Yoshi's Story (Nintendo 64) review
"It says a lot when, after a few replays, I am able to beat Yoshi’s Story in under a half hour, without taking any damage whatsoever. "
It says a lot when, after a few replays, I am able to beat Yoshi’s Story in under a half hour, without taking any damage whatsoever.
With the increasing success of the Wii, the once-popular claim that Nintendo is a “kiddy” company has been dying recently, largely because most of those people would probably agree that Nintendo has its crosshairs set on Senior Citizensville at this point. But the argument once held some ground: Here’s the company whose censorship policies once reduced Johnny Cage’s decapitation fatality to a simple kick in the chest. Still, I’ve defended Nintendo’s family-friendly demeanor many times in the past, because really, if you can’t look past the cutesy exterior and enjoy a game for what it really is, what kind of gamer are you? HUH? But having played Yoshi’s Story numerous times and really trying to find a Deeper Meaning buried beneath its bright colors and googly-eyed aesthetics, I can safely say I’ve got no excuse for this one. This is a children’s game. Case closed.
And it’s a shame, really, because Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is one of my favorite games of all time, and certainly one of the best titles in the already stellar SNES library. Here was a relatively unfamiliar character given his (her? its?) first true moment in the spotlight, able to show off his unique moveset in levels that, if not necessarily challenging, at least got the player thinking and using the unusual abilities at their disposal in creative ways. It was something different back when platformers still didn’t need to be different.
The N64 sequel remains true to the series’ 2D roots, but now employs the use of analog, and I’m cool with that. As weird as it initially feels to use an analog stick in a 2D platformer, a few minutes with Yoshi’s Story proves this upgrade a natural progression of the hero’s abilities. Yoshi’s signature move involves poking out his incredibly long tongue, swallowing enemies whole, and turning them into eggs that trail behind him, on hold should the iconic dinosaur require ammunition at any point. Being able to lick in any direction is a luxury I perhaps don’t need, but helps create a smoother experience that is interrupted a bit when Yoshi is required to aim one of his eggs: The game forces you to physically manipulate a cursor in space rather than simply point the analog stick in the direction you want to aim. It certainly beats the dated timing-based cursor present in Yoshi’s Island, but if you’re going to incorporate analog where it isn’t needed, you should probably make the most of it.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that, by my quiet observation, there isn’t a single polygon present in Yoshi’s Story, which I’m also fine with barring a few haphazard (and completely unsuccessful) attempts to convince me I’m operating in a 3D world via “split path” level design. The game’s visual style is expectedly bouncy and colorful, and the well-animated sprites and clean pre-rendered backgrounds leave little to complain about, yet there’s very little in the cosmetics to distinguish Yoshi’s Story from other obsessively kid-friendly games out there. I suppose Yoshi’s Island was similarly happy-slappy in its appearance, but that game’s coloring book art style gave it a unique look: The game still would have felt unusual even if its gameplay were derivative. The sequel has no such distinction.
(Though I’ll note that the graphics are still good, which is more than I can say about the sound department. The soundtrack essentially consists of around a thousand different variations of the same theme, and it’s a decent theme, but I can only listen to it so many times before I begin munching on a trail mix of broken glass and rusty nails as a means of distracting me from the overwhelming pain.)
That Yoshi’s Story is overly simple and astonishingly easy goes without saying at this point, as I just told you I was able to beat it without taking any damage. But this is a kids’ game, so I guess that’s kind of acceptable. What irritates me about Yoshi’s Story is that it lacks the creative spark that made the first game such a standout in the first place. The levels themselves are flat-feeling and dull, and make little use of Yoshi’s powers, which I note have been dumbed down: Many of his coolest abilities from Yoshi’s Island (such as ricocheting eggs off walls) have been removed, and our only consolation is a sniff button that I DON’T CARE ABOUT.
Oh, that’s right: Completing levels in Yoshi’s Story requires that players find and eat thirty pieces of fruit, which isn’t hard, because each stage is absolutely littered with them. The big dilemma comes in scoring. You’ve got to devour your fruits selectively in such a way as to gain more points. You can now choose between several colored Yoshis from the start, and each has a corresponding favorite fruit that awards more points. There’s also a “lucky fruit” randomly chosen at the beginning of each level that gives you a boost, and you can stomp on the ground to change an enemy’s color, etc., etc.
What’s the problem with this? I’m honestly wondering if I was alive when getting a high score in a console game was actually a big deal, and that’s really the only reward that careful fruit-eaters will earn here. I didn’t care, and I doubt that the audience this game was intended for will care, either. The accomplishment I was concerned about was actually finishing the game, and that isn’t difficult thanks to a Star Fox 64-like branching structure in which a player needs only to clear six levels to win. Six easy levels, where even the bosses refuse to offer any semblance of a challenge, and in which strategies narrow down to “fire a few eggs.”
I can’t work up the energy to hate Yoshi’s Story, partly because it’s so damn innocent, and largely because the younger set would probably love it, and that's what it was intended for. But watch any Pixar movie and tell me if family-friendly entertainment can’t be enjoyable for adults. Or, hell, play Yoshi’s Island. For the superficial, this follow-up is so sugary sweet that you might need to brush your teeth afterwards to ward off the cavities. For the hardcore gamer, this simplified, dumbed-down sequel to the great Yoshi’s Island barely deserves being mentioned in the same sentence. What a terrible waste.
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