Y’all know what time it is.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is one of the best 2D platformers ever made. This not an opinion up for debate. This is gospel. Consider its colorful storybook landscapes, an emphasis on collecting/exploring over traditional platforming, inspired Yoshi mechanics like throwing eggs, hidden surprises around every corner. Unlike future Yoshi games, there’s not a moment wasted, not a single level that doesn’t feature a new idea or gimmick. Yoshi’s Island brims with effortless, overwhelming creativity.
Ol’ Blargg could sure use an eyebrow trim.*
Before Yoshi’s Island grew into the heralded elder statesman that it is today, the game was just another title in the ever-expanding Mario series. Super Mario: Yoshi Island debuted in Japan on August 5th, 1995. No, I didn’t leave out “World 2” from the Japanese title. Unlike America and Europe, Yoshi’s Island released in Japan without any connection to Super Mario World and was essentially branded as a Mario side-story.
Yossy Island, if you’re feelin’ nasty.
Positioning Yoshi’s Island as not part of the mainline Mario series makes complete sense. While both Mario and Yoshi games hail from the platforming genre, both take wildly different approaches. The original 2D Mario games – Mario Bros. 1-3 and Super Mario World – are about getting from one end of the level to the other without dying as quickly as possible. Sure, there are rewards for slowing down – bricks to hit, coins to gather, Goombas to smash – but there was also a timer that continuously counted down. Play and have fun, but watch the clock.
Yoshi’s Island and future Yoshi platformers opt for a more methodical approach. You can explore each stage’s nooks and crannies at your leisure. Collectibles like sunflowers, red coins, and stars give replayability to each stage. Yoshi’s mechanics fit the more relaxed pace of the game as well. Instead of donning a cape or a Tanooki suit and flying across the level, Yoshi propels upwards with his feet for a brief amount of time before his supple frame brings him back down to earth. Instead of a fire flower, Yoshi swallows Shy Guys and other adorable jerks, making them into eggs. These eggs can then be aimed and launched at enemies, items, or hidden secrets.
Tribal Shy Guys play for keeps.*
By not including a named connection to Super Mario World, Nintendo allowed Super Mario: Yoshi’s Island to exist as its own unique creation in Japan. Yes, they connected the game to Mario because, well, Mario’s in the game and Yoshi’s Island was the first Yoshi-style platformer at the time. Still, they clearly wanted Yoshi’s Island to stand apart from their main franchise.
Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe took the opposite approach. Super Mario World was a massive success, and by gar, they were going to capitalize on it. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was released on October 4th, 1995 in the United States.
That Yoshi’s heading for Severe Back Pain Land.
Yoshi’s Island had the misfortune of coming out at a very weird time for Nintendo in America. The just-released Virtual Boy was sinking fast. The PlayStation – originally a joint venture between Sony and Nintendo – had just launched and was extremely successful right out of the gate. Nintendo’s misguided “Play it Loud!” ads were also in full swing. The latter in particular did Yoshi’s Island no favors. Ostensibly created to counter Sega’s aggressive marketing towards teenagers, this egregious ad campaign presented beloved classics like Earthbound, Kirby Super Star, and yes, Yoshi’s Island as juvenile titles for young teen boys. Not Nintendo of America’s finest hour.
Let’s suppose you bought into the disgusting hype for Yoshi’s Island. Imagine your surprise when you were greeted by the sickeningly sweet nursery rhyme at the beginning of the game. Mario’s an adorable baby being carried by a stork to his parents (what, no sex in Mario’s world?!). The Yoshis are outrageously cute dinosaurs. Each level looks like your young sister’s Beanie Baby coloring books. Where’s the barf? Where’s the poop?! Oh no! Nintendo lied to you!
Did we say “barf?” Cause we totally meant happy flowers!
When Yoshi’s Island came out in late 1995, I was not a teenager who thought barf and poop were cool and/or funny. I was a ten-year-old who distrusted the game’s overly cutesy style. Why is the game called Super Mario World 2 if you don’t actually control Mario? While I was more of a Sonic fan than a Mario fan at the time, I had played and loved all mainline Mario games up to that point. Nevertheless, I stayed away from Yoshi’s Island for years (I didn’t even rent it, what the heck was my problem?) before finally picking up the game in middle school.
You can hear the cry now, can’t you?
Yoshi’s Island is not without its faults. Everybody likes to talk about baby Mario’s obnoxious cry, and yes, that wail does grate quickly (that was definitely the point). For me, it’s the controls. Nintendo assigned ‘B’ to jump and ‘A’ to throwing eggs. If you’ve ever played video games, you know jump is almost universally assigned to ‘A’. When it’s not, the controls feel off. Finally, about ten years ago, I did a 100% clear for the first time ever – and the last. The amount of time spent getting every red coin, flower, and star was too much. The reward – a single extra stage, a bonus game you can play any time you want, and a star next to the title screen – not enough.
No game is perfect, but Yoshi’s Island comes darn close. In a time where polygons and prerendered visuals captivated young eyes everywhere, Yoshi’s Island leaned into its crayon storybook aesthetic without shame or apology. In a time where gore and mature themes were becoming more commonplace, Yoshi’s Island featured a story about a cute dinosaur returning a baby to his parents. Most importantly, in a time where platformers were becoming increasingly stale, Yoshi’s Island breathed life into the formula. The game remains one of Nintendo’s finest masterpieces and proof that video games are, indeed, art. Happy 25, Yoshi’s Island.
“Oh, the places we’ll go! Well… I’ll go. You’ll stay behind.”
*screenshots courtesy of VGMuseum, Mario Wiki, and Gaming Rebellion.