With the release of Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World for the Nintendo 3DS, the total count for Yoshi-centric releases has climbed to 8 titles, and that doesn’t even include the weird spin-offs such as the Super Scope pack-in title Yoshi’s Safari.
And, much like the Super Scope, sometimes the actual gameplay in a given Yoshi game is often not near as good as the overall concept. To that end, we have seen Yoshi in a child-like crayon-drawing style in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s New Island, transformed into a fuzzy ball of wool in Yoshi Woolly World, and falling forever down hand-drawn clouds in Yoshi Touch ‘n Go.
In preparation for the latest 3DS release, Nintendo put out this spiffy video showcasing the various styles of Yoshi games.
While it doesn’t cover all the games–just those featuring Yoshi AND Poochy–it does give a good sense of how the series has changed. And while comparing the visuals is good, I wanted to take some time to look at how the overall play of Yoshi games have changed from the Super Nintendo all the way up to the Wii U and 3DS.
Yoshi first teamed up with Mario in 1991’s Super Mario World, and the followup to the Super Nintendo’s flagship title took a very different turn from its best-selling predecessor. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island put Mario in the backseat–literally, the back seat of Yoshi’s back–and let player’s control Yoshi as he tried to navigate adorable, crayon-drawn worlds in order to get baby Mario back home. Instead of the jump and power up centered Mario-style gameplay, Yoshi was the star, chucking around his familiar green-spotted eggs at Shy Guys and Piranha Plants.
The use of the eggs and the back-and-forth targeting system rewarded a steady hand, strategic shooting, and thoughtful planning ahead. Mixed into this unique system of interactions were several different types of colletibles. Yoshi could gather stars, which functioned as seconds for the total time Yoshi and Baby Mario could be apart, red coins, twenty per level hidden as regular looking coins, and flowers, five a stage and often hard to find or reach.
Though the game itself was challenging in the same vein as Super Mario World, the use of the collectibles–almost all optional–allowed for the developers at Nintendo to modulate the difficulty of any level just by placing a few collectibles off the beaten path. Players who wanted to collect everything and unlock a few bonus games faced a steep challenge, but players who merely tried to reach the end could do so at their own speed and not worry about searching every pipe and POW block.
This approach to player-chosen difficutly started in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, but soon spilled over to many other Nintendo franchises, even working its way back to the Mario-centric titles in the shape of hidden stars and eight red coins in Super Mario 64, green Stars and Comet Challenges in Super Mario Galaxy, and stamps in Super Mario 3D World.
While later titles such as Yoshi’s Story for the Nintendo 64 or Yoshi Touch & Go moved away from this formula, they were some of the worst received titles, often because of a pereived lack of difficulty. Most reviewers cited the ease of the game, but none pointed out the lack of player-chosen difficulty as the reason for the game being easy. Of course, older games are often percieved as being harder–only about half the time is this accurate–but to simply say that newer Yoshi titles such as Yoshi’s New Island are easier than its predessecors is to ignore the way in which player’s can set their own difficulty, perhaps one for older games and one for when the game is played by children.
The latest two releases–Yoshi’s Woolly World and its handheld spin-off Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World–are perhaps the most adorable games ever created.
They also perfect Nintendo’s long-standing formula for variable difficulty. The game adds five skeins of yarn as a collectible needed to unlock new skins for Yoshi. These skeins go alongside flowers , stamps, sequins, and stars to make each level full of hidden places to explore. Of course, the path to the level’s end is clearly laid out, but its up to the player to decide how long they want to spend in the soft, fuzzy world of Yoshi.