Yoshi’s New Island on Nintendo 3DS gives fans of the series a much needed fix after seven long years of inactivity from the franchise, but try as it might to throw in a few new gameplay mechanics it doesn’t manage to recreate the series in any profound way.
Yoshi’s New Island actually picks up where Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island left off. A stork carries Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to the wrong parents and on its way back from re-collecting the twins gets attacked by Kamek. Baby Mario falls down onto Egg Island and is found by the Yoshi clan who decide to help him reunite with Baby Luigi who, along with the stork, are now taken hostage by Kamek who is working with Baby Bowser in the occupation of Egg Island.
Baby Mario rides upon Yoshi’s back through the entire game. Players are therefore tasked with the mission to look after him, rather than protect the playable character Yoshi’s life. If Yoshi is hit by an enemy, Baby Mario will fall off and you will have only 10 seconds to find him or a life is lost. Thankfully, collecting extra lives is fairly easy and it’s not uncommon to always have more than a couple of dozen at your disposal at any one time.
Yoshi’s New Island is deceptively simple. Levels resemble those of the Super Mario series, albeit coated in a delightful hand-drawn story book art style. There’s no time limit and players are encouraged to explore stages by tracking all the collectables found at the end of each stage. This slower pace lulls players into the sense that the stages are easy, however to find all collectables requires some logical thinking and careful exploration while avoiding all kinds of pitfalls and gimmicks poised to make life difficult throughout Egg Island.
Yoshi’s New Island employs a unique attacking system. Yoshi can swallow enemies and use them to lay eggs, which he can then toss towards enemies or use to break bricks and solve other puzzles. Controls are well refined here and it’s actually enjoyable to use this feature as often as possible.
Yoshi also has the ability to sometimes transform into an assortment of vehicles. This feature is curated and only exists in certain, special areas. Unfortunately, while it may seem cool to transform into a Jackhammer or Submarine at first, these areas tend to feel more of a distraction than anything else. They are controlled via the Nintendo 3DS gyro (motion) controls which is a nice break in the gameplay, but feels tacked on as though they would’ve been more suited to a separate mini-game collection.
While the art style is beautiful if inconsistent at times, the sound in the game leaves a lot to be desired. For a game set in the Mushroom Kingdom, the soundtrack falls short of any catchy tunes. It does, however, feel right at home given the art style but fans of Nintendo titles will probably expect a little of that magic to be translated into the soundtrack. Controls in the game remain tight yet can take a little while to get used to, especially on the default settings. This is particularly frustrating when learning how the egg throw system works.
Aside from all the new ideas and presentation, the real reason to play Yoshi’s New Island is the fantastic level design that keeps tensions high even though on the surface the entire game may look childish and simple.
Yoshi’s New Island is a mixed bag. On one hand, the varied stages are of an extremely high quality. On the other, much of the “newness” promised in the title feels tacked on, poorly thought out and almost as an after thought rather than a way to really bring the series into a new generation.
Yoshi’s New Island also tugs heavily at the nostalgia heart strings. Whether that’s enough for newcomers to pick up the title remains to be seen.