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Yoshi's New Island review: Not quite dino-might


Mario games, the good ones, anyway, are a gestalt, rising above their sundry components to become something truly special. Yoshi's New Island is no such beast. It is exactly the sum of its expertly-hewn parts, offering a platforming experience that is impressive in its intricacy, nonetheless feeling like the result of a well-researched equation. It plays all the right notes without ever quite making exquisite music, masterful but not special. Sure, you'll dig it, but will it be a game you look back on with wistful nostalgia ten years from now? Probably not.

Once again, the stork has proven that he is particularly ill-suited to transporting newborns, as Baby Mario and Baby Luigi go missing. Mario tumbles to earth on the new, egg-shaped island home of the multicolored Yoshis, and immediately starts crawling off in search of his diapered brother. The Yoshis, being the sweet-hearted souls they are (or perhaps simply reluctant to take up child rearing) decide to help the tyke locate his sibling, each Yoshi handing Mario off to the next as they navigate the treacherous and oddly-constructed terrain of the island. Seriously, who moves into a place littered with spike traps and falling platforms?

At least the property taxes are probably low.

Gallery: Yoshi's New Island (E3 2013) | 11 Photos

The 2D platforming of Yoshi's New Island is tight and tricky, but you shouldn't have much trouble finishing each level and defeating the various bosses that have been enhanced by the koopa wizard Kamek. Of course, one doesn't play Yoshi's New Island merely to get to the end of a level, one plays Yoshi's New Island to get to the end of a level while snaring the 30 stars, 20 red coins and 5 flowers craftily hidden within each locale's twists and turns. And therein lies the massive, finger-twisting challenge lying in voracious wait behind the game's charming pastel visuals and adorable sounds. Yoshi's main duty is to transport young Mario, who rides comfortably on the dinosaur's back, but should Yoshi get hit, Mario will begin to float away in a bubble. Should Yoshi fail to grab him before the timer runs out, Mario gets whisked away by Shy Guys and Yoshi loses a life. Hopping over chasms, dodging bomb-tossing monkeys? Kind of tough. Doing that while ricocheting an egg off a wall to collect an out of reach flower all while not losing Mario? The source of many a hurled 3DS.

Yoshi isn't entirely without the ability to defend himself and his young charge; he can eat enemies and convert them into throwable eggs, spit watermelon seeds and even breathe fire when he's lucky enough to come across the right kind of fruit. Mostly, though, Yoshi jumps, flutter-footing his way to greater heights and lengths. Yoshi's New Island understands that platformers, at their core, are about precision movement, getting the timing and button presses just right to pull off seemingly impossible traversals. Though the first few levels are easygoing, it's not long before Yoshi's New Island cranks up the difficulty, forcing your fingers into overdrive as you do your best to unearth each area's secrets without plummeting to your death or watching Mario be forever lost. Red coins are indistinguishable from their gold brethren until you grab them, stars – which add to Mario's kidnap timer – tick away should you get hit, and flowers are often hidden until you flip an invisible trigger, such as clearing away specific enemies. There are oodles of secrets awaiting your detection, stashed away in hidden areas or just out of sight in unusual spots, and crossing the finish line with every last goodie claimed provides a feeling of deep satisfaction.

Yoshi's New Island acknowledges that finishing each level perfectly is a tall order, and offers a few concessions to help ease the pain. Die often enough and a friendly pipe will offer you a set of wings that allows you to fly without danger of falling. Fail even more, and you'll get golden wings that not only keep you aloft, but make you invincible, too. Your perfect run also doesn't have to be really all that perfect – so long as you get all the flowers, coins or stars once, it counts, leaving you free to concentrate on just one collectible across multiple plays. That's a real help in boss castles, where enemies are omnipresent and stars are easy to lose.

In an attempt to do more than simply rehash the previous brilliance of the original Yoshi's Island, Yoshi's New Island introduces a few new elements, none of which add much of value. Giant eggs, both normal and made of metal, are amusing diversions the first time you encounter them, but their use is one-note, either destroying huge swaths of scenery or letting Yoshi sink to the bottom of the seabed. Binoculars that allow you to scan the level by moving your 3DS around in real space are nifty, but don't show up often enough to feel like anything more than an afterthought. The mini-games, tucked away behind doors on certain levels and typically hiding at least a few collectibles, fare better but are pretty hit and miss. After passing through the door, Yoshi morphs into a different object controlled by tilting the 3DS, like a jackhammer, mine cart, or helicopter, and must navigate his way to the goal before time runs out. Some are fun(ish), others feel like uninspired busywork, but given that most of them can be repeated with ease to farm for whatever coins or collectibles you might've missed on the first run, they lack any urgency that would make them exciting.

Though it fails to elevate itself into the exalted ranks of the Very Best Mario Games, Yoshi's New Island is by no means a sub-standard experience. It's solid. Reliable. You come in expecting devious platforming levels that will test your gaming mettle, and that's exactly what you get. It's a bit by-the-numbers, but it hits those numbers very well. Plus, the noise Yoshi makes when he's sporting a pair of those Failure Wings is pretty much the cutest thing you'll ever hear while gaming, and maybe a good enough reason to pick up Yoshi's New Island all by itself.

This review is based on an eShop download of Yoshi's New Island, provided by Nintendo. Images: Nintendo.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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