Did you know that in one of the best platform games ever to appear in the Super Mario series, Mario can’t jump or, for that matter, run or talk?
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is a curiosity, even by the standards of a series that had previously seen a vegetable throwing advergame (based on a discarded Mario prototype) repainted as Super Mario Bros. 2. It is the official sequel to the Super NES launch title and the best contender ever Super Mario worldyet it has a different art style, a different main character, and radically different gameplay.
Nowadays, it might be more useful to describe it as Yoshi’s first game instead; the game that created the cute green dinosaur and his brand of imaginative, tactile and luminous mechanical platforms for the nursery. And that’s all right. But the wonder of The island of Yoshi, which is included in the Nintendo Switch Online SNES collection, is that it can still hold its own even among full-throated Super Mario games. He is exquisitely crafted, freewheeling, mischievous and joyfully weird like all of them, and a contender for the best game ever.
The island of Yoshi is a kind of prequel storybook of Mario games. Mario and Luigi, as children, are given birth by a stork, when little Luigi is kidnapped by the wizard Koopa Kamek and little Mario falls on the island where the Yoshis live. (This scenario introduces strange considerations into Mario’s lore, such as the identity of Mario and Luigi’s parents and why the babies were born wearing their signature red and green hats.) Yoshi: This is a younger version of the Super Mario world Yoshi or a progenitor Yoshi? What is the lifespan of a Yoshi, anyway? – decides to reunite the twins and carries Mario on his back in search of the child’s lost brother.
The delightful adventure that follows is defined by the extraordinarily flexible and sophisticated toolset that the developers have chosen to give to Yoshi. He has a “flutter” that can lengthen the lengths of his jumps; he can devour enemies with his long tongue and spit them out; Or he can, uh, convert them, with a satisfying squat and pop, into the eggs. These eggs can be thrown using a target reticle and bounce around the environment. Mario sits on Yoshi’s back, and if Yoshi takes a hit, he floats in a bubble and must be rescued before time runs out.
Most of this was intended to make the game more forgiving to play than Super Mario world, and in a way it does. Thanks to the flutter, the jumps don’t have to be performed with the same precision and the baby-bubble mechanic essentially gives Yoshi a second hit before he is knocked out. The time limit for levels has also been removed, encouraging more careful exploration. Thanks to these changes, The island of Yoshi it’s technically an easier game. But the changes make it even more chaotic.
If Super Mario games are all about momentum, The island of Yoshi it’s all about elasticity. Mario sprints, jumps and flies. Yoshi bounces, swings and slides. The world around him pulsates, sways, expands and contracts, thanks to special distortion and scaling effects powered by a Super FX chip in the game cartridge. That’s all it is chewy. The enemies are mostly comical and innocent beings who get in the way, with the exception of those who are bewitched by Kamek to become huge and fatuous bosses.
Through a combination of meticulous design, physics-driven cause and effect and evil humor, the designers – led by Shigefumi Hino (Yoshi’s original artist) and Takashi Tezuka (Shigeru Miyamoto’s right hand man) – have created an incredible sandbox. for organic video game slapstick. In fact, this is one of the funniest physics comedy games ever. An unforgettable phase, “Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy”, transforms the entire level into a wobbly wave machine if you touch one of the narcotic clouds floating in the air, causing Yoshi to stagger like a drunken hired worker after closing time.
There is also a comedy inherent in Yoshi’s frantic race to reclaim Mario the bubble pup when he is knocked out. But there is also a real desperation, fueled by Mario’s cries of panic. (The sound effects are great, as is Koji Kondo’s bouncy, funky, lyrical music.) Later Yoshi’s games would be explicitly aimed at very young players. The island of Yoshihowever, it is not a game for children, but it’s a game about them.
When it was released in 1995, The island of Yoshi it was visually an outlier, not to mention a relic: Donkey Kong CountryThe delicious makes the year before made The island of Yoshithe pixel art looks old-fashioned and the dimensional explosion of Super Mario 64 it was just around the corner. Its graphics have probably aged better than either of the games, however, and its intentionally sketchy, hand-made appearance prophesied the album aesthetic of many later indie games.
Nintendo later developed this idea into the tactile materials and soft, cushioned safety of Kirby’s epic yarn, The woolly world of YoshiAnd Yoshi’s craft world. The island of YoshiWhile still adorable, it presents a more unfiltered and more mischievous view of early childhood. Yoshi is both a stressed out guardian, running after his whiny charge, and an orally staring child who puts everything he can see into his mouth, lets out the eggs and throws them to see what happens.
The island of Yoshi it’s a world of enchanting chaos, distinct from the surreal non-sequiturs of Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom, but a close cousin nonetheless. If you have a Nintendo Switch Online membership, you need to visit the island for yourself. It will make you feel years younger.