The original jurassic lark
The Mario fun continues as we look back at Yoshi’s Island, a classic of the babies-riding-dinosaur genre.
Dinosaurs are rarely both nice and cool. For instance, Barney The Dinosaur is a lovely fellow, but you’re not going to enjoy ploughing through a boxset of his. On the other hand, the T. rex from Jurassic Park is an icon of cinema, but she’d devour you in the time it takes a glass of water to shake. Well praise be to Yoshi, who might be the only exception to that ultra-specific law.
Our green icon made his debut in Super Mario World, the iconic platformer that turned SNES into a must-own console. When discussing the creation of SMW with the official Nintendo website, director Takashi Tezuka claims that Miyamoto once said he wanted Mario to ride a horse. This led Tezuka to get artist Shigefumi Hino to start coming up with character designs for something which Mario could clamber on and ride. The pair experimented with a crocodile- esque design before landing on the Yoshi we know and love. After his debut, Hino and Tezuka began brainstorming concepts for a game that made the handy dino-steed the protagonist instead. Hino said: “It’s just my personal opinion, but I felt like with Super Mario World, we had done everything we could with a side-scrolling jumping game.” Yoshi allowed them to address that feeling. They added in the Flutter Jump, where Yoshi could fly in the air for a brief moment and your goal was to carry something through the level, which would end up being Baby Mario. During development, Donkey Kong Country released to considerable fanfare. According to Tezuka, some within Nintendo “wondered if we could do visuals like the ones in Donkey Kong Country”, but the team decided to stick to their guns and go with a hand-drawn style.
They were right to do so. From the moment Baby Mario landed in the centre of a group of Yoshis, few games have had such a distinctive look on any console. Pastoral backdrops and a crayon-esque drawing style charmed in an instant, while the Super FX 2 chip helped produce some remarkable effects, such as stretching sprites which meant giant enemies transformed on screen, or if you touched a fungus in 1-7, the screen would ripple in a woozy way while the colours became more intense. In title, this is the sequel to Super Mario World, but it was wonderfully weird in its own unique way, which nobody expected.
But it’s not just the aesthetic that makes this a classic. The idea is that you have to use Yoshi to carry Baby Mario to a kidnapped Baby Luigi, but the dino is full of so many tricks that he made his Italian pal look like an amateur. Our hero could grab enemies with his tongue and turn them into eggs, which he could then hurl, which was both grin-inducing and significantly changed how you would approach foes. He also had the ability to transform into vehicles, such as a helicopter, in certain sections, and he also had a smash jump that destroyed anything on the receiving end.
The inventiveness was coupled with outstanding level design. Levels overflowed with secrets, resulting in a genuine sense of discovery. Even the soundtrack was brilliant, brimming with hard-to-shake jingles. Like all of Nintendo’s finest hours, this packed more ideas into a level than some of its contemporaries did into a whole game. Although Baby Mario’s wail when you dropped him was ‘last thing you hear before you die’ harrowing.
“PASTORAL BACKDROPS AND A CRAYON-ESQUE DRAWING STYLE CHARMED IN AN INSTANT”
Unsurprisingly, this meant that Yoshi’s Island flutter-jumped to both commercial and critical success. Our sister mag Edge bestowed 9/10 on it back in 1995, and according to VGchartz.com, it has shifted a very healthy 4.12 million globally. Considering N64 was only a year away when it launched, this was all the more impressive for a late-gen SNES game.
That success lead to sequels (oh hey, time for a Series Spotlight!), which have yet to really surpass what the original Yoshi’s Island accomplished. But its freewheeling spirit could still be felt in the classic platformers of the current era. None more so than in Rayman Legends; its hand-drawn art style draws an obvious comparison, but that game also focuses on constantly delighting the player with new mechanics, from the first level to the very last.
With the arrival of Mini SNES, we got the chance to relive one of the best Mario games where he hardly plays a part. Considering there’s a new Yoshi game lined up to hit Switch in 2018, the timing couldn’t have been better. We’ll be howling like Baby Mario if it doesn’t deliver, though, so no pressure Ninty.
With Mario but a babe, it’s up to this gang of Yoshis to save the day.
Developer Nintendo Publisher Nintendo Released 1995 Format SNES Get it On Mini SNES or Ebay
Kamek’s goons will whisk poor Baby Mazza off if you’re not careful.
The menu music as you select levels is utterly delightful, and a real earworm.