Retro Gaming Review: Yoshi’s Island
Join me, if you will, on a journey backwards in time to a more lighthearted era of gaming. A time when the gaming community wasn’t a cesspit of bassackward ideologies. A time before neckbearded manchildren collectively cried a river of tears over being held accountable for their perpetual marginalization of an entire gender. A time before foul-mouthed tweens called you “faggot” or some other homophobic slur while proclaiming their many sexual conquests over your mom after you handily beat them at an online game. A time before “Gamergate” became a rallying cry for emotionally-stunted basement dwellers mistaking their own perverse appetites for a legitimate political concern. A time when enjoying video games wasn’t a lifestyle known as gaming. A time when fun reigned supreme.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. Gaming has always been fraught with controversy. Even as far back as the days of the Atari 2600, some game developers pushed provocative or downright offensive content (see Custer’s Revenge). Violence has always been an issue in games, and developers have routinely born the blame for real-life atrocities. Sadly, despite the art form of video games progressing into the wonderful and immersive experience we have today, the culture surrounding video games has largely regressed into the stone-age. While I still enjoy modern games, at times I long for the simpler days.
Thankfully, consistently family-friendly game company Nintendo makes it extremely easy to purchase and play retro games, and in some of my extremely limited downtime, I have gotten to re-experience classics from my childhood. So press play on your old Super Nintendo and grab some eggs, because we’re discussing Yoshi’s Island.
Yoshi’s Island was originally released in North American on the Super Nintendo way back in October of 1995. Although the graphics may not hold up as well today, at the time they were cutting-edge. In addition to the vibrant, hand-painted aesthetic, the game boasted faux-3D backgrounds and moving platforms that always seemed way ahead of their time to Li’l W. Yoshi lived in a colorful and captivating world that remains memorable today.
However, gameplay has always been and will always be Nintendo’s bread and butter, and Yoshi’s Island delivered in spades. Eschewing any semblance of a compelling story (the Yoshi tribe is trying to reunite baby Mario and baby Luigi) for a rich and detailed platforming experience, this game provided an experience entirely catered to an individual’s approach to game-playing. Completionists seeking every flower, red coin, and time star were encouraged to take paths less traveled through each stage, uncovering a myriad of secrets and using special power ups to transform Yoshi into a helicopter or drill rig in order to find that mini-game and beat the bandit. Those looking to breeze through levels and simply finish the game found linear, albeit challenging, stage after stage. Both styles of gameplay demanded players use precise timing to leap from narrow platform to platform, dodge deadly lava flares, and bullseye moving targets with a barrage of speckled eggs.
Most importantly, though, every level was fun. Stage design consistently varied and routinely threw little twists and introduced unexpected elements in every world. New enemies, new puzzles, and new power-ups routinely reared their heads in each of the 8 worlds containing multiple stages each. Critical for any platforming game too, boss battles remained engaging and fresh. Every battle necessitated a new strategy or introduced unique constraints that rendered every victory an accomplishment. This was a fun, challenging, and rewarding game loaded with depth and intrigue. No wonder it received such critical acclaim on release.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent soundtrack. Even before I downloaded and began playing the game again recently, I could still remember songs from this game, almost 20 years after its release, as if I played it yesterday. Breezy, tropical midi tunes set the stage for aquatic adventures while eerie, mysterious tones provided overtures for castle crawls. Every bloop and bleep squeezed out of the 16-bit cartridge was perfect and fit the artistic direction exquisitely. In fact, Yoshi’s Island features one of my absolute favorite boss themes of all time. The 16-bit theme for the final battle against giant Baby Bowser is quintessentially metal and provided a terrifying backdrop to such a dire climax. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine this tune as a melodic metal track, but I prefer it just the way it is.
Overall, Yoshi’s Island is a near-flawless game that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to revisit. My only complaints are that the learning curve is a bit steep on some stages, and a little more variety in stage themes would have been nice. These are very minor complaints though. If you have a Wii, Wii U, or some other Nintendo console that can play Game Boy Advance games, I highly recommend that you seek out Yoshi’s Island. You won’t be disappointed.