The really odd, and somewhat unique thing, about Yoshi's Island DS
is the stark contrast between level design and gameplay. Essentially, the gameplay from the original has been left intact, with a few additions, the baby characters. Baby Peach can use her umbrella
to catch gusts of wind enabling her to navigate levels of epic proportions, Baby DK can hang on ropes and vines, as well as smash some blocks with a shoulder charge, Baby Wario has magnetic strength, attracting metal objects, including items such as coins to him (Wario has a Mr Krabbs style bent for the green as I'm sure you know) and Baby Bowser who has the ability to breath fire, toasting enemies and melting ice in the frozen world.
I know this all sounds great, but it is in adding these abilities the game falls down and is the sole reason it's reception amongst Nintendo fans has been cooler than was widely predicted. The first game was so tightly balanced, you had a fair crack at discovering the vast majority of the secret content in any given level during normal gameplay. (More on this and its unlockable goodness later.)
Going back, as you absolutely had to, was often a case of vacuuming up the items you knew you'd missed, or at least had a good idea where they were. This intuitive way of playing is lost in the update. It is here where the
contrast between play mechanic and design can be found. The control scheme on offer, tailorable as per the original, is perfect. It's scaled to suit the demands of the player, with experts able to select a rapid approach to egg-aiming and navigation, beginners offered a slower-paced version of the same.
There are times you'll enter an area, perfectly time the egg release whilst at the same time, pounding one enemy and consuming two others, converting them into further ammo automatically as you flutter away. The feeling of calm, zen-like play remains. The problem is, many levels in Worlds 1 and 2 can be skipped almost entirely, often using Peach's floating umbrella to sail across the top. In some levels, DK's swinging or just Yoshi's flutter jump is enough once you make it high enough. This means that to unlock a great deal of the content, you have to search around just looking for 'stuff'.
Stars, flowers and red coins are needed to unlock the bonus levels in every world. By the time this review was written, I'd completed the main game and had managed to unlock two World 1
secrets. The thing is, once you've completed the game, the motivation is lower to go back and flutter around in the more pedestrian areas. You see, there's a drastic difficulty hike from World 3 onwards. And although not maintained throughout, there are real stingers to look out for. You'll notice by the time you complete World 2 that you'll have 70 or so lives and you, like me, will probably wonder what you'll need them all for. One level took perhaps seventy attempts to beat. Even by the standards of Mario's cape-carried antics in SMW, that's pretty harsh.
It was as the game's difficulty picked up I was expecting an upswing in level design, a more natural way of at least laying the foundations to unlocking the bonus levels. This did not happen. The abilities of the characters are not used to overcome the levels. Instead, the levels are designed somewhat crudely to force you to make changes to your character selection in order to progress. There's no figuring out to be done, no puzzling over which character you need to adopt in order to
continue, it's just obvious. So you'll find yourself backtracking to a character change station quite often. Of course, this character-driven puzzle element is far from the staple of Yoshi's Island DS
, though it is enforced in a heavy-handed way and for a game that started out so pure, it's an error in creative judgment.
SPOnG Rating: B
Yoshi's Island DS is a sublime game. It carries the scars of modern 2D gaming very well and overcomes its problems, more than remunerating the player with positives for the few negatives on show. This review might come across as being somewhat harsh, but the fact is, for the sequel to a game that neared on perfection, the flaws are what differentiates it from the original. It is too short, (some eight hours played straight through, many more should one decided to unlock everything) but you could argue that is on-style with the original. It offers more raw fun than New Super Mario Bros did, something that should tell you this is a must-have in any DS collection.