A cartoonish exterior belies a challenging game.Yoshi's Island DS is fun but ultimately flawed in some meaningful ways.

User Rating: 7 | Yoshi's Island DS DS
Upon first impression, Yoshi's Island DS appears like a kids' game. This is not to say it's not gorgeous. In fact, the stylized crayon drawn style, cheerful setting and bright, musical sound effects are some of the best things about it. Underneath this surface, though, there is some seriously challenging platforming here.

You play the game as Yoshi, the little bird/dinosaur thing made famous originally in SNES's Super Mario World. Yoshi's has the native ability to jump, capture enemies using his long tongue and spit them back out as projectiles. In addition to this, holding the jump button allows Yoshi to hover briefly and he can swallow enemies he's licked up, which turns most of them into eggs that then can be used as weapons or to gather items. He is not in this alone though. During each stage, Yoshi carries along a baby version of a popular Nintendo character. Included are Mario, Peach and Donkey Kong for most all levels along w/ Wario and Baby Boswer on a few select levels. Each of his companions has his or her own set of abilities that can affect how you traverse each level in some pretty dramatic ways. Yoshi must often switch passengers to reach new areas or obtain special items and this adds some variety and puzzling to Yoshi's otherwise fairly standard platforming gameplay.

The controls are fairly responsive for the most part but there are some irritating elements. For one, throwing and aiming eggs can be difficult, especially while jumping. Artoon, who designed this game for Nintendo, seems to acknowledge this by providing two different control schemes for this but neither works well in all situations so you are either forced to switch depending on what area you are in or just live w/ some frustration. Also, when baby Mario is on board, one of Yoshi's special abilities is to run. The button used for this is the same one used to flick out his tongue at enemies which can cause a critical delay in some fast paced sections. Both of these things add some frustrating difficulty w/o really adding any of the satisfaction created by figuring out the best rout through a challenging situation.

One interesting thing about how this game is that the levels are presented across both screens on the DS. What's even stranger is that the bottom screen tends to be the main playing area with the top just being a place to keep an eye on for additional paths or power-ups. Overall, this adds a lot to the gaming experience. You really do have have to keep an eye on both screens and it adds to the feeling that you are really searching for all these coins and extras you are collecting. Unfortunately though, it is another thing Artoon executed imperfectly. Sometimes the gap between screens is used to cleverly hide certain things and you can adjust the screen so that eventually you can see what you need to. As often as that though, you are stuck guessing at the location of some critical thing or another and that adds one more thing that feels more frustrating than it does satisfying. Perhaps an automatic camera adjustment feature could have fixed this but as it is, it feels like the concept was left a little half finished.

These frustrations aside, Yoshi's Island DS give you plenty that will leave you pulling your hair out. The game starts out quite easy, especially if you just want to play through and aren't worried about 100% completion. During these easier stages, Yoshi racks up dozens upon tons of extra lives which makes it seem like the game will be a cakewalk. By the later levels though, these extra lives become a really nice luxury to get through the more challenging platforming sections, some of which will undoubtedly take a dozen or more tries to complete. There are a few areas where the difficulty spikes unpredictably, sometimes due to the control and presentation problems, which is quite aggravating but ultimately, the difficulty curve is well done and the game is satisfying overall.

If you can put up w/ a few annoyances, Yoshi's Island DS is a great platformer in the vein of the many popular Mario titles. I could not recommend it above, say, New Super Mario Brothers which is just a joy through and through but if you are one of those who just can't get enough, this is definitely worth seeking out.