Oh, Yoshi. You’re just so cute. You have got to be the cutest dinosaur (or whatever you are) I’ve ever seen. How Nintendo had the means to fabricate such an enduring and appealing character; we’ll never know. After his introduction in Super Mario World, Yoshi became Nintendo’s newest star. A sweet dinosaur that could swallow enemies and turn them into eggs for him to shoot with later was quite an imaginative concept. Add Yoshi’s elongated tongue to which he can pull enemies with, and a saddle so Mario could ride comfortable on his back and you’ve got a favorite as well as powerful character that was more than just a lovable mascot that appeals to children’s mothers. After a couple of throwaway games for the NES and SNES, in 1995, Nintendo decided to make Yoshi the star of his own game and released Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. The game was a success and highly praised and proved that Yoshi could be a strong enough on his own. At least, it seemed that way.
Yoshi’s Story was released for the Nintendo 64 in the United States on March 1st, 1998. Touted as a quasi-sequel to Yoshi’s Island, the game highly publicized its 2 1/2 D graphics. I remember being extremely excited for the game, as I had loved Yoshi’s Island on the Super Nintendo. I remember the day it was released, my mother took me to Montgomery Ward (What!) to buy it. It cost 60 dollars (What! 2) and along with the game, I also received a Yoshi plush doll, about four to five inches tall. We went home and immediately ripped off the plastic wrapping, opened the box, pulled out the cartridge and snuggly placed it into my N64. No more than an hour later, I pulled it out; astonished by the fact that I had somehow completed it already. Maybe astonished is the wrong word. Maybe surprised or stunned or astounded is a better word. Really though, it doesn’t matter because the word you’ll eventually arrive at after being shocked by the length of the game is disappointed.
The plot in Yoshi’s Story follows the Yoshis living on their island, Yoshi’s Island. The live in peace and happiness, thanks to the Super Happy Tree. Baby Bowser, jealous of the Yoshis, casts a spell, turning the island into a storybook. He also steals the Super Happy Tree, placing the Yoshis in a state of constant despair. Six Yoshis survive Baby Bowser’s attack and resolve to retrieve the Super Happy Tree from Baby Bowser.
To do this, you must go through six of the 24 levels in Yoshi’s Story. Yes, that’s right. You only have to go through six levels. One per page. There’s four on a page and you have to choose one; you’ll then move on to the next page where, depending on how many hearts you collected in the previous level, you’ll choose another level and progress further on in the same manner. This reminds me of the way you have different progressing levels in Star Fox 64. However, while that aspect works well for that game, it doesn’t work as well in Yoshi’s Story. I say as well because it could have. Having multiple levels that you can’t go back to gives the game replay value. Some of the levels are more difficult than others, which lends towards this point. However, it only takes six levels to complete the game. If there were more, it would be more acceptable. As is, it just comes across as lazy and is a step back from the multi level and world setup of Yoshi’s Island.
Another problem with the game that further adds to the insipidness of the levels aspect is the difficulty. Yoshi’s Story is very easy. There isn’t much to finishing levels. You see, in order to complete the level, you have to eat 30 pieces of fruit. There’s no finish line or end to the level. In fact, the level will loop if you get far enough. Once you eat the first 30 pieces of fruit you come across, you’ve completed the level. This can be done in as quickly as two minutes. After a level, you’re given a score, referred to as Yoshi’s Mood, based on the fruit you ate and hearts and coins you collected in the game.
This is where the game gets more interesting. Since it’s so easy to complete the main Story mode, it focuses on replay value to keep you interested. At least in this regard, it tries to give you this challenge. You see, there are many ways to improve your score. You could focus on eating the favorite fruit, or the lucky fruit that’s selected at the beginning of the game or melons which give you an great amount of points compared to the other fruit. You could also jump on shy guys instead of swallowing them or defeat shy guys that are the same color as you. If you go the melons route, there are only 30 melons in the level, many of which are hidden. This actually gives Yoshi’s Story a fair amount of difficulty trying to sniff out the hidden locations of the melons while avoiding the other fruit. Also, the aforementioned hearts are scattered across the levels and it’s not easy to find all three. As maybe a means of practice (ignoring the actual Practice mode, which is a tutorial of the game’s mechanics), a Trial mode is included, allowing you to replay levels you’ve already completed in the Story mode, although higher scores are possible in the Story mode.
One of the stronger aspects of Yoshi’s Story are the graphics. The storybook feel to the levels gives it a very colorful and precise feel as to what you’re supposed to be looking at. Everything is well designed and characters really look great, thanks to the 3-D models and 2-D background. Although the textures can look blurry, especially by today’s standards, Nintendo still knows that good graphic design will withstand the test of time, not the console power presenting it. Sound is a mixed bag. On one side, the songs are catchy and the sound effects are well thought out and entertaining, especially Yoshi’s straining when he does his flutter kick. On the other hand, the soundtrack is so cute and saccharine, it can make your head explode. Different strokes for different folks, it varies from person to person. The controls are classic Nintendo. Everything is tight and well designed. Yoshi jumps, licks, sniffs, shoots eggs and ground pounds right when you want him too.
Nintendo’s EAD team developed this game without the supervision of Shigeru Miyamoto and maybe that wasn’t a good idea. Although Yoshi’s Story sold well, it received negative reviews and was branded a disappointment for being too easy, too short and designed for little children. While I agree with those sentiments, especially coming after the incomparable Yoshi’s Island, I feel that the game has more depth than others give it credit. It’s an attractive game that can be fun if you realize that there’s more to do than just reaching the end of the game. The mechanics are strong, the graphics are pretty and the score system, along with the need to complete all 24 levels, as well as finding the two hidden Yoshis, will give you more replay value that you initially thought. However, the criticisms are well founded and not too many people will be comparing Yoshi’s Story high scores. You can have fun with Yoshi’s Story, if you’re willing to find it.