GameSpite Journal 10 | Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2

Yoshi’s Island | Dev.: Nintendo | Pub: Nintendo | Genre: Action | Release: Oct. 1995

There’s a popular tale on the Internet about Yoshi’s Island. Supposedly, back in the waning days of the Super NES, Nintendo recognized the sales magic inherent in the fancy-looking graphics of Donkey Kong Country, but Donkey Kong creator Shigeru Miyamoto was having none of it, because DKC was ultimately kind of cold and lifeless. So he poured his creative energy into a vibrant Mario offshoot, Yoshi’s Island, reworking its visuals from a DKC-derived computer-rendered appearance to a work that appeared hand-drawn in order to prove the important of soul, or heavy black outlines, or something.

Like many stories popularly circulated around the Internet, this particular tale is probably built on equal parts fact and wishful thinking. But it sure is a fine “take that” to throw in the face of people who feel tech trumps all, right? There are several problems with this particular bit of video game mythology, and none are quite so crippling as the fact that Yoshi’s Island is actually a far more advanced piece of software than DKC was. While Nintendo was quick to ascribe the advanced-looking visuals of Donkey Kong’s 16-bit return to a tremendous leap of technology, in reality its graphics were simply a neat illusion that had more to do with meticulous planning and effective downsampling from high-powered workstations into the Super NES format. Yoshi’s Island, on the other hand, was a showcase for Nintendo’s Super FX2 chip, an amped-up version of the integrated coprocessor that had helped Star Fox bring real polygon-based visuals to the system.

Unlike Star Fox, though, Yoshi’s Island’s tech was employed for the purpose of creating vibrant 2D visuals. Outside the final showdown with a super-sized Bowser, Yoshi’s solo adventure focused not on creating an immersive sense of depth but rather in flinging storybook-like illustrations around willy-nilly. Enemies spun and shrunk and wobbled their way across the world; backgrounds stretched and squeezed and rotated with abandon. Translucent goo slurped along the screen; suspicious spores caused the background to distort hallucinogenically as Yoshi staggered drunkenly; tiny planetoids revolved beneath his feet.

Yoshi’s Island was a technical tour-de-force that didn’t really look like one, because it applied its supporting horsepower in unexpected ways. Rather than attempting to dazzle with the meaningless gimmicks applied to Mega Man X2 and X3 or create the trompe l’oeil depth of Donkey Kong Country, Nintendo was determined to make the best-looking old-fashioned graphics possible. Rather than try to disguise its two-dimensionality as so many games of the mid-’90s did, Yoshi’s Island instead reveled in its nature.

But sheer visual prowess of any kind is meaningless without a quality game beneath that slick patina. Yoshi’s Island was fortunate enough to have the substance to match its style; its take on platforming was as daring and original as its visuals. Rather than give players control of Mario and his standard repertoire, the game instead tasked an army of indestructible Yoshis with escorting baby Mario to safety. The challenge wasn’t to avoid dying, but rather to prevent Mario from being abducted, and the ear-splitting wails of an endangered baby were motivation enough to play well. Yoshi’s ability to produce and chuck eggs on demand added a shooter-like element to the action not entirely unlike crackdotcom’s Abuse. Yoshi’s Island offered dozens of levels to master, each with its own style and gimmick, and collecting all the goodies scattered about each stage unlocked tons of insanely challenging bonus stages. By standing defiant in the face of progress’ trends, Yoshi’s Island was a perfect send-off to both a platform and a way of gaming. No wonder people are so eager to believe the best about it.

By Jeremy Parish? | March 30, 2012 | Previous: Secret of Evermore | Next: Civilization