Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

I'm sorry.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is the best platformer Nintendo released until New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Hands down. It’s not even close. Some people love Mario 64. It’s alright. The camera alone disqualifies it (and arguably any other 3D attempt). I haven’t played much of Galaxy so I’m not super qualified to comment there, but I’ve played an awful lot of Mario and Mario derivatives over the years and I’m definitely not afraid to suggest that Yoshi’s Island is in the top three all-time Mario-related games. Even if you count in the Donkey Kong Country series, Yoshi’s Island still comes out on top. Maybe Super Metroid comes close but I like to think of that less as a platformer than a shooter/puzzler.

I’m going to try to tell you why this is the case. There’s a caveat though, which is that I’ve played a lot of this game. I’ve played it front to back. I’m playing it right now, amongst my regular gaming time… between matches of Starcraft II and trying to wrap up Red Dead Redemption before the fall downpour occurs. I still play Yoshi’s Island. I still think it’s incredible.

So I’m a little biased. But here’s the pitch:

It’s beautiful…

I basically never say this about the visuals of video-games. I might say it about small modern quickies like Limbo or Pixeljunk Eden or the grand environmental moments one finds on horseback in the aforementioned Red Dead Redemption. I’ve probably said it about Fallout 3. I’m sure Jason Rohrer has made a beautiful game… probably Passage. Regardless, it’s a short list. But Yoshi’s Island has a hand-drawn quality and aesthetic that feels more like an interactive cartoon than a bunch of pixels.

And it’s not just a general look, either. It’s the little things like how Yoshi scratches his nose when he’s bored or licks his lips when you eat an enemy that can’t be turned into an egg. His little legs disappear into a blur when he runs fast as Baby Mario’s hat flaps in the wind. I consider these to be exceptional touches for the era.

Level design…

These are classic Mario levels, through and through. Hidden nooks and crannies. Challenging platforming. Auto-scrolling levels over bottomless pits. Lava hijinks and donut platforms that fall if you’re on them for too long. The game is perfectly balanced so that you start out with the easy stuff and by the 5th world you’re negotiating some pretty intense situations. Once again, like all good Mario games, it’s neither casual nor core. It’s both.

The music…

The music is perfectly atmospheric but original. There’s no vestiges of classic Mario-isms. Yoshi gets a fresh score and music that’s fun without being grating. Mostly, though, this portion really just makes my nostalgia monster roll over and expose it’s belly. These tunes are etched on my tiny human brain.

Collectables (bringing out my inner completionist)…

I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure that Yoshi’s Island is the first of the Mario series to rate you on percentages for collectables picked up throughout the level. First, there’s flowers. There’s 5 in each level. You can get them by hitting them with an egg or picking them up. The former leading to some really cool bank shots with eggs that can be pretty awesome. They’re somewhat similar to the three star coins in New Super Mario Brothers Wii.

Secondly are the red coins. There are 20 spread out throughout the level and they’re disguised as regular coins. You can actually pick them out if you look hard enough, they’re a little darker. There are red coins in NSMB Wii, but you have to hit a block to make them show up. The sound when you pick them up is identical. So that’s cool.

Thirdly, are stars. Starting with ten and collectable up to thirty, the stars are where Mario borrows a little from it’s rodent brethren on the Genesis. When you’re hit, Baby Mario hurtles from your back and starts wailing. People hate it. I think it’s great. We’ll get to that in a minute. But anyway, if you finish a level with all thirty of your stars, then you’ve wrapped up the stars component.

I’m an unrepentant completionist. I’m not ridiculous about it, but I’m a little ridiculous about it. Not only was Yoshi’s Island the first Mario game I ever played front to back (no warp whistles here, friends), it’s also the only platformer where I’ve felt compelled to do anything other than get from end of the level to the other (with the recent exception of NSMB Wii, which I keep comparing this game too… I wonder why). I do recall trying to get all the KONG letters in Donkey Kong Country, but that was a little less onerous.

But anyway, I consider this to be a huge plus. It adds replay value in drudgery and completionism instead of saying “here’s the same levels but tougher.” I mean, it is tougher because getting 30 stars towards the end gets pretty hard. And when you hear that baby scream his head off in the last 10 seconds of a level you want to shove explosives in it. That’s pretty maddening. But that leads me to…


I’m all by myself here, I think, but I actually like that Baby Mario screams his stupid little face off. I like that this costs me “stars”, which are finite in a given level (unless you’re awesome at banking an egg twice into an enemy, which turns the egg yellow and award you two stars… that’s not always an option though). I like it because I want that kid to shut up. It’s ingenious. Your punishment for fucking up isn’t death. It’s not a lowering in your abilities (like you shrink to a smaller dude or lose your fire flower). It’s annoyance. If the timer ticks down to 0, you “die”. Maybe of a broken heart. It’s not clear.

I love the egg stuff… turning enemies into ammunition in a way Kirby only dreamed of. Spitting out water melon seeds is awesome. The platforming action is tight and perfect. The controls are great. Everything about the game feels deliberate and calibrated.

And lastly…

I love how the game has a sense of humor. Shy Guys sometimes have afros made of flowers. Or they’re on stilts. Blargs are adorable and have these big hilarious eyes. The first boss is defeated when you his him with enough eggs that his pants fall down and he ostensibly dies of embarrassment.

There’s an entire level called “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy” which features an enemy that’s a giant puffball. If you touch it, the world goes topsy turvy. It’s like Yoshi just ate mushrooms. He stumbles around and everything shifts bizarrely. If by chance you eat one of these, he farts a huge cloud of gas and the outcome is the same. The game is cute, weird, and funny.

So anyway…

I love this game. Clearly. And what’s weird is that I never hear anyone else talk about how amazing it is. Ever. I know lots of people that talk about Mario Kart or whatever the fuck. Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy III/VI. Final Fantasy VII (by the way, people are way too fucking weird about FFVII… WAY too weird). But Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is, hands down, one of the greatest games I ever played. If you’ve never played it, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

So very sorry.

One thought on “Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

  1. Though I lamentably cannot share such sympathies for NSMB Wii, I thoroughly concur that Yoshi’s Island is an achingly affecting bit of software, and profoundly aware of everything a game should be: original; charming; mellifluous; intelligent; and, crucially, imbued with an indescribable essence that allows it to peer works of literature, or great films.

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