Yoshi’s Island is one of the best games on Nintendo Switch Online

In one of the best platforming games in the Super Mario series, did you know that Mario can’t jump – or, for that matter, run or talk?

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is an oddity, even by the standards of a series that previously had an advergame about throwing vegetables (based on a discarded Mario prototype) as reimagined Super Mario Bros. 2. It’s the official sequel to the Super NES launch title and the best contender for the game ever Super Mario worldbut it has a different art style, a different main character, and radically different gameplay.

These days it might make more sense to refer to it as the first Yoshi game instead; the game that established the cuddly green dino and his brand of mechanically inventive, tactile, kindergarten-bright platforming. And that’s all correct. But the miracle of Yoshi’s island, included in the Nintendo Switch Online SNES collection, is that it holds its own even among the full-bodied Super Mario games. It’s as exquisitely crafted, as free-roaming, as mischievously and as gleefully odd as any, and a contender for best game of all time in its own right.

The Yoshi's Island title screen, showing the whole island

Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Yoshi’s island is a sort of storybook prequel to the Mario games. Mario and Luigi are born as babies by a stork when baby Luigi is kidnapped by the Koopa wizard Kamek and baby Mario falls to the island where the Yoshis live. (This scenario introduces strange considerations into Mario lore, like the identities of Mario and Luigi’s parents and why the babies were born with their signature red and green hats.) Yoshi – Is it a younger version of the Super Mario world Yoshi or an ancestor Yoshi? What is the lifespan of a Yoshi anyway? – decides to reunite the twins and carries Mario off on his back to look for the child’s lost brother.

The delightful adventure that follows is determined by the extraordinarily flexible and sophisticated toolset that the developers have given to Yoshi. He has a “flutter” that can increase the length of his leaps; he can devour and spit enemies with his long tongue; or he can, uh, Convert her with a squat and a satisfying pop in balls. These eggs can be thrown with a targeting crosshair and ricochet through the environment. Mario sits on Yoshi’s back, and if Yoshi is hit, he’ll float away in a bubble and must be rescued before a timer runs out.

Most of this should make the game more forgiving than Super Mario world, and in a sense it does. Thanks to the flutter, jumps don’t need to be performed as precisely, and the baby bubble mechanic essentially gives Yoshi a second hit before passing out. The level time limit has also been removed, encouraging more careful exploration. Thanks to these changes Yoshi’s island is technically a simpler game. But the tweaks also make it messier.

Yoshi leaps into the air in front of scribbled hills, followed by a trail of eggs

Image: Nintendo via Polygon

If Super Mario games are all about momentum, Yoshi’s island is all about elasticity. Mario sprints, jumps and levitates. Yoshi jumps, wobbles and slides. The world around him pulses, ripples, expands and contracts thanks to special distortion and scaling effects powered by a Super FX chip in the game cartridge. It’s all like that gummy. The enemies are mostly innocent, weird creatures who just get in your way – except for those who are enchanted by Kamek to become huge, goofy bosses.

Through a combination of meticulous design, physics-driven cause-and-effect, and wicked humor, the designers – led by Shigefumi Hino (Yoshi’s original artist) and Takashi Tezuka (Shigeru Miyamoto’s right-hand man) – have created an incredible sandbox for bio-videogame slapstick. In fact, this is one of the funniest physical comedy games ever. An unforgettable stage, “Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy,” turns the entire level into a wobbling wave machine when you touch one of the narcotic clouds that float through the air and leave Yoshi tumbling around like a drunk employee after hours.

There’s also inherent comedy in Yoshi’s frantic scramble to reclaim bubble baby Mario when he’s knocked down. But there’s also genuine desperation fueled by Mario’s frantic screams. (The sound effects are fantastic, as is the lively, funky, lyrical music by Koji Kondo.) Later Yoshi games would be explicitly aimed at very young players. Yoshi’s islandhowever, is not a game to the Babies, but it’s a game about them.

A horde of Yoshis gather around Baby Mario in a pastel-colored forest

Image: Nintendo via Polygon

When it was released in 1995, Yoshi’s island was visually an outlier, not to say a relic: Donkey Kong country‘s luscious power made the year before Yoshi’s island‘s pixel art looks vintage and the dimension explosion of Super Mario 64 was just around the corner. However, its graphics have arguably aged better than any of those games, and its intentionally sketchy, handcrafted look foretold the scrapbook aesthetic of many later indie games.

Nintendo later developed this idea into the tactile materials and soft, padded security of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s woolly worldand Yoshi’s designed world. Yoshi’s island, while still adorable, presents a more unfiltered, mischievous vision of early childhood. Yoshi is both a stressed-out guard chasing after his whining charge and an orally fixated toddler himself who puts everything he can see in his mouth, shitting eggs and tossing them to see what happens.

Yoshi’s island is a world of lovely chaos – different from the surreal non-sequiturs of Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom, but still a close cousin of them. If you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you owe it to yourself to pay the island a visit. You will feel years younger.

https://www.polygon.com/sub-gems/23283668/yoshis-island-super-mario-world-2-nintendo-switch-online-sub-gems Yoshi’s Island is one of the best games on Nintendo Switch Online

Charles Jones

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