Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: Yoshi's New Island

It's funny how a well-crafted movie, book, or video game can give you new insight into a character and challenge your opinions of classic characters.  Disney's new movie Maleficent presents a classic fairy tale from the "villain's" point of view.  Valkyrie made you sympathetic towards a group of Nazis who hated Hitler.  And now Yoshi's New Island for the 3DS has me thinking that maybe Bowser had the right idea all along.

Let's start on something higher.

If you've played any of the Yoshi's Island games, you know what the drill is.  Baby Mario gets separated from the stork (and, at least in this iteration, from baby Luigi) and needs Yoshi and his friends to help him cross dangerous landscapes while being harassed by Bowser's minions.  And when I say "minions" I primarily mean Kamek, the guy who rides around on the broomstick.

Utilizing the classic Mario standby of "jump on things until they're dead" (with helpful boots to protect his dinosaur feet), Yoshi also gets the advantages of being able to throw eggs at villains and do a "flutter" jump where he ignores the rules of gravity, flails his legs, and manages to climb a bit higher in the air.

Oh, and Yoshis can also eat almost anything.

Regardless of size, Yoshis consume all sorts of creatures.  They can then spit them out or swallow them, producing an egg for every creature swallowed.

Now, this is where I think Bowser might have had the right idea.  In Super Mario World, it's explained that Bowser is the one who imprisoned all of the Yoshis in those [?] blocks.  This is before Mario arrived, I'm guessing, so it wasn't that he wanted to keep Mario from having an ally.

So, what's the deal?

If anything, Bowser realized that a creature that does nothing but eat and pop out eggs would probably devastate any landscape it arrived in.  Yoshis don't seem to need two of the species to produce offspring (either that or every Yoshi is a hermaphrodite because you never see one unable to make eggs), and if there's nothing on the food chain that can eat them, you're going to have a ruined area pretty fast.

Picture a swarm of locusts literally the size of dinosaurs sweeping across the plains, eating every bug, mole, rabbit, possum, deer, and person in their path.


Anyway, back to the game.

Control-wise, Yoshi's New Island has a few problems.  The command to make Yoshi crash down butt-first to smash through things is a bit overly sensitive.  There will be times I'll be jumping over a pit just for Yoshi to suddenly decide he should kill himself and plunge down into the depths butt-first.  His flutter jump is also difficult to pull off right.  Multiple times I would need to jump off a flying enemy to reach a higher platform just to have Yoshi either flutter his way over it and miss completely or drop down a bit too soon and catch the bad guy in the face.

Any time Yoshi gets hit, Baby Mario gets flung from the saddle and starts floating around in a bubble with a timer counting down.  If you don't retrieve him in time, bad guys drift out from the sides, collect the bubble, and fly away.  Also, each time you get hit, you lose a few of the small "bouncing star sprite" things (trust me, don't have me go into a lengthy description) you've been collecting, meaning you probably won't meet your number goal at the end of the state.

Each stage has collectibles to gather.  There's the star sprite creatures, red coins, and large flowers.  I'm not really sure if the first two serve any real purpose, but the last one is involved in an attempt to win "medals" at the end of a stage that later get cashed in for extra lives.

Not that you need them.  By stage 2 I had over 50 lives.

Now, one thing I hate is a video game that panders to the audience.  There was a stage I had a difficult time on, and I lost a few lives (mostly due to my screwing up jumps or misjudging where platforms would drift to), and so the game decided to help me out by having a pipe spit out a pair of wings that would let Yoshi fly.

I still died, which might say more about me than the game.

The game then decided to help me out even further, and gave me a golden set of wings that also gave me a bubble shield that enemies would bounce off of.

So now I not only couldn't fall, but I couldn't get hit by anything and die.

Considering this was the last stage of the level, the boss monster didn't really give me much of a challenge since I couldn't be hurt.

I know I sound old when I say this, but I miss the days when games wouldn't try to hold your hand through levels.  You had to learn to memorize where things were, practice your timing, and improve your skills if you ever wanted to progress past your first Goomba.

If I somehow managed to die again, I suspect the game would've just taken control away from me and completed the level itself.

Speaking of bosses, there's a disturbing trend you notice early on.  The first boss stage has small green "bean" creatures jumping around, but they're primarily minding their own business as you storm through their tower.  The second has bats that get started when you approach and flutter around wildly.  This pattern of area-specific creatures continues through the game, and each time the final boss winds up being a normal version of the monster that Kamek magically transforms into something bigger, meaner, and able to create more of the normal monster (so you have something to eat and make eggs out of, naturally).

Now, it again seems to me like these creatures you're fighting in the towers seem pretty innocent.  They're just doing their own thing.  You don't see them in stages outside of the boss level, and until Kamek turns one into a huge, monstrous version of itself, it doesn't seem to even pay attention to you being around.

So, of course, you kill it and move on to the next part of the game.

...maybe I'm over-thinking this, but there's some pretty disturbing implications to this game.

But is it worth playing?  Well, the graphics are extremely clean and fun to look at, managing to take backgrounds that look like someone went wild with a set of crayons and turn them into an enjoyable tableau.  The stages are also innovative, requiring you to adapt your strategies and pick up new tactics as newer enemies appear.  The sound is crisp and clean, allowing you to pick up every sound effect Yoshi makes, and a lot of the things you "fight" (read: eat) can also have their own sound effects.

If you can get over the idea of a creature flinging its own young at monsters and possibly being just as evil as the bad guy he's fighting when it comes to environmental impact, there is a fun game in here.  It's a bit frustrating at times, but being able to see what the game wants to try to throw at you next makes it a fun journey to get to the end.

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