For decades now, Nintendo has enjoyed an ability to cash in on nostalgia while still bringing something innovative to the table with each successive game. Even when the folks there have missed — and they’ve had their share of misses — they’ve shown creativity in updating their premier franchises, and doubly so in games made for the DS. Which is why it’s so disappointing to play Yoshi’s Island DS — it’s the rare sequel to a classic title that only makes you pine for the original.
FAMILIAR?: That’s because it has the same gameplay as the first Yoshi’s Island.
Once again you control various Yoshis — the oddly proportioned dinosaurs with adhesive tongues and the ability to digest their food instantly — in their quest to rescue the Mushroom Kingdom’s new-borns from an evil wizard. Baby Mario drops in, so he gets to go along for the ride. Yoshis can eat enemies, convert them into eggs, and shoot them at various obstacles in their side-scrolling paths. Collecting coins, stars, and flowers to earn bonus points makes up a substantial portion of the game. If your Yoshi is hit, you lose your infant for a while and have to retrieve him before a timer runs out. If all this sounds familiar, that’s because the first Yoshi’s Island, released for the Super NES in 1995, had the same gameplay. The result lacks the freshness, the sense of discovery, and the whimsy that accompanied the SNES version, qualities that made it arguably the last great game released for that system.
The wrinkle here is the addition of new babies to ride Yoshis. Baby Peach (if you haven’t played video games in the last 10 years, then you probably just know her as “The Princess”) can float, Baby Donkey Kong can climb on things, Baby Wario has a magnet, and Baby Bowser can shoot fireballs. These characters feel tacked on, though, and the sections requiring their abilities don’t add anything to the overall experience. Instead of making the game more interesting and entertaining, they just make it more complicated. And for a platformer, Yoshi’s Island DS is difficult. The levels are on the long side for a hand-held game, particularly one without a mid-level save feature.
Yoshi’s Island DS has garnered praise for maintaining the Saturday-morning cartoon-style visuals and nursery-room soundtrack of the SNES original. Which it does, but the absence of any improvement to either aspect despite the technological superiority of the DS is befuddling. Neither does the game take advantage of the new gameplay possibilities afforded by the DS. The second screen is used only to extend the environment vertically; the touch screen does nothing. Nintendo and its developers have always made sure to give each DS title a DS-necessary component, and it’s not hard to imagine how they could have reconfigured elements of Yoshi’s Island to work with the touch screen. Here, the two screens showing the same scenery concept often have a “blind spot” between them, so that you struggle while trying to aim. Sometimes there just isn’t anything to show and you’re left with a screen full of sky or floor.
Yoshi’s Island DS will likely satisfy fans of the original who don’t have a working SNES or virtual console access. But by staying with the tried-and-true mechanics of the original, Nintendo and developer Artoon have wasted an opportunity.