I would enjoy Yoshi’s Island a lot more if I were at all capable of enjoying Yoshi’s Island.
Back when I was Wee Goggle Bob, Christmas was pretty much the only time I ever saw a new videogame (save birthdays, of course, but my birthday is way the hell over in April). I had no disposable income (or… income), but I did have well-meaning parents and grandparents, so every holiday would see at least one game. And, by about 1995, my family had determined that videogames were the only hunks of plastic capable of bringing me joy, so I basically became the boy who got everything he ever wanted. In one Christmas haul (combining gifts from all relatives, I want to be clear that no one member of my family was Scrooge McDuck) I received Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country 2, Earthworm Jim 2, Secret of Evermore, Tetris Attack (I was excited about this… for some reason), and today’s featured title, Yoshi’s Island. It was an embarrassment of riches… only slightly offset by the fact that I had pneumonia and thought I would die at any given moment. Oh, hey, my family took pity on me, just got that. Errm… anyway… once I felt better, I had what was probably the best continuous run of gaming in my life, as playing the best games of 1995 one after another was some manner of nerdvana. Even now, I’m kind of jealous of my past self: can you imagine completing Chrono Trigger, and then immediately moving on to a fresh, new Donkey Kong Country 2? Ah, to imagine there was once such unmitigated joy in my life.
And, to be absolutely clear, all of the Christmas ’95 games I played over and over again. I rescued Princess Whatshername (aka cow). I tossed every hero coin at Cranky Kong. I practically memorized every stupid movie reference in Secret of Evermore. This also means that I scored 100 on every stage in Yoshi’s Island, played through each extra level, and I think I even managed to memorize some of the match card setups for the bonus games. I mean, I didn’t get a Yoshi’s Island tattoo (only Chrono Trigger gained that honor) but I did play the game often enough that the main themes are permanently etched into my mental jukebox. I played Yoshi’s Island a lot, and, even with other great games available, I was inordinately pleased with the insane amount of “stuff to do” on Yoshi’s lil’ island.
But now… Now I look at this…
And all I see is a threat.
Yoshi’s Island is the first “collectathon” Mario game. Despite what Advance remakes may tell you (wait… do people even remember the Advance versions anymore?), Mario was previously all about the running and jumping, and did not give the tiniest flip about hidden Yoshi eggs or eight red coins. And this was right and good! Mario started his rescuing career in the arcades, and “arcade experiences” aren’t about exploring vast virtual worlds, they’re about getting to the end of the stage as quickly as possible so you can impress that one kid with the greasy hair who probably comes from circumstances but gets really excited whenever you make it to the flagpole. That kid isn’t going to wait around and watch for you to score some damn hidden flower thingy!
Actually, perhaps that’s The Illusion of Mario (perfect name for Super Mario RPG 2). There have always been secrets in Mario games. There have always been warp zones, negative zones (hey, an accidental secret is still a secret), hidden mushroom houses, alternate exits, and whatever the hell you had to do to turn a hammer bros into a magical ship o’ coins. The very first stage of Super Mario Bros. hid an invisible 1-up mushroom, and the next level dared you to break the boundaries of the world itself. Mario has always had plenty of bonus skeletons in his closet, from Super Mario Land to Super Mario World.
But Super Mario World 2 changed one important thing: it made the secrets mandatory. Yes, you can complete any given stage in Yoshi’s Island without touching a single red coin or flower, but, whether your explore every nook and cranny or dash like a mad dinosaur, you’re going to be judged at the end of the level. You can beat the game as an unaware lizard, but it also means being scored at a sad, sad 34 on every other stage. That’s not a passing grade! That’s barely even a valid number!
But let’s assume you decide to play along with Yoshi’s Island’s little scoring scheme. Let’s say you realize that Yoshi has the most robust movement scheme ever in a 2-D Mario game (egg tossing, butt stomping, repeated flutter jumping, and that’s all before you get into the vehicle morphs and Super Baby), and that it’s only natural the good people at Nintendo would fill every stage to the brim with stuff for our favorite steed to do. So you want to be the best you can be, and you try in every level. You go for the gold, do your best, but still miss a coin or star here and there. A 97? 99? That’s a pretty great score! Don’t forget to stomp every last piece of dirt! You’re doing swell!
And it doesn’t mean shit.
Yoshi’s Island demands perfection. If you score a flawless 100 on a stage, that’s great! If you “achieve” anything else, sorry, you may as well have not tried at all. And, don’t worry, this isn’t just a matter of looking at a strategy guide and mapping out the best route to red coins, you’ve got a few “random” factors, like…
- Flying shyguys (Flyguys?) with red coins that will scroll off the stage forever
- Flashing Eggs that may be lost before they’re ever used
- The slightest tap from any enemy near a goal post will reduce your star count
- Ditto on giant bosses that live to ruin your stars
- Invisible Red Switch hidden areas
- Auto scrolling stages
- Auto scrolling stages and Flyguys
- Those goddamn Bandit enemies
Fall victim to any one of these pitfalls, and, sorry, the only solution is suicide (in the game! Don’t do anything rash!) or restarting the level from scratch. And Yoshi’s Island does not feature short levels, oh no, these things are easily three times the length of any given SMB stage. And if you manage to surmount your previous trials and tribulations, but miss somewhere that didn’t trip you up the first time, don’t worry, you still have to repeat the stage, because perfection is mandatory for that all-important 100.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to get a 100. You don’t have to get a 100 at all. All imperfection means is that you’ll play less game, have less fun, and leave portions of Yoshi’s Island completely unfinished. You’re okay with that, right?
Well, I’m not. Shocking but true: I absolutely can’t deal with anything less than perfection in Yoshi’s Island. I know I’ve found these red coins before. I know I’ve beaten Tap Tap without taking a hit. I know I can discover that Poochy ain’t stupid on my own, so why the hell haven’t I gotten a hundred on this damn fuzzy stage yet!? Oh, there was a jump plate hidden in the sky? That makes perfect sense.
So, unlike practically every other Mario game (give or take a few stressful blue coins), I find myself incapable of enjoying Yoshi’s Island. I know, conceptually, that I can avoid the coins. I know I can just boot up that beloved SNES cartridge and play all the levels I want. I know there’s probably a 100% unlocked ROM floating out there somewhere that would alleviate all my woes. I know, somewhere deep down, there’s that enjoyable experience from twenty years ago lurking somewhere around Yoshi’s Island. But now, in my mind, it’s buried beneath a pathological need to acquire flowers and avoid the unshaven. Thus, Yoshi’s Island becomes less “a way to unwind” and more “work”. Work isn’t fun. Work is stressful, and that’s Yoshi’s Island to me.
Yoshi’s Island, the best, most fun game that I absolutely cannot enjoy.
FGC #341 Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
- System: Super Nintendo. Do we count the Gameboy Advance version, too? No. No Super FX Chip, no sale.
- What about the SNES Classic? Oh, that too. Yes, I did use the SNES Classic as the perfect excuse to test Yoshi’s Island. Or the other way around? Something like that.
- Number of players: This was the first Super Mario Bros. title to be only one player. Now a Super Mario Bros. game that is multiplayer is a friggen event, and nobody is expecting Mario and Luigi co-op in New Donk City. I blame Yoshi. Again.
- Favorite Level: World 2-Special is a rollercoaster ride of red switches that can, incidentally, be completed in all of a minute. It also still manages to contain all the mandatory Yoshi’s Island doodads. This is the game I want to play.
- Unsolved Mysteries: Who is Huffin Puffin, the chubby bird in party pants, and what is his deal? Why is it okay to steal his (her?) children? Why are said children natural boomerangs? What is the origin of those pants? Now I’m stressed out all over again!
- Just play the gig, man: I already said that this music was burned into my brain, but I’d like to note that, when I’m in “creepy” situations, I naturally whistle the intro to the final Bowser battle. Bum bum bum buuuum bah bump. Bum bum bum buuuuum bah duuu~uump.
- Did you know? There are some extremely minor and seemingly superfluous changes to the various icons (oh yeah, I miss having a real map screen, too!) across international versions, but you have to appreciate that they properly colored the SNES buttons purple (as opposed to Super Famicom rainbow) for the US controls button.
- Would I play again: Probably not. I acknowledge this game is good. I also acknowledge that I hate playing this good game. Sorry.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Taiko Drum Master for the Playstation 2! It’s pretty much guaranteed that I’m going to beat this game. Ha ha ha. Mercy. Please look forward to it!
Yoshi’s Island isn’t wholly singles only! A couple of the Yoshi vs. Bandit minigames have multiplayer modes (on SNES), though you do have to put in a code to access the games.
Anyway, I can definitely relate. Yoshi’s Island is a lovely game, but the combination of a ton of collectibles to get (particularly the missable kind), giant levels, and half a dozen of the stages being locked behind getting perfect grades has always rubbed me the wrong way.
I liked Mario better when the worst you had to do to find a hidden level was murder a Yoshi. Or extreme cape flying under a goal when you’re younger and stupider, goddammit Cheese Bridge secret you suck so much…
I know you don’t technically have to do it, but I’d kill for at least one more 2D Mario game where you don’t have to do a bunch of OCD bullshit if you want to see all the stages. Ditch the star coin locks, mark the stages that have hidden exits with red nodes, stick the super challenging stages in their own world.
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