Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

"Babysitting can be a ton of hard work, apparently!"

For my first ever blog review, I figured that I should do something special to start things off. I wanted to make my first review stand out, and I feel the only way to do so is to review a game that I held close to my heart in my childhood. This game I am reviewing was really the first game to pull me into the world of video games as a solo player. Now there was a time before the release of this game that I was playing video games,  but that was when I was at a very young age and I was playing games with my older sister. I didn't start playing video games by myself until a few years later when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was reaching the end of its lifespan.

The Nintendo 64 was starting to come out on the market and it would capture the imaginative minds and the attention of gamers all around the world, but the SNES was going out with a respectable bang by putting out games that were of solid quality. One in particular would be temporarily lost in the shuffle because of the Nintendo 64 boom, but when gamers came around to this title, they would soon realize that this was actually in fact a hidden gem of a game.

Yes. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was the game that started the journey for me as a gamer and the story behind me getting my hands on this game is pretty interesting. I was just a shy and quiet kid living in a random apartment complex in Ohio, having very little money and having to improvise in order to have fun. When the time of Hannukah came around for the winter season, I asked a relative of mine to get me an SNES, and I ended up getting it and the game that came with the system in the box was Yoshi's Island.

I didn't waste any time in playing Yoshi's Island back then as a kid and I remember having so much fun with the game, not taking into account any of the things that matter to us adult gamers today. Yoshi's Island came across to me as something special, a visual revelation of a new adventure unfolding before my very own eyes as I put my focus on the scenery and on the obstacles of every level. It is only natural that when you play one game of one specific gaming generation you tend to ignore that game once you put your focus on newer generation games, so in this case, there were big time gaps between sessions of playing Yoshi's Island for me. I remember playing Yoshi's Island as a young kid, as a teenager, and most recently I would play it again as an adult, so would the game still stand the test of time in the year 2013? Let's begin.

Controls - 20 out of 20 Points

I must admit that when I got into my most recent session playing Yoshi's Island, I somewhat felt like a washed up has-been of a gamer simply because it had been so long since I last played the game. The first few levels of the game made me face a reality to the issue of gaming and time gaps. You may know that you played an older game at one point, but at a later time one must be prepared to "relearn" the gameplay mechanics of the older game to get familiar with it again. I had to tackle the levels of Yoshi's Island again and when I ventured deeper into the game the memories of what I did before at an earlier age came back to me.

The gameplay controls are easy to learn and welcoming and once the gamer gets a firm grasp on what our beloved hero, a happy green dinosaur named Yoshi, can do in the heat of action the gameplay experience becomes a smooth sailing ride. Yoshi can perform a series of actions in this game such as his signature Flutter Jump, a type of jump where Yoshi repeatedly kicks in mid air to maintain hangtime, and the Ground Pound, an attack Yoshi can use to break down obstacles and defeat enemies.Yoshi can also use his long tongue to grab and eat enemies and turn them into eggs, which he can use to throw at any object, item or enemy.

There is an aiming mechanic in Yoshi's egg throws as a cursor will be on display when he's ready to throw eggs. The X that marks the spot will be direction where Yoshi throws the egg and this form of attack is almost always the primary way to defeat an enemy or to make an abrupt discovery. In some cases, Yoshi will have to rescue Baby Mario by shooting an egg at the bubble that Baby Mario is in, which is something I will talk about later.

There is also the dynamic of Yoshi changing pace and having the player operate him as either a helicopter, a car, a train or a submarine. Each of these different parts of Yoshi will feature specific routes as to how he can reach much needed coins, flowers and even mid-rings. These transition points are seamless and they don't at all interfere with the flow of gameplay. If anything, these changes of pace serve as enjoyable wrinkles in an already satisfying experience. 

The gameplay controls don't end with Yoshi's set of skills. Sometimes Yoshi will have to use objects such as a Chomp Rock, a big boulder that he can push to crush enemies that get in its way, or balloons that gradually ascend up into the sky which will be the only way for Yoshi to get up on higher ground, or the occasional POW Block that will instantly defeat enemies once Yoshi starts hitting it, or the magnifying glass that will find the red coins for Yoshi, or various melons that contain different elements.

These melons can be found in select levels but they can also be won in Bonus Challenge events and be placed in the inventory that Yoshi has when the player looks through the pause menu. A normal watermelon eaten by Yoshi will allow him to spit out watermelon seeds at enemies. A Fire Melon eaten by Yoshi will allow him to spit out fire to burn enemies. An Ice Melon eaten by Yoshi will allow him to spit out ice to freeze enemies in their tracks. These melon attacks serve as an alternative to the firing of eggs and I find this alternative to be very creative and useful. Considering all the enemies he has to deal with in levels, Yoshi could use such help to defend himself and Baby Mario.

I find these items to be very helpful whenever the player is in a bind and these items enhance the fun of going through the different worlds. The actions that Yoshi performs come across as crisp and without hesitation. I didn't find any glitches when Yoshi showed off his skill set. When you want Yoshi to pick up the pace and run, he will run on command. You just have to hold down on the D-Pad to run and this simplistic method works. Some modern day games mishandle even the simplistic methods or even neglect to use them. Yoshi's style of play is a clear reminder of what you would play in a Mario game and it's obvious that the mechanics were handled with so much care. I didn't waste time in performing an action. The action just occurred and it made me happy.

The most fun I had was, without a doubt, firing eggs at enemies and at Question Mark Wing Clouds. I considered it to be a playful round of target practice if I just wanted to take a stroll and take a step back from completing a level for the time being. Sometimes you just want to be creative with your time on Yoshi's Island and fire eggs at enemies in the most unorthodox ways imaginable.

Graphics - 19 out of 20 Points

Let's consider the range of the graphics for this game. The game was released on the SNES but by far this game blows the earliest SNES games out of the water when it comes to visually pleasing graphics. Are the animations perfect? I wouldn't necessarily say that but there is no doubt in my mind that these graphics stick out and pull you into what is going on in this world. The looks of Yoshi's Island are distinct and colorful and they put the player in a good mood. Mario games are designed to be vibrant and welcoming to begin with and this one is no different. 

The development team in Nintendo did an amazing job of implementing the vision that was preferred because I completely understand what they were going for. When you create a world you have to give it life. The world that you create has to have an identity that can relate to the gamer in some way. For Yoshi's Island, it comes across as a beautiful Saturday morning cartoon show that you can't wait to get up for and watch.

Another interesting thing I have to note about this game is that it features enemies that haven't been normally seen in many other Mario games. For example, the boss at the castle of 1-8, Salvo the Slime, is an enemy that hasn't really shown up all that much in future installments of the Mario series, if ever. Tap Taps also fill the role of rare enemies. Tap Taps are the spike enemies that can't be eaten by Yoshi. Burt the Bashful? Remember him? Goonies are birds that can be seen flying through World 5 and they don't make much more appearances after this game. It is probably no surprise that Marching Mildes don't appear again in Mario games because of how similar they look to another beloved video game hero in Kirby. Flowers and monkeys deserve to be mentioned as well. Raphael the Raven and the bandits are exceptions, though, as they have appeared in future installments.

The graphics are awesome in the SNES layout. I love the visuals. The graphics have the kind of appeal that you just can't get in many other games. When progressing through levels, you would sometimes have to step back and say that you were looking at works of art and it's hard to duplicate such a positive feeling in just a simplistic 16-bit setup.

Story - 10 out of 20 Points

I must admit something about this game. I am actually not too thrilled about the story of this game. In the realm of fictional storytelling I understand why the appeal of the storyline I am about to discuss would grab the attention of people. This storyline is simplistic and it is easy to understand but it really doesn't do a whole lot for me. If anything, I don't play Mario games for the stories that they tell anyway. Mario games are not super dependent on great storytelling in order to win over gamers. Mario games are talked about for their gameplay mechanics first and foremost.

Here is how the story for Yoshi's Island goes. One day, a stork flies high into the sky carrying a pair of twins, hoping to deliver these babies to their parents in time. Everything appears to be just fine until later on in the night, a mysterious creature zooms by and frazzles the stork. The creature (which turns out to be one of the most identifiable minion servant villains in Kamek) ends up snatching one twin away from the stork while the other twin falls. This other twin ends up landing on Yoshi's Island  and he safely lands on Yoshi's back, and a map is dropped in the process. Yoshi looks at this map and finds out that the baby's destination has been set for a specific place. From here, Yoshi gets together with his pack of Yoshi friends and they decide how they should take Baby Mario back to his home. Between 8 different colored Yoshies, they form a relay system where they pass the baby after completing each level and story-wise this makes sense.

I don't think the story as a whole is bad, it's just that stories like these aren't particularly my cup of tea, so to speak. Many people who have played this game happen to love the story of this game and it's easy to see why they do love this story. There is the cute appeal of Yoshi babysitting Baby Mario while he goes through all sorts of dangerous environments, acting as a protector for the young plumber-to-be.

Music - 19 out of 20 Points

There is no doubt about this category. I definitely love the music of this game. The soundtracks that were composed for this game are amazing. The rhythm and the beat of a single soundtrack is unforgettable and it's easy for anyone who has played this game to quickly remember of what kind of music a Yoshi's Island level has. The music in Yoshi's Island is cheerful, upbeat and it was innovative for its time. When Yoshi was on normal grounds, the music would be almost like something you would hear in a later installment like Yoshi's Story. When Yoshi entered a jungle patch, such as the levels in World 3, you would notice an obvious difference in the tone of the music. The music here sounded like you were on a mysterious safari adventure of sorts, or you were going on a special trip to the zoo.

The fortress and castle themes stood out the most. The music took on a tone of "You better watch your step here... or else" and that alone grabbed my attention every time I went into the -4 and -8 levels of the game. I constantly found myself scat singing the fortress/castle theme just to entertain myself while I was playing the game. The instruments used in all Yoshi's Island soundtracks are all well placed and fitting for the environments that were created. This is the kind of video game music that you can appreciate and it's the kind of video game music that will stay with you for a long time, well after you played the game.

Let's not forget the epic boss theme that is played specifically for 6-8, which is absolutely gripping.

Replayability - 20 out of 20 Points

After playing through Yoshi's Island again, I was quickly reminded of the various reasons why this game has immense value in the Replayability Factor. We only need to begin at the items that Yoshi is required to collect in a level in order to find the first source of replayability. Throughout every level, Yoshi is required to collect 20 Red Coins, 5 Flowers and 30 stars each in order to have cleared the level 100%. This task alone is difficult when you consider the fact that there are 48 levels in total (not counting the extra levels you can unlock), but it's the good kind of difficult because this task serves to motivate the player to search through every single part of a level. There are some gamers who still haven't 100% completed the levels of Yoshi's Island to this day and that should tell you how cleverly developed the levels actually were.

Another thing I should point out would be the event when Yoshi gets hit by an enemy and loses Baby Mario, a timer will start counting down and this is the same timer where the stars are stored in. Yoshi has a maximum of 30 seconds to get back Baby Mario who will be floating around in a bubble crying so loud or else a group of Toadies will swarm in and take Baby Mario away, effectively costing the player a life. The proper sense of danger is key in this game. You have many enemies to deal with and you can't be standing around for too long because the enemies in this game will be active and they will be moving around, and sometimes they will going right after you.

Yoshi's Island inspires the player to use his or her imagination and to have fun and that is the most important thing for a development team to accomplish. Let the player have fun and allow the player to maintain that fun while he or she plays the game numerous times. Yoshi's Island succeeds in this category.

Bonus Points - 5

I will award bonus points because of the amounts of creativity that was used in making this game. The Bonus Challenge is one good wrinkle used in Yoshi's Island as you can access it if Yoshi hits the goal ring and the roulette stops on a flower. I found myself having a ton of fun just playing the Bonus Challenge mini-games because they served as temporary relief periods between levels, strategically placed to let the player have a break from the main action. The mini-games in Yoshi's Island were fun and amusing and I came away having a good feeling about the mini-games. Plus, the times when I hit a Starman and got to use Powerful Mario, Baby Mario on the run, was a quick reminder of why I was using Yoshi to progress through the game in the first place. Knowing what the little guy would eventually become, it was entertaining to see Baby Mario act like the Mario we normally see in short spurts. It's a fitting touch.

Overall Score: 93 out of 100 Points

It took me some time, but I eventually beat Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island again and the memories that I first developed way back in the 1990's  came rushing back to me. The memories you have as a gamer never really go away no matter how long you go between the times that you play a specific game. Playing Yoshi's Island again as an adult reminded me of how enthusiastic I was as a kid to be playing this game for the first time and I couldn't help but have a smile on my face. For those of you who still haven't played Yoshi's Island yet it definitely wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up this game and start playing it. Yoshi's Island has been mentioned by gamers and critics alike as being one of the best video games of all-time, being ranked in Top 100 lists.

In a variety of ways, I am glad that I could start my journey as a gamer with Yoshi's Island as it was surely a solid first learning experience. It made me understand level layouts better and it made me appreciate the environments that I was entering. Games like Yoshi's Island can be iconic in the fact that they can initially spark the imaginations of a gamer, and I believe it did for me. Thank you, Yoshi! Now have a cookie!

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