Both the Super Nintendo original and Game Boy Advance remake of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island are easily among the most alluring 2D platformers of all time. So, when the first appearance of the on-again-off-again sub-series on the 3DS was announced, anticipation was high to see how a next-gen handheld would present the perilous escorting of Baby Mario around a vibrant storybook universe on the back of a shoe-wearing, egg-tossing dinosaur who mainly communicates in comical squeaks and squawks. While it’s true that Yoshi’s New Island is a fair bit better than the previous sequel, Yoshi’s Island DS, in terms of its core mechanics, the game suffers from many of the same recurrent impediments as Yoshi’s Story. That late-’90s N64 fumble senselessly disturbed the Yoshi’s Island formula with bland puzzle-based objectives and a comparably stale visual style, which ditched the lovely hand-drawn artwork in favor of a blocky claymation-esque aesthetic that never really blossomed as well as it could have.
In terms of its platforming capacity, however, Yoshi’s New Island is on par with the still remarkable 1995 blueprint. The marvelous egg make-and-throw technique is largely intact, Yoshi’s signature hover-jump is as responsive as can be, the difficulty incline is appropriately balanced, and the perpetually present countdown clock shielding Baby Mario and his deafening cries from Kamek’s Toady goons adds an extra sense of urgency to the sometimes stalled proceedings.
Graphically, though, developer Arzest fails to recapture and effectively update the gleeful crayons-on-parchment charms of Takashi Tezuka and Hideko Konno’s early-career directorial tour de force. Even with the system’s 3D effects turned on, the sights of Yoshi’s New Island appear mostly vapid and stiff, whereas, conversely, every corner of the premier adventure was crammed with NPCs and backgrounds that were brimming with life, essentially leaping off the screen in pop-up-book fashion without the assistance of significantly advanced modern-day technology (think Shrek in comparison to Spirited Away). Aurally, too, Yoshi’s New Island comes up short. Granted, it’s not like Koji Kondo’s consummate score (his greatest pre-Y2K) could have been bested or even matched, but what contemporary composer Masayoshi Ishi has done is create a soundtrack so sickly sweet as to be customarily unlistenable. The ultra-catchy jungle-beat jams of the initial outing have been replaced by an assortment of clunky arrangements that sound recorded predominantly via spit-soaked swazzles and low-rent glockenspiels.
It’s a shame Arzest routinely steps out of line when it comes to the visual and aural artistry of Yoshi’s New Island, because the gameplay ushers the little spin-off that could into the current century. Never too undemanding or challenging, the levels themselves boast enough inventive segments requiring precise hops and skillful egg aiming (and not so skillful, in the case of the hugely destructive Mega Eggdozer power-up) to be quite addictive. Yoshi’s transformation areas, wherein our sticky-tongued hero morphs into various transport vessels (mine carts, bobsleds, and, making triumphant returns, helicopters and submarines), are enjoyable and manage to work in streamlined usage of the system’s gyroscopic controls. Boss battles, while brief, pay homage to old-school Nintendo antics while feeling fresh in concept (World 1’s Big Beanie, a giant bean that hangs from a tree, sending thorny branches at you, and World 4’s Fred de Fillet, an oversized armored form of Jean de Fillet, are highlights). The lack of item-granting post-completion mini-games and a competent multiplayer are more notches in the counteractive column for Yoshi’s New Island, yet the game nevertheless earns a recommendation for its respectable effort to reproduce the enchanting configuration of the original.