In the 24 years since the release of Super Mario World, Nintendo has only given Yoshi a handful of titular appearances, starting with 1995’s Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. That hasn’t stopped Nintendo from carving out an identifiable visual and mechanical identity for Mario’s dinosaur sidekick, though; from Super Mario World 2 through his appearances on the Nintendo 64, Gameboy and DS, Yoshi games were always designed to accommodate a younger audience – one still learning the language of platforming, one not so up to play at the speed of Mario games or the bone-crushing difficulty of Donkey Kong. Yoshi’s New Island doesn’t break that mould – not in the way it feels, not in the way it looks. That decision to remain faithful has its benefits, but it also has its drawbacks.
Yoshi’s New Island is a sequel to 1995’s Super Mario World 2, and it updates that game’s rough hand-drawn aesthetic in impressive and disarming ways. The simple shapes and felt-tip colouring of that SNES game are switched out for a greater array of textures (charcoal, watercolour, crayon and chalk are all fixtures), richer pastel colours and more complex geometry.
This expansion of the previous game’s playschool-wall aesthetic could have been undermined by the obligatory rendering of character models and level elements in three dimensions, but the old and the new are integrated in subtle, appealing ways – the Yoshis look as if they’ve been filled in with a child’s colouring pencil, and platforms and walls are rough and wobbly, much removed from the clean lines common in Mario's level design. It’s a sweet look, more fun and appealing than the glossy sheen of the recent New Super Mario Bros 2. The only thing undermining it is the repetitive sound design - Yoshi's falsetto gurgles and squeals get irritating after the first stage, and the option to give each Yoshi a different repertoire of noises seems to have been sadistically skipped over.
The level design is also in line with that emphasis on accessibility. None of the stages move at the pace laid down by Mario or Donkey Kong. The lack of timers puts the player in a different headspace, and it’s one perfectly suited to the type of play style the game encourages (the game even categorises your style in the in-game menu, and it’s telling that Style A is the ‘Patient Player’).
Similarly, the difficulty curve is easier to manage here than in those spiritual brothers, with precision platforming and challenging jumping mechanics progressively introduced rather than thrust on the audience. Most stages ease you into the challenges you're going to face and the mechanics you'll face them with; those that rely on trial and error (such as Flatbed Ferry Freefall, which has an inexplicable second-half shift into blind drops) are few and far between.
But Yoshi's New Island is old-fashioned to a fault. It calls itself a 'sequel' to Super Mario World 2, but it often plays out like a retread, from the mechanics right down to a carbon copy opening cutscene. Its level design also borrows heavily from Mario and Donkey Kong games that have come before - if it ain't broke, etc. For example, second-world stage Beware the Boo Brigade is a samey riff on any number of Boo-related levels in the Mario series, and a number of the boss battles also tread familiar ground. And then there's New Super Mario Bros 2's shift in its philosophy towards coins, replicated here in the end level tallies of stars, red coins, flowers and medals, pushing the player to collect not for any tangible gain, but for the sake of collection.
Perhaps it's just burnout. Perhaps it's just years of playing Mario and derivatives thereof, years of side-scrolling platformers content to provide a distraction and little more. Regardless, though, for all its surface-level charm and approachability, Yoshi's New Island just isn't a compelling platformer experience for players familiar with the genre. It'll probably serve as a good introduction to the language of the platformer for players who haven't really spent much time with them - but even then it's unlikely that they'll be left with lasting fondness towards this muted affair.