With the release of Super Mario World, Yoshi instantly became a Nintendo icon, often rivaling the popularity of Mario himself. It makes sense that Nintendo would want to capitalize on the character’s popularity, and make a number of games that starred Mario’s dinosaur friend.
The earliest game to feature Yoshi’s name was a puzzle game in the vein of Tetris called, well, Yoshi, which was released on the NES shortly after Super Mario World’s release. Though Yoshi can provide some decent puzzle fun, it lacks the greater sense of player input that made games like Tetris so great.
Yoshi is a block-falling game. But instead of blocks, we have Goombas, Piranha Plants, Bloopers and Boos. There are four possible columns these monsters can fall in, with two falling in different columns at a given time. The player taking control of Mario (not Yoshi, ironically), who can swap two adjacent columns with each other, with the idea being to match two of the same monster on top of each other, which lowers the columns, thus preventing them from reaching the top of the screen and ending the game.
Additional, lower and upper halves of Yoshi eggs will also fall on occasion. Connecting two lower halves works like connecting any other monster, but if you connect a bottom half with a top half, you will get extra points. If you can sandwich a few monsters in between the lower and upper halves of the Yoshi eggs, the egg will enclose all of them to give you extra points for each monster.
It’s really simple stuff, and unfortunately, the fact that you control Mario swapping the columns (as interesting as that is at first) means that you have no control over the falling objects in the way you do in Tetris (except the ability to make them fall faster). This ends up making things feel more luck-based, which really takes away from the game’s initial appeal.
There’s really not a lot else to say about the gameplay. It provides some quick fun, but the more luck-based aspects prevent it from being one of the better puzzle games on NES. There is a two player mode, which should add a bit to the game’s fun factor, but the fact remains that there are certainly better block-falling games out there, including others that star Yoshi (such as the exquisite Tetris Attack on SNES).
Still, there is some fun to be had with Yoshi, and the music is simple but enjoyable. It’s just nothing too special, which is a shame, because a game bearing the name of one of Nintendo’s most iconic characters could have been so much more.