Yoshi's StoryLongue tongue, short game.
Genre: Adventure/ Platform
Nintendo has finally released the anticipated follow-up to Yoshi's Island -- but unlike the excellent 16-bit platformer, Yoshi's Story won't find its way into the hall of fame of Nintendo classics.
Still, Yoshi's Story is a fun game. At its best, the level design is right up there with the original Mario games and it impresses with innovative control, great graphics and original levels. But at other times, Yoshi is an unchallenging romp through levels that reek of recycled game ideas, derivative layout, and clueless enemies.
For the US release, Nintendo cleaned up the graphics a little and added some superficial elements such as fences and egg-boxes in colors corresponding to your Yoshi of choice (the original only featured green boxes). Also, some of the item locations were changed from the Japanese version, and Nintendo added a few new secrets, such as coins that spell out letters, and a slightly different ending when you only munch on honeydews. Another addition is a save feature in the Story Mode, which lets you pick up the game where you left it off. The additions are well-received, but they don't change our original opinion that Yoshi's Story is an extremely fun rental for a weekend, devoid of challenge.
Of course, it's easy to slam the game for its cloying cuteness and lack of challenge -- but that means leaving out the fact that the game is geared toward kids, who will -- and there is no doubt about it -- absolutely LOVE this title.
But what if you happen to be an experienced gamer? What if you had no problem finishing Super Mario 64 or Star Fox in a few days? And more importantly, what if you are a big fan of Yoshi's Island on the Super NES and expect a worthy follow-up?
Gameplay: Yoshi's Story sometimes comes close to the classic Nintendo gameplay on the NES and Super NES. The only problem is that despite fantastic analog control and a "sniff button" that enables you to uncover hidden goodies, there really isn't anything ground-breaking here. As one of six differently colored dinosaurs (there are also two hidden ones) players run, jump, swim, bounce and crawl through 24 lavishly rendered 2D levels trying to find (and eat) 30 pieces of fruit. The stages are standard side-scroller fare, including water, cave, cloud, and snow levels, and the typical Nintendo castle stage. But unlike other 2D classics, Yoshi's levels don't have an end: You finish a stage by chomping up the 30th "super happy tree fruit."
Since each fruit gives you a certain amount of points, you don't want to eat just anything you find, but rather selectively choose a) the lucky fruit of the day (which is randomly determined before you play), b) your dino's favorite fruit (the green guy likes melons, the red guy likes apples, etc), or c) honeydew melons (all Yoshis love these -- and they give you the highest points). So although it's quite easy to finish a level by just eating any fruit you see, finding the 30 melons and collecting them is the real challenge. Also, you can change the colors of your enemies by stomping the ground -- you guessed it, the green Yoshi gets higher points for eating a green enemy, and so on.
Sounds good so far, right? The only problem: There is little reward for doing well in the game. Back in the old days of Donkey Kong and Defender, playing for hi-scores was the way to go, but whether you like it or not, nowadays we feel horribly cheated if we don't get anything special for succeeding. The same holds true for Yoshi's Story. You will carry on playing the game hoping to uncover an additional world or more levels, but in the end you will grow bored of the tedious melon search. Which brings me to another problem with Yoshi: Length.
When compared with its predecessor, Yoshi's Island, this game should have been called "Yoshi's Short Story." The original had more than twice as many levels, and you were forced to play through all of them to get to the end. In the 64-bit Yoshi, Nintendo brought back the one thing everyone complained about with Star Fox 64 -- the annoying multi-path level structure that only lets you play a limited number of stages each time. Since the game design is based on a children's pop-up book, every time you play Yoshi's Story you can only play six stages; one for each page. There are multiple pathways depending on how many hearts you gather in the individual levels, but they are quite easy to find.
The game also features a Trial Mode in which you can play single levels that you've already finished. Your high score in these levels is saved to the cart (with your name). This does admittedly lengthen the play value of the cart as you can compete against your friends' scores, but it doesn't solve the lack of challenge and the short quest.
Control: After playing Yoshi's Story, one has to ask why so many companies shy away from using analog control in 2D sidescrollers. Thanks to the analog stick and an intelligent button layout, Yoshi can easily run, jump, duck, stomp the ground, float (for a short while), stick out his tongue, crawl, sniff for hidden goodies, push boxes (combine two to unveil hidden melons), and throw eggs. While there are no "real" bonus levels, a number of special challenges, such as balancing crates or racing for melons are a welcome addition.
Compared to Yoshi's Island, however, Yoshi's Story reveals a surprising lack of depth when it comes to some of the dinosaur's moves. For example, the gameplay of the original was pushed over the top by the ability to bounce eggs off the walls to get to certain items, you had a choice whether to turn enemies into eggs or spit them out, you could spit fire or melon seeds, morph into different forms, and ride a dog. These abilities are all missing in the sequel and the addition of sniffing, making eggs burst into fireworks, or the option to use an umbrella in some levels are just not enough to make up for it.
In the end, Yoshi's Story comes across as a game for beginners, and if you look at the N64's demographics in Japan, you know why. The game is for the kids -- who make up the majority of N64 owners in Japan. It's easy, it's cute, it has memorable characters, and it's fun to play.
Graphics Yoshi's Story has the same beautiful pre-rendered look as Donkey Kong Country. But instead of another unoriginal entry into "mascot with an attitude" gaming, Nintendo's artists created worlds based on different materials, such as wood, paper mache, rubber, and denim. The levels are alive with movable objects that rotate, shake and wobble, and some of the reflections and "gooey stuff" effects are a joy to look at. And then there is the stage map. For each of the six worlds, the Yoshi's Story picture book flips a page to unfold a new pop-up diarama. The thought and design work that went into this minor detail is a perfect example of why the whole world watches every time an NCL game hits the market.
Yoshi and co. are animated extremely well and sport some great cartoon antics such as jumping with joy when he finds an item or snarling at his enemies. But the real stars of the game are clearly the larger creatures such as the squishy sea anemonies, flying dragons or piranha plants. The effect of the moving tentacles or stems is almost hypnotic. Toss in a frame rate of 60 frames per second, and you know that Yoshi's Story is one of the best looking 2D side-scrollers around. I would have wished for more parallax scrolling and some polygonal effects, but there's no denying that this is a fine-looking game.
Sound: Sound effects and music are equally impressive, with a few exceptions. Most of the stereo tunes are superb, but the title tune and in-between levels song are instant annoyance. Imagine Disney's chipmunks chanting "Eeeeeeeeeee aaaaaaaaaaa Ooooooooooow" and you get the idea (no, they're not saying "Nintendo").
And the worst part: You can't skip the most annoying song which plays in between the levels! Take it from me, while the graphics and game design are cute to a degree that you can actually enjoy them, the title tune has never failed to annoy even the most hardened Western Nintendo afficionado. Play it loud, and your neighbors will hire someone to kill you. But these two tracks aside, the music is memorable and well-composed, with rap tunes, guitar lullabies, reggae, and even a hint of Tschaikovsky in the castle levels.
Sound effects are used very well throughout and go beyond the usual "background noise" offered in many games. For example, even if you can't see them, you can hear hidden hearts ringing from far away. Using the analog stick, you also need to tread lightly without making a sound to get past beehives or blindfolded ghosts with huge ears, and Yoshi himself even gives you clues as he goes "hmmmm?" when you sniff a spot close to a hidden item.
Options: The solid Rumble Pak support lets you know when you hit an obstacle and as in most games actually adds to the experience. Next to the standard sound options (stereo/mono), there is the above mentioned Trial Mode, and even a practice mode to help you figure out the game controls. Controls are non-configurable. By the way, before you start playing, be sure to switch off the "fruit display" with the L-Button. It's the only way to play.
Data Management: You can save in the Story Mode and once you have finished a level you can access it in the Trial Mode. The game saves hi-scores internally, without the use of a memory pak. The Memory Pak is not supported.
Overall: Yoshi's Story is a fun 2D platformer that is a joy to look at and provides a fair challenge if you're into competing for high scores. But nobody can deny that when you leave away the better control, vibrant graphics, and quality sound, Yoshi's Story is in essence just a stripped down version of Yoshi's Island.
Shigeru Miyamoto's lack of involvement with the game shows (he is only credited as supervisor), as many of the puzzles are overly simple and lack originality. Compared to many other side-scrollers, Yoshi's Story is definitely a quality title -- but it falls short when compared to Nintendo's best. The whole idea of using cutesy characters was to make games fun for everyone, but when a game is this easy, the whole thing backfires as a large part of the N64 population is being ignored. A difficulty option that would leave out some of the numerous opportunities to replenish your health (such as flowers) could have worked wonders.
If you absolutely suck at playing games or you're a 2D newcomer (or you're six years old), this game is a must-buy. Everyone else, save your money and rent it for a weekend. Two days is unfortunately enough to see everything the game has to offer.
Yoshi's Story will most definitely sell many many copies based on the reputation of its predecessor. But there will be a lot of unhappy gamers once they discover that Nintendo's mantra seems to have changed to Quality over Quantity of Levels.
Trust me: You'll love it when you rent the game, but don't buy it. You'll finish it in a weekend -- but don't quit playing until you have seen the fourth level on each page...