Reviews// Yoshi's Island DS: Nintendo DS Review

SNES swansong turned DS Christmas savior

Posted 12 Dec 2006 17:38 by
My name is Stefan, and I didn't play very much Super Nintendo. Want to know a dirty little secret? I only completed Mario World about five years ago. I first played Link to the Past to completion on Game Boy Advance. I was utterly obsessed with Sega's MegaDrive and although I knew I was missing out, the "Sega Does What Nintendon't" marketing push was more than just a clever turn of phrase - it held truth.

However, the best games of the generation were, in joyously protracted retrospect, on the Nintendo machine. Mario World is better than all of the Sonic series, Zelda LttP is better than, well, let's not go there...

I have no shame in missing Yoshi's Island at the time. It was the last big first-party release for the SNES, a great machine's swansong drowned out by the emergence of the Nintendo 64 and Sega and Sony's disc-based squabblings. Pre GBA rerun, most hardcore gamers waxing lyrical on the joys of Yoshi's Island were just making it up. They might have seen the game running in import stores, seen screenshots... As soon as they start talking about Miyamoto's brave artistic direction you know you've got 'one of those types' on your hands. I played Yoshi's Island inside out on Japanese GBA launch and adored every moment.

The original game was a brilliant, stunted and beautiful unapologetically hardcore bastard of the Mario family. It retained what was essential, preserved what was required, changed what it could get away with, savaged the unguarded elements of what was the biggest games franchise the world had ever seen. Imagine being in the studio of developer Artoon when the news came in. The team was to make the sequel to what was, and to an extent still is, regarded as the greatest videogame ever. It's a dev-team wet dream, the challenge of a lifetime.

Artoon pulled it off. It felt consistent with Mario World, itself a steroidal
evolution of Super Mario Bros 3. The team preserved the perfect balance of the series, the predictability that underpinned it as it was based around the same block structure that underpinned the revolutionary first true Mario platformer.

Yoshi's Island DS promises to be a souped-up version of the original, taking a cast of babified Nintendo stars on another short but very sweet 2D platform outing. Developer Artoon is back in the driving seat and, let's face it, this is one of the sequels many Nintendo fans buying DS's have dreamed of. Can anything go wrong?

The first complaint fans will have is the artistic energy of the first YI game simply isn't present. The flare is not lost, just diluted. Its creator replaced with a keen impersonator, but, like with all but the best of copies, this homage to the sublime is exactly that - a take on genius but not the real thing. The characters remain the same, as do the environmental and background assets. It's perfectly on-style, just not as pig-headedly avant-guard. In the original game, there were times the art team must have been drunk, high or both. The needless over-working of some levels, often whimsically applied to the code stunned us all. Even playing some half a decade after release, the impact was high, the freshness intact.

YIDS by no means looks bad, it's a great-looking title and this is
true of all elements of the rework. It has heavy, heavy baggage to carry, the prodigal son of the SNES roster always going to be at a disadvantage from the off as it was spawned by a piece of magic. The game isn't magic. It's brilliant. There is a difference.

Sound is an area of great success for today's review specimen, with the library from the previous generation, lifted in turn in the greater extent from SMW, dragged and dropped with some tweaks and some great additions. What does a baby version of Donkey Kong sound like? Perfect, as does Wario and Bowser, the other tricky ones. I did wonder how the voice actors were briefed on the roles I have to admit.
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