Not the exciting sequel I was looking for
Yoshi’s Island DS is the direct sequel to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, released on the Super Nintendo over a decade ago. It takes all the ideas from the original game and expands on them with new levels, puzzles, and most notably new babies for Yoshi to lug around, each with their own unique abilities. After spending so many hours with the first game all those years ago I really wanted to love Yoshi’s Island DS, but a few flaws and lack of the same charm its predecessor possessed ended up hurting my appreciation for this new installment.
The basic premise of the story here is that Kamek has kidnapped all of the babies in the again. In an airborne struggle, the stork manages to free Baby Mario from Kamek’s grip, who ends up being reunited with the Yoshis. Together, the Yoshis and Mario set out to rescue the other babies from the baddies one by one.
The game retains the same colourful crayon-drawn art style as the original on the SNES, yet the sound here isn’t quite up to standard. Most sound effects have been recycled from the original game, which is mostly fine with the exception of the odd ear-grating cry of a lost baby. On the other hand, the music, while chirpy, is easily forgettable and borderline boring at times. Most of the music consists of remixes of the same one tune, and much of it fails to capture the mood of the area you’re exploring, especially for the fortress levels and boss fights.
Each of the five babies found over the course of your adventure will be able to lend their unique abilities to your arsenal to help you through the levels. Mario enables Yoshi to run super fast and activates M blocks within levels to help (or sometimes hinder) your progress. Peach uses her parasol to catch draughts of wind and float high into the air, Donkey Kong can grab onto vines as well as barge through obstacles. In later levels you’ll be required to string together the abilities of several different babies in order to move forward, and some levels will require you to come back after acquiring a new baby’s abilities in order to scout out all the secrets within them and achieve a perfect score.
These secrets are one of the game’s high points, as there are plenty to find and many are devilishly difficult to locate. First up, there are doors in most levels unlocked with a key which lead to one of many minigames, which can be fun to play after you’ve played a level to exhaustion for a breath of fresh air. Then, if you earn a high enough score in all of the levels within a world by finding all of the hidden red coins, stars and flowers, you’ll open up an additional level to play which combines most of the challenges you’ve faced within that world’s individual levels into one super-difficult stage. While these extra stages are a great way to test your skills, it’s easy to wear yourself out on the way to unlocking them while trying to find all of the secret pickups within each level. Even though it wasn’t often, there were times where I would have all the abilities required to complete a level for 100%, but such was the level design that I had to guess which baby to switch to for an upcoming segment since I wouldn’t get the chance to switch back if I chose wrong unless I started over.
While there aren’t as many worlds to explore as in the original, the levels try to make up for this by being longer. However, later on in the game this can end up hurting some of the appeal of Yoshi’s Island DS as a portable platformer, since it takes considerably longer to reach checkpoints within levels and not many stages are bite-sized enough to finish on the go. Later levels may be a lot tougher, but when the difficulty stems from long, unforgiving segments of bouncy obstacles and baddies placed above bottomless pits and spikes, the game can become frustrating to the point where it isn’t fun anymore. The camera functionality could have been a lot better during these difficult sections too, as it will often forbid the player from scrolling the screen down or to the side to see what hazards may await them.
The abilities of the babies, while varied, are quite gimmicky in that each of them really only has one or two select uses. After seeing a certain object or obstacle in a level you’ll know which baby to switch to by instinct. Rotor fans will, at some point, act as air lifts for Peach. Vines can only be grabbed onto by Donkey Kong. While the game occasionally tries to puzzle you with the question of how to reach DK’s vines or how to activate Peach’s airlifts, Yoshi’s Island DS usually relies on other gameplay gimmicks to keep the levels feeling fresh. New gimmicks will include a kangaroo friend which bounces you through a secret area, stilts which can be used to cross over treacherous terrain and skis to slide down snow-covered slopes at swift speeds. None are nearly as diverse as Yoshi’s eggs and there isn’t much fun to be had with them outside their predesigned puzzles like there might be with the powerups and suits of other Mario platformers.
Unfortunately, the boss fights in the game don’t focus on the unique abilities of each character and instead only require the player to master Yoshi’s usual arsenal of egg throwing, tongue licking and butt stomping attacks. It’s always easy to know what to do and even easier to finish the boss without risk of losing a life. I’m not as bothered with the fact that the fights are so easy though, more so that a game which focuses so heavily around switching skill sets to tackle the appropriate tasks in front of you can’t use that same concept in its boss battles.
While Yoshi’s Island DS remains a good platformer and can still be fun to play, its numerous flaws prevent it from becoming a second coming of the classic original. It’s a fine game for those looking for a bit of additional DS platformer fun, but if you're looking for the full Yoshi’s Island experience again it’d be a better idea to just pull out the Super Nintendo.