The most I knew about Yoshi’s Island was the fact that most (if not all) people who play it find baby Mario’s crying extremely aggravating. In fact, I knew there were several Yoshi games out there, and I didn’t even know which one it was that included such a…unique feature. (I was mainly confused about the difference between Yoshi’s Island on the SNES and Yoshi’s Story on the N64.) When the Switch Online provided us with a collection of SNES games, I knew it was time to finally play Yoshi’s Island, the cover art telling me right away that…oh, this is the game with baby Mario. I see…
The full name is Super Mario World 2, though I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard anyone call it that. Which makes sense because the name isn’t all that fitting. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is very little like the game it is named after. In fact, it is a totally unique concept in so many ways. First off, you play as Yoshi…with baby Mario riding on his back, rather than the plump plumber riding him around. Ironic? I dunno.
Yoshi can, if you so choose, jump on certain enemies to defeat them, just like Mario can. But he can also do so much more. (Just think about his Super Smash Bros moveset.) He can eat enemies and change them into eggs, after which he can toss said eggs at other enemies. He can also perform his signature flutter jump, which I realized can actually be used multiple times in the air sometime around world 5. Out of 6. Also unique is the fact that Yoshi has no health. Sure, falling to his doom or landing on spikes or in lava is instant death. But if he gets hit by enemies, nope, just fine.
What’s not fine is that this causes him to lose baby Mario, who floats away in a bubble and proceeds to…cry very loudly and obnoxiously (as babies do…except the bubble thing…and the floating). If you don’t get him back before time runs out, he gets taken by Kamek the wizard’s lackeys. (Oh yeah, I neglected to mention the story. Kamek wants to kidnap baby Mario and has already succeeded in capturing Luigi. It’s up to the various Yoshies to rescue baby Luigi and get both brothers back to their parents.)
And that’s not the only way in which Yoshi’s Island differs from its predecessor. This game also has a greater emphasis on exploring and puzzle-solving. Levels often feel like they have more paths and nooks and crannies to explore than the game that came before it, and certain stages, especially castles, often have puzzles that you must solve in order to progress. Puzzles are more along the lines of navigating a castle’s tricky layout (so, not a Zelda-style form of puzzle-solving), but it’s still extremely fun and satisfying once you figure out where to go.
One of my favorite parts of the game are the boss fights, and this is coming from someone who often hates boss fights. In this game, every boss has a unique strategy (not just jumping on its head like in Super Mario World). Bounce eggs back at the giant Boo, since it’s only vulnerable when you aren’t looking at it. Push the weird…pot-occupying ghost into the abyss because, well, you’ve already been encouraged to knock over potted plants before. Or make enough of an indent in the blob’s body that you’re able to strike its heart. I love that every boss fight requires you to think in order to figure it out, but none of the boss battles are so confusing that you can’t figure out what to do in a relatively short period of time.
Yoshi’s Island is extremely cute and charming, with a fun soundtrack and an exceedingly adorable color palette that almost makes the environment look like it was colored with crayons. But don’t let that fool you. Because as adorable as this game is, it’s actually very challenging (and just a tad frustrating), something its cute exterior might have you believing otherwise.
Honestly, as fun and inventive as this game is, the one thing that really bothered me (besides baby Mario’s crying) was the difficulty. I admire the fact that they made such a cute game hard. I really expected it to be easy because of how kid-friendly it looks. What bugs me more are the occasions when the game seems unfairly difficult.
For example, when you get hit and baby Mario floats away from you, I understand that it should be at least a little annoying to get him back. Yoshi can take unlimited hits, so it’s only fair that there are some consequences to getting hurt. But there were times baby Mario floated off into a spot I couldn’t possibly reach, meaning I had no chance of getting him back and had to just settle for listening to him bawl his head off until the timer reached 0.
Likewise, sometimes the number of enemies is a tad on the…excessive side. Once, I was being chased by not one, but TWO Lakitu, tossing stuff at me while other enemies attacked at the same time. Other times, there are these spiky Piranha Plant-type things that seem invincible, as far as I know. And they shoot stuff at you, and…well…in both circumstances, I’m getting hit repeatedly, forcing me to constantly chase down baby Mario in a panic, getting hit further in the meantime, which serves to slow you down, only to lose him again seconds later. That’s not exactly my idea of fun.
Yoshi’s Island is an extremely charming and unique game. I love Yoshi’s ability to throw eggs at enemies. I love the creative boss fights. And I love the sheer cuteness of it all. There were a few times I wish they had dialed down on the difficulty…or the number of enemies…or something, but overall, this game served as an overlooked gem (for me, not for the countless people who already love it) on the SNES that I’m glad I finally had the chance to play.
This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on July 7, 2020.