Yoshi's Island: The Beaten Path
Yoshi's Island was an influential game to the greater Mario world. It refined Yoshi's design and abilities from that... creature in Super Mario World. It brought those lovable Shy Guys to the front lines. Most importantly, it heavily emphasized exploration to a degree not seen in the typical platformer of the day. That exploration, unfortunately, is a double-edged sword.
First, the basics - Despite its age, the game is still fun to control. I like Yoshi's momentum. He's suited for both quick jumps and slower sections, which are both in abundance. His now trademark flutter jump gives at least some leniency with platforming. Egg throwing is probably the biggest mechanic in the game. The aiming is quick yet precise, so it too is suited for both the game's speeds. However, eggs are far from the only mechanic in the game. At times, the game feels overstuffed with ideas that don't come together like they would in a more modern game.
You know how Donkey Kong 64 is often cited as an example of "collect-a-thon" design? Well, Yoshi was doing that years earlier in the 2D space. Every stage in the game awards a score out of 100 based on how many things the player gets. There are five flowers and 20 red coins per stage, along with stars that can fill a timer, which acts as the health bar, up to 30 seconds. Getting to the end with all the collectibles and a full timer is encouraged by the game. Except... it really isn't.
For one, you have to get everything in one go. I think in the last Yoshi game, you could, say, get all the flowers in one run-through, and that would be banked for the next time. Not the case here. You have to earn all 100 points at once. Okay, fine, whatever. But what do those collectibles actually do? Flowers are the most useful, granting a chance for a bonus game at the end of the level. Stars are the most immediately useful, but they're taken away if you take damage and bounce around like assholes. Red coins are useless outside of adding to the score.
What I'm trying to say is that you have to commit to getting 100 points. You have to scour the stage from top to bottom. You gotta rub your nose in every corner for those last coins. Those stages are the biggest problem in the game. I would say the level design is the game's Achilles' Heel. By Achilles' Heel, I mean Horrific Gaping Shotgun Wound in the Chest.
Sure, in the first few worlds, it's perfectly fine. The breezy intro stages are perfect for getting acquainted with Yoshi and his egg business. But there's a noticeable progression away from linear stages to involved mazes that play more like puzzles than obstacle courses. You have to figure out the way forward, whether that's knocking down a bounce pad or finding a hidden key. Puzzle levels aren't something I'm fully opposed to, but I think the mechanics work a lot better in an obstacle course setting, and I bet that's how they were originally designed.
There's a noted pattern in modern Mario games to have a central mechanic that evolves over the course of one level. This is especially obvious in the "New" games and 3D Land/World. You know, the ones that everyone complains are too boring. Except they have some of the smartest level design in the business. Yoshi's Island attempts to use this principle. It has level names that suggest a central mechanic. There's even a thumbnail showing it off. But in practice, there's no visible evolution in one stage like in newer Marios. In my experience, there will usually be one section with the mechanic in question. The rest of the stage will use any one of the game's many other mechanics, without combination with the stated one. Seems like a wasted opportunity.
Again, it's fine, it's an old game, it's whatever. But there are just so many damn unfun sections in this game. After world 4, the developers just decided to not have any more fun levels in the game. Remember the part where you ride on a ghost's head over a bottomless pit with instant-kill spikes for like a year? Or the part where you have to jump on tiny ski lifts in a blizzard over a bottomless pit for like a year? Or the level that's called "The Very Loooooooong Cave?" Why would you make that a level!? Who wants to play that?
These sections, the mazelike design of the stages, and the Baby Mar- OH MY GOD BABY MARIO. IF I HAVE TO HEAR THAT KID CRY ONE MORE TIME
These sections, the mazelike design of the stages, and the Baby Mario mechanic make getting from point A to B arduous, and getting 100 points frustrating. And your reward for getting 100 points? More levels, which are probably no better than the other ones that are so terrible. I don't know, I didn't bother with that stuff. I was having a great time for the first few hours until the design took an utter nosedive in focus. There are good parts of Yoshi's Island. But they're buried by tons of garbage, especially in snow world and Bowser world. The game doesn't respect your time. Turn the console off after world 4.