game, since it really ruins a lot of the surprises if you've already played through the original SNES game or its GBA port. Boss battles are still enemies grown to gigantic proportions, though there are the few occasions where the developers stretch their creative legs -- the Ghost boss that uses the lower screen as a shattering mirror reflection is pretty darn clever. In the rare, new elements, like a hopping kangaroo mini-game, these items really seem out of place and never fit the established visual style because they're so drastically different. They'd probably work better if the game had a design that was more its own product instead of a simulation of an existing one.
©2006-11-13, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved