The Nintendo 64 marked a major turning point for Nintendo. The release of Super Mario 64 with the console’s launch set the stage for the rest of the N64’s lifecycle. Nintendo reinvented Mario for the world of 3D gaming, and so it was time for their other franchises to make the jump. Some would receive major overhauls similar to Super Mario 64, while others had less drastic changes. Many of Nintendo’s franchises would benefit from the leap to the N64, but others would stumble. Unfortunately, Yoshi wasn’t one of the lucky ones.
The SNES’ Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is one of the finest platformers ever made. It reinvented the Mario formula and had a sense of depth and inventiveness that few titles in the genre could match. On the surface, Yoshi’s Story seems to borrow much of its predecessor’s assets: It remained a sidescroller even with its 3D graphics. Yoshi can still gobble up enemies and throw eggs. He still has his flutter jump and butt stomp. And the Yoshi’s still come in an array of colors.
The connections with Yoshi’s Island all feel superficial, however. Because while Yoshi’s Story may share some of the basic tools of its predecessor, it retains none of the depth. Gone is Baby Mario in need of protection, as well as the exquisite level design, tight controls and vehicle transformations. Even Yoshi’s Island’s antagonist, Kamek, is MIA.
Instead the game sees a band of baby Yoshi’s out to save their island, after Baby Bowser has cast an evil spell to make the island’s residents unhappy, stealing the “Super Happy Tree” in the process just to pour salt on the wound. So the baby Yoshis seek to combat Bowser’s unhappiness with super happiness.
In order to obtain this super happiness, the Yoshi’s must consume fruit. Each Yoshi has a favorite fruit (Yellow Yoshi likes bananas, while the Blue Yoshis like grapes), and a single “lucky fruit” is chosen via roulette wheel at the beginning of every playthrough. Eating a favorite or lucky fruit refills a Yoshi’s health completely, whereas other fruit will only give back health in increments.
Yoshi’s Story actually included a pretty unique method of progressing through the levels. There’s no end goal to reach, and the only way to move on is by eating enough fruit. Unfortunately, the way you progress through the worlds is less interesting.
The game contains six worlds, each with four stages. But you are only able to play one level in each world in every playthrough. You can select which stage in the first world you want to tackle, but you’ll only have that option in the subsequent worlds if you can find all the hidden hearts on the previous level (each heart unlocks an additional level in the next world).
The levels themselves just aren’t very interesting. The game’s storybook-like aesthetics are fun (though less timeless than those of Yoshi’s Island), so the stages are pleasing to look at, but they’re all pretty basic. You can zip through them in a matter of minutes with little effort.
Bosses are only found in the third and sixth world, with the latter always being Baby Bowser. That’s two boss encounters in the story mode, and they are every bit as bland as the stages themselves.
Yoshi’s Story was clearly intended for younger audiences. That’s all good and fine, but Nintendo has made plenty of games for younger audiences that also have depth. Yoshi’s Story feels completely shallow when compared to the majority of Nintendo’s titles.
Now, Yoshi’s Story does have its share of charm, to the point that I feel somewhat guilty in having to admit that the game is one of Nintendo’s weaker efforts. The aforementioned visual style is cute, and the pop-up book setups for the world map and cinematics are endearing. I like the idea of each Yoshi serving as an extra life (you can reclaim a lost Yoshi by finding the hidden white Shy Guys), and those aiming for high scores might actually get some fun out of the game’s Trial Mode. The music can also be pleasant, though some of it will probably be too sugary for some audiences.
The problem is that Yoshi’s Story just lacks substance in so much of what it does. The stage design feels uninspired, there’s little variety in the gameplay, you can breeze through the story mode in less than an hour, the secrets aren’t all that secret, Yoshi’s sense of control feels less fluid than in the SNES original. There’s just not much to it. Yoshi’s Story doesn’t feel like a sequel to Yoshi’s Island, it feels like Yoshi’s Island has been stripped of its qualities.
Yes, Yoshi’s Story is a kids’ game, and perhaps kids can find some enjoyment out of it. But it also seems like Yoshi’s Story feels the need to dumb itself down for kids, and that’s the exact opposite of the philosophy behind Nintendo’s best games.