Yoshi's Island appeared as one of those very early
technical demos that surfaced even before the GBA's
official release and was generally greeted with absolute
amazement by those who encountered it. Obviously we're
going back well over 18 months here and in addition
to two previous Mario titles, we've seen a fair few
games that have pushed Nintendo's new handheld to limits
even the hardware manufacturer thought impossible.
Outside of its technical merits, however, there is
one aspect of the Mario series that's always stood out
above everything else - playability. Given the consistently
good track record of these games there's no reason to
believe that Yoshi's Island wont live up to the hype.
Or does it?
After the usual 'highly original' Nintendo story
line you'll find yourself as a baby Mario astride a
rather bemused looking Yoshi. This is due to the fact
that you've just tumbled from the great blue yonder
following a failed kidnap attempt on you and your brother.
Luigi has been snatched by the Koopa family while being
delivered by a stork and it's now up to you and Yoshi
to discover his whereabouts.
You remain with Yoshi (although not the same one)
throughout the island, which is a real plus as not only
is he more effective over the terrain than you but he
renders you almost invincible. He also brings lots of
additional combat moves to the Mario franchise. The
first of these is the incredibly powerful stomp, which
flattens even the most persistent of enemies instantly.
Then you can fire at other objects using a variety of
projectiles, which really are very precise and can be
fired in almost any direction.
Yoshi's most intriguing, not to mention unique, skill
though is his ability to morph into a variety of different
vehicles depending on your needs at that time. You may
wish for a helicopter in order to reach greater heights
or a mechanical digger for... well digging. This is
undoubtedly one of the highlights of the whole game
and really gives this third installment an original
and dynamic theme separating it from the previous Mario
The whole game takes place over six different worlds
which in turn are split into eight levels but while
you're still faced with challenges you never feel overwhelmed
by the learning curve which is, as usual, pitched just
right. A Nintendo title would be nothing without collectibles
and Yoshi's Island has loads of them. It's always worth
searching them out as they not only give you the usual
power ups and extra lives but finding them all opens
up an exclusive secret level.
There are also various mini games, which break up
the platforming action nicely and usually take the form
of simple single screen puzzlers. Nintendo products
have an unparalleled track record of tying up many of
the loose ends, which seem to plague some third party
developers. For starters you get a battery save (with
three slots) and a limited multi player option from
only a single copy of the game. Bagging yourself another
copy of the game however opens up a whole new multi
As you'd expect with any Nintendo product the collision
detection is pixel perfect which is more important than
usual because of the amount of action going on in some
of the areas. Yoshi is an incredibly maneuverable lead
character but the control design is such that it always
feels very intuitive so what could be an incredibly
frustrating gaming aspect becomes a real pleasure, allowing
you to concentrate on the gameplay.
The various environments you encounter throughout
Yoshi's Island are truly outstanding and are constructed
with a subtle mix of watercolour and pastel effects.
This contrasts extremely well with the harshly outlined
sprites and gives a greater illusion of both depth and
perspective to the whole game.
You're also treated to the famous Nintendo design
where everything you see brings a unique inventiveness
to the proceedings whilst retaining a comfortable familiarity.
There are, unfortunately, some screen update issues
where the game designers have become perhaps a little
too ambitious but these are few and far between and
never really hurt the gameplay. Overall, this latest
offering from every GBA owner's favourite developer
is as close to a visual feast as I've seen for some
time in handheld form.
Sound & Music
As you'd expect most of the sounds have been transferred
from the original and they actually stand up rather
well considering they're a decade or so old now. One
audio aspect that has been improved (although it's unlikely
to be to everyone's taste) is Yoshi's voice and ‘cute'
voice samples now accompany his every move. Because
of Nintendo's tight quality control it even sounds good
on the GBA's limited speaker capacity though, if you
really wish to cut off the rest of the world and immerse
yourself in Yoshi's Island, headphones are still best.
Yoshi's Island has been a long time coming and the
GBA has already seen its fair share of great and not
so great platformers. Nintendo, however, have always
reigned supreme in this area and this latest Mario outing
will remain an unmistakable blueprint of just how it
all should be done. Everything's good here, from the
tight control and design to the wonderful sounds and
visuals. It is undoubtedly the best handheld platformer
Nintendo have produced to date. If you're upgrading
to a GBA this Christmas and can only have one game you
can't go far wrong with Yoshi's Island and there's enough
varied gameplay here to keep you going until... well
New Year at least. An instant classic and dare I say
it 'platforming perfection'.