Yoshi’s Island DS
Poor Yoshi. Despite his role as one of Nintendo’s popular characters, he’ll never get the same kind of treatment that the Mario Brothers enjoy. This little green dinosaur amounts to little more than a sidekick, a beast of burden whose sole existence revolves around meaningless drudgery. Sure, Yoshi can eat wild berries and swallow enemies with a single lash of his lethal tongue. Big deal. He’ll never get the chance to kick Bowser’s ass, be the savior of the Mushroom Kingdom, or get smooched by Princess Peach. Instead, Yoshi faces his inevitable role as a secondary hero. That saddle grafted to his back is meant for hauling characters around and serving their every whim. Yoshi’s Island DS offers the wayward dinosaur the chance to become a hero by starring in his own game. In his bid to shed his role as a mounted steed, however, Yoshi has become a glorified babysitter.
Years before the Mario Brothers crusade for the salvation of their homeland (and learn the basics of toilet training), an evil magician named Kamek is attempting to take control of Yoshi’s homeland. Instead of subjugating the local royalty and enslaving the populace a la Bowser, Kamek does something far more disturbing: he kidnaps every newborn baby and whisks them away to his fortress in the sky. As his dastardly (if not slightly pedophilic) plot comes to fruition, the villain finally nabs our heroes from their respective homes. Due to a midair accident en route to his lair, Kamek accidentally drops Mario and Peach and leaves them to their fates. Before the two toddlers can splatter on the ground below, Yoshi shows up and saves them from their gruesome deaths. With both babies in tow, the would-be hero vows to save the rest of the children and restore peace to his island.
At least, if he doesn’t get himself killed first. This iteration of Yoshi’s Island is a far cry from the pathetic beginner levels in Super Mario World. Instead of being spread out over a handful of locales, the island now stretches across five areas and plenty of long and challenging levels. Amidst the pastel-colored bushes and trees, man-eating piranha plants are poised to rip our hero to shreds. In the leafy canopy overhead, cannons fire off living artillery and gelatinous blobs of filth. Even open fields are infested with Shy Guys and other villainous staples of the Mario Bros. series. Any given baddie can smack Yoshi silly and knock his riders loose, forcing you to scramble to retrieve them before Kamek’s minions kidnap them. In order to combat these foes, Yoshi falls back on his signature weapon: his tongue. With a quick flick of this mighty muscle, our hero can grab an enemy and drag it back into his waiting mouth. Before his prey can struggle out of his jaws, Yoshi will swallow it whole and let it stew in his stomach. This grisly demise is thankfully brief; the enemy is digested and excreted as an egg. Armed with this newfound weapon, Yoshi can use it as an aimed projectile to take out the tougher monsters and bosses that populate the island.
That doesn’t mean that our hero can survive by eating everything in sight. If your platforming skills aren’t in good condition, Yoshi will frequently plummet into bottomless pits or narrowly miss a far-flung ledge. He isn’t quite as athletic as his Italian slave drivers; jumping around platforms will involve precision timing blended with his extremely limited floating abilities. Since most of the levels are impossible to complete without outside aid, Yoshi will have to rely on the toddler passengers to get things done. After summoning a stork via the platforms strewn throughout the levels, you’ll be able to choose which toddler to carry depending on the situation. Hidden deep within the recesses of her diaper, Peach hides a miniature parasol that can add more airtime to your jumps and catch the updrafts from bottomless pits. Mario’s oversized cap allows him to hit invisible blocks, Donkey Kong’s freakishly strong arms can propel him through the thickest jungle vines, and even Bowser lends some support as a tantrum-prone flamethrower. Then there’s Wario, whose giant magnet manages to nab every coin in the immediate area, but remains irritatingly unreliable when obstacles require it. Considering that every dank cave, glowing lava pit, and sandy beach in the game is crammed with coins and other pickups, you’ll need to use every baby to their fullest extent.
Perfectionists need not worry, however. Since there isn’t a time limit to complete a level, you’ll have all the time you need to explore every nook and cranny. Maybe you’ll find a 1-Up hidden beneath some foliage, or a smiley-face/sunflower pickup floating in some faraway cavern. The areas are designed with multiple paths that can be accessed depending on Yoshi’s rider; if you can’t reach a certain part of a level, then you’ve got the wrong baby on board. As you hunt for those treasure troves of coins and elusive sunflowers (you get graded depending on how many of each you pick up), you’ll learn to appreciate the little things that make Yoshi’s Island DS so charming. Yoshi’s grunts of pain and physical exertion balance out the upbeat music, though the sounds of the babies crying will probably make you want to throw your DS out the nearest window. Though the levels are brimming with bloodthirsty enemies and perilous jumps, the pastel color scheme makes everything more eye-catching. The bright colors don’t make Yoshi’s foes too fearsome, but they do portray the snowy mountainsides, fiery sunsets, and dense jungles with a kind of beauty that few DS games can offer.
Nintendo finally did it. After botching Super Mario 64 DS with its horrendous control scheme and making a short and not entirely sweet work of New Super Mario Bros., the minds behind the DS are giving us a truly great platforming game. Yoshi’s Island DS comes packing everything you need; Yoshi’s back and better than ever, the new assortment and use of the babies make things much more interesting, the levels are long and challenging as the game progresses, and the presentation is finely crafted. But most importantly, there is a heavy emphasis placed on platforming perfection. While other games may have let you get away with poorly honed gaming skills, the gameplay of Yoshi’s Island DS will keep you on your toes as you try to find everything the game has to offer. Needless to say, Yoshi isn’t just some sidekick anymore.
Nine out of ten