Retro Review: Yoshi’s Island (SNES & Game Boy Advance)



Nintendo are famous for making quality platformers, but not all of them stared Mario and his brother Luigi. After the release of Super Mario World, Nintendo push Yoshi in more titles due to him being a popular character. This sparked the idea of making a 2D platformer using Yoshi as the main character. Mario would be present too, but as a baby.

The origins of Mario and Yoshi going on a grand adventure happening at the same time! A novel idea that offered very creative core gameplay designs that drastically changed the core 2D Mario formula. Does it hold up today as a timeless classic?


The Story

It opens up with a stork taking two babies (Mario & Luigi) to their parents but Kemek attacks the stork capturing Luigi, but Mario is sent flying toward the ground. A Green Yoshi is taking a stroll through his island when Baby Mario lands on his back. After talking with his fellow Yoshi, they all agree to help the little baby find it’s way back home and thus the adventure begins.

Very simple set up but with Kemek popping up before boss fights giving charming dialog and general story telling through visuals (it gets darker toward the end of the game), it’s a nice shift from the story-less Mario games releasing prior to Yoshi’s Island.

I also find the idea of Yoshi going on his own adventure to be charming due to greatly enjoying the character.


The Design & Gameplay

Yoshi’s Island is a 2D platformer not unlike prior 2D Mario games. You can still run and jump like Mario but some major differences mix things up. Mainly Yoshi having the ability to preform a ‘flutter jump’. This lets him hover in the air after pressing A when jumping. The longer you hold down, the longer you stay air-born. I love this mechanic, as it makes platforming more rewarding when you chain consistent flutter jumps to cross a large gab or save yourself from death.

Another major gameplay mechanic is that Yoshi can turn enemies into Eggs that you can toss using the L and R buttons. An aiming icon goes up and down, but you can press L when it’s moving to lock it in place. It gives some depth to the combat and level design, as careful Egg tossing can take out a Shy Guy far away or pop open a special cloud to get a flower. Secrets are the name of the game in Yoshi’s Island, as level design pushes you to explore. It creates this ‘chill’ vibe that gives it a calming atmosphere. Don’t take that thinking ‘This game is easy’ though, as Yoshi’s Island is not.

It can be quite the challenge, with a good deal of that coming from Baby Mario. You can take any hit and not fear death, but you lose Baby Mario. He cries and cries until you break his bubble to get him on your back again. This encourages you to NEVER take a hit and that is quite challenging. Yoshi doesn’t have his base abilities described above though, as you can transform at key parts of levels; turning into a mole that can dig, a little plain that can fly and more. Baby Mario even gets in on the fun, being able to touch a power star and gain a cape. He runs super fast and can jump high in the air but only for a short time until it wares off.

This all ensures gameplay remains fresh and creative, which is something I greatly appreciate from Yoshi’s Island. Boss fights are also present, where Kemek turns basic enemies you fight into giant versions of themselves. It creates fun challenges to fight though and they are always rewarding. The final boss in particular is very well executed and one of the better 2D Mario final bosses in the series.

Yoshi’s Island also offers special mini games that you can play, mainly focused on timing of button presses or other fun challenges. I enjoyed these and they reward you with extra 1-Ups, so they are worthwhile to complete when you unlock them. When you clear a given stage, you might notice a ring Yoshi jumps through; hit the Flower on the way out of the gate and you can play one of those mentioned mini games. It’s a nice incentive for exploration too; the more flowers you gather, the higher chance you can access the mini game.

Yoshi’s Island offers strong core gameplay that blends exploration, platforming and variety to create a very solid experience for all fans of platformers.


The Presentation & Version Differences

Yoshi’s Island offers a presentation style very unique compared to other 2D Mario games. Going a children’s storybook style direction for it’s art, we have heavy usage of thick outlines, bright colors and unique locations the Yoshi’s can visit. It all runs very well too, with a locked 60FPS across the original SNES version and the Game Boy Advance port.

Sound design and music is strong, offering quality music that sounds like it fits in the Mario series but still quite unique. Many of the melodies are catchy and they enhance level atmosphere, with the Underground Theme in particular being one of my favorite tracks in the game.

Regarding the differences between the Game Boy Advance port and SNES original, both are quite solid. The original release has the better visuals due to heavy usage of the Super FX chip but the GBA version still looks similar to the original release of Yoshi’s Island. The only major differences between versions is that visual clarity is lower (due to the small GBA screen) and that some Super FX effects got toned-down from the SNES version.

Music sounds good and doesn’t feel compressed but the sound effects got the most changes. Yoshi got sound grunts from later games like Yoshi’s Story present in the GBA version of Yoshi’s Island. This isn’t a problem really, but just a new feature they added to this release of the game. It’s not unlike the GBA version of A Link to the Past getting Child Link’s sound bites/grunts from Ocarina of Time.


Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Yoshi’s Island is a Nintendo Classic and offers a lot of great qualities still unique to itself. Level design and gameplay that feel fantastic to play, visuals that are beautiful artistically while pushing the SNES technology at the time, and music that still is catchy to this day; Yoshi’s Island is a 2D paltformer I would highly recommend to any fan of the 2D Mario series. It’s quite different from most Mario platformers but it’s differences help it become one of Nintendo’s strongest games from the 16-Bit generation.

This game was reviewed using the Game Boy Advance version of Yoshi’s Island.

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