The Death of Innovation Pt I
For the uninitiated, Yoshi's Island was a wonderful game and a huge success back in 1995, when it was released for the SNES. Its charming visuals along with the tight gameplay provided one of the most solid videogame experiences of the nineties. It wasn't revolutionary or anything but it sure gave a fresh breath to the series and became a landmark in Nintendo games (back when they actually used to be good). This is primarily what Artoon tried to get advantage of here – the gameplay recipe of the first game is already done, so all that's left is to implement it once more! Unfortunately, as they're utterly talentless game developers, they failed to pull even that off.
For starters, you'll notice that this looks exactly alike to the original game, and I don't mean just visuals; they copied and pasted the same formula and world layout and they called it new game. Hell, even the enemy, monkey and object sprites are from the original game. The only difference here is that some stuff are missing (like the various power-ups) and that there are 5 worlds instead of 6. It might sound short (and that's not far from the truth), but it's more than you'll ever need after playing it.
Before we move on to the true Achille's heel of this rehash (read: gameplay and level design), let's take a look at the graphics and sound. As stated, the game breaks absolutely no new ground, seeing how 99% of the visuals are taken straight from the previous game (that 1% percent probably goes to new Yoshi movements and bosses, honestly). That's not an inherently bad thing, as the first game looked beautiful, but in this game the graphics look a *tad* downgraded. If you look at Yoshi, he looks much more simply designed. Also, these graphics might have seemed amazing in 1995, but they don't nowadays. The original game was replicated in a GBA version, and it looks a bit better than this game; that ranks pretty low for DS standards. There's also no function for the second screen at all, it is mostly used to make bottomless pits look, well, bigger…so why is this GBA game masquerading as a DS game again? Moving on, the sound is one of the lowest points in the game. Sound effects are mostly borrowed from the original and its GBA twin brother (in case you missed Yoshi yelling YAH YAH YAWWH) but now, instead of just one baby wail, you get five different kinds of them. And oh boy, are they annoying; so annoying, in fact, that it looks like the developers created them for the sake of driving you mad. Seriously, if you listen to baby Bowser wailing for more than five seconds and you don't get the urge to punch him in the mouth, throw the DS out the window or cut your ears bleeding, you're monk-material. And the music! Oh god, the music! One of the original game's undeniable charms was its really gleeful, captivating and well-done soundtrack (no one could get masterpieces like Obstacle Course out of his head). The music department is where Artoon decided to not rip off the original and instead be creative…and it sucks. It's in fact one of the worst sounding games I have ever heard in my life. Not a single track stands out as above average. Not a single one. The map 'theme' sounds like a jumble of notes a toddler would play in the first piano it sees. The new level theme is downright atrocious, it sounds like everyone threw their hands in the air, said "screw it, let's put in the first thing we come up with and be done with it" and made this in 5 minutes max. They liked it so much, in fact, that they made four or five variations of it, so almost every level has this theme playing along. The castle stage's music? Completely anticlimactic, the music fits more a dark, quiet and watery cavern with absolutely nothing in it. The boss theme doesn't fit at all as well. It all sounds so effortless, like they tried to make the music sound this bad. It's charmless, almost insulting; it makes the game feel completely soulless.
Now, the gameplay. You go from level to level as you clear each of the five worlds of the game. There's a certain story going on, told in cutscenes every time you clear a world, which involves Baby Mario, some other babies, a kidnapping by Kamek and something that grants Bowser the power to rule the world (of course). It's completely asinine and I never bothered paying much attention to it. Along every level you have to collect 20 red coins, five flowers and 30 star points to get a 100/100 rating. Yoshi can now carry different babies, which grant him different abilities; Baby Mario enables Yoshi to hit some certain M blocks, Baby Peach can make Yoshi flutter higher when there's wind around, Baby Bowser spits fire etc. You're supposed to utilize all these different abilities whenever possible to gain access to all the collectibles. Of course, the fact that you never know which baby to use beforehand, and the fact that there are only certain spots where you can switch babies, means there's a lot of trial-and-error along with some needless backtracking, which often kills the pace of the game. However, you barely use the baby abilities and it ultimately comes off as a mindless gimmick. By World 4 I grew tired of the constant baby switcheroo and just said 'screw it, I'm going with baby Mario only from now on'…and I had no trouble finishing the game. That's how uselessly designed this concept is.
The final straw, however, is the completely broken level design. Unlike New Super Mario Bros (which was released the same year on DS), in this game you get to die as well! Oh yes, this game thankfully possesses SOME degree of difficulty (that is completely absent from late-era Nintendo platformers), but in all the wrong ways. This game isn't hard like Megaman or Lost Levels -you know, games that incite you to come back and face the challenge even when you've lost-. Instead, here's Artoon's conception of difficulty: "Hey let's have the player do all sorts of slow and mundane tasks that take up time. Now, let's add in this room one-hit death spikes everywhere. Let's also add uhh ten of these enemies and fifteen of those enemies, yeah that'll annoy the player. One hit and he has to go through all of that again. Challenge!" Yep, the game is not hard as in challenging (it showers you with extra lives too; I had over 100 lives by World 4), but it is annoying as heck. One terrible level has a room literally filled top-to-bottom with spiky objects that Yoshi can destroy with eggs. Guess what you do…spend ten minutes (no exaggeration, I timed it) trying to form a path out of them, constantly hitting every single one of them with your eggs. Touch one and you have to do it all over again. This is Artoon's idea of a fun platformer: ditch ingenious level design, force player to repeat boring s**t ad infinitum to artificially increase the length of an otherwise very short level. Another example in the game is the part where Yoshi rides on long sticks; it is ridiculously easy but he moves like a snail, which results in five long minutes of boring stick-walking. In the next bit, however, you can easily touch one of these insta-death spikes and then you have to go through the stick-borefest all over again. There's no actual challenge, only cheap annoyances in an attempt to make you stick longer with the game. The actual platforming can be described as average at best: Yoshi controls much more poorly than in the original game, he feels heavy and stiff. His fluttering is rendered useless as well, since it never gets Yoshi higher than a regular jump. This results in some sloppy platforming sequences that, when it comes down to it, are just not fun to play. That's the key loss: there is no incentive to keep playing, no spark of imagination to make you go on and finish the game, no creativity or charm to be found anywhere. The game itself puts you off from playing it so there's barely any reason to get to the end, let alone collect every little thingy to unlock a couple more broken levels – seriously, who the heck bothered with that? I remember getting this game, reaching World 3 then stopping because whatever interest I had in the game simply evaporated. I had to force myself into finishing it now for the sake of reviewing it. You don't have to do that to yourself, ever.
This could have been so much more. Alas, whatever innovation Nintendo once had has long been dead and buried, so these kind of clones to past successes are the only thing they can put out; and that's exactly what they do, repeatedly, nowadays. The sad thing of it all, though, as is the case with the abomination called Yoshi' s Island DS, is that they forgot how to insert charm and soul to these games. So, when you don't have the fresh air of a novel game and you don't have the charm and wonder of a good old game, what do you have? Crap, that's what you have.