Yoshi Games Disappointed Us for 20 Years. This Ends Today
The problem with starting strong is every performance afterward will be compared to your first. Just ask Yoshi.
Nintendo’s lovable dinosaur first appeared in 1991’s Super Mario World, but made his debut as a leading man in 1995’s Yoshi’s Island. This added a complex new twist to the Mario formula, as Yoshi could throw eggs in any direction, sending them ricocheting around the stages. It departed significantly from what had worked previously in Mario games, and turned out to be brilliant.
Twenty years later, Yoshi stars in Yoshi’s Woolly World for Wii U, available today. It’s a tremendously enjoyable platforming adventure with gorgeous graphics that look like real fabric, and manages to recapture much of the imagination and wonder that permeated Yoshi’s Island. But Yoshi’s career hasn’t been filled with such excellent games. In fact, it’s only been bookended by them. For the last two decades, everything in between has been a crushing disappointment.
The first attempt at a sequel, 1997’s Yoshi’s Story on Nintendo 64, ditched the lively, crayon-art visuals of the first game for an ugly poor-man’s-Pixar pseudo-3-D aesthetic. The level design was pedestrian and boring, and there were only 24 stages. Yoshi’s Topsy-Turvy on Game Boy Advance was a motion-controlled game that could have been interesting, were it not developed by the mediocre Artoon. The level designs were, again, largely forgettable, except the segments with a frustrating tilt implementation that you got stuck on. The visuals were some of the most eye-searingly ugly graphics ever seen on a Game Boy Advance, best described as someone vomiting a bunch of animated GIFs from Geocities websites onto a screen the size of a credit card that you need to constantly tilt.
2005’s shallow Yoshi: Touch and Go had interesting touch-control gimmick, but wore out its welcome quickly—it was just a high-score contest, a throwback to the days of playing Asteroids over and over.
Yoshi’s Island DS certainly looked like the first Yoshi’s Island, but the dual-screen gameplay made it almost impossible to aim your egg-throwing with any precision. Finally, the recent Yoshi’s New Island felt like a bad nostalgia trip, rehashing elements of previous games but not coming up with anything new on its own.
Thankfully, the cycle’s been broken. Yoshi’s Woolly World has a new developer (Good-Feel, the creator of the acclaimed Kirby’s Epic Yarn for Wii), and it’s one of the best side-scrolling platformers of the year on any platform. It’s well-paced, it doesn’t bog itself down with superfluous gameplay additions, and it is absurdly adorable. There’s enough of the fresh and enough of the familiar to make it worth playing for old and new fans alike.
After such a long spell of lackluster games, Yoshi really needed this extra love.