Yoshi debuted as Mario’s friend and steed in 1990’s Super Mario World, the flagship launch title for the Super Nintendo. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, a prequel to the greater Mario franchise, became his first major marquee role, following up on Mario World five years later. It was a beautiful, immaculately designed side-scroller, cementing Yoshi’s position as both a Mario mainstay and the protagonist of his own modest sub-series.

Yoshi’s New Island, released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2014, is the third title using the Island moniker, aiming to evolve the gameplay of its namesake while homaging the past. Azrest, New Island’s developer, is composed of former Artoon staffers, which is worth noting because Artoon developed 2004’s Yoshi Topsy-Turvy and 2006’s Yoshi’s Island DS. However, did this prior experience finally yield another worthwhile Yoshi game?

YOSHI’S NEW ISLAND GAME REVIEW

Yoshi's New Island (Image: Nintendo)

Yoshi’s New Island is the second direct attempt at succeeding the 1995 original, Baby Mario included. (Image: Nintendo)

Yoshi’s New Island is an interquel, set directly after the Super Nintendo classic. The air-headed stork brought Baby Mario and Luigi to the wrong abode, spurring him to fly off in search of the brothers’ true home. Kamek, quickly bouncing back from his previous embarrassment, makes a second attempt at kidnapping the future heroes. Mirroring the previous day’s events, Kamek loses Baby Mario, who plummets to Egg Island and meets eight differently colored Yoshis. Our heroes then proceed to Bowser’s Castle, aiming to thwart the Koopas’ evil machinations. While games in this genre understandably put less of an emphasis on narratives, it does unsettle me (perhaps more than it should) how New Island mars the sentimentality of the original’s ending. Regardless, this is a negligible complaint and it’s New Island‘s least pressing issue.

Mechanically, those familiar with the previous Islands will ease into the third. The dinosaurs still have their mid-air Flutter Jump and their tongues still swallow enemies to produce Eggs, the clan’s all-purpose tool. When the Yoshi you’re controlling takes a hit, Baby Mario flies off. If his timer reaches zero, Kamek’s minions abduct the child and you lose a life. Spikes and bottomless pits also function as lethal hazards. 1-Ups, which can be found or earned for every 100 coins collected, grant another go, and you’ll accrue an abundance of them. Series’ sidekick Poochy can be found in a few segments requiring him as well, letting your Yoshi ride atop him. And as with Island and Island DS, the most dedicated explorers can strive to earn perfect scores in each level, obtained by locating all 20 hidden Red Coins, the five Smiley Flowers, and by maxing out the timer at 30 seconds. 

Yoshi's New Island (Image: Nintendo)

Eggdozers and Metal Eggdozers are the game’s biggest contribution to the Island template, and it’s not a clever one. (Image: Nintendo)

Unfortunately, however, New Island fails to add anything, well, new to the series. Channeling the Mega Mushrooms New Super Mario Bros. introduced to the Super Mario series, Eggdozers are a neat visual novelty the first time using one – it’s superficially fun to mindlessly smash through things – but that’s all they amount to. The 3DS’s gyro controls are New Island’s other innovation, giving players a rather helpful second Egg-aiming option. The Yoshis are periodically transformed into vehicles, forced to maneuver through segments that require gyro controls. They are consequently less intuitive to transverse than their 16-bit counterparts.

New Island‘s campaign is a short, carefree romp if you’re simply aiming to beat it, with the true challenge hailing from earning perfect scores and exploring the bonus levels. In terms of playability, it’s a marked improvement from Island DS, which had numerous issues plaguing its level layouts. However, New Island’s best moments, as with DS, come when it’s merely copying what its 1995 forbear did. Yoshi’s showdown against Baby Bowser and his adult counterpart stand out in particular, demonstrating how creatively bankrupt Azrest is with the Yoshi property.

Yoshi's New Island (Image: Nintendo)

In short, Azrest strictly adhered to what’s expected of a Yoshi’s Island title. (Image: Nintendo)

Continuing other Island DS weaknesses, New Island is brought down by its music and visuals. Masayoshi Ishi’s boring OST is heavily reliant on one melody, with the majority of his work remixing it in different ways. It’s (unfairly, I’d argue) mostly remembered for two particularly inharmonious tracks, but even the best music here barely achieves the level of background noise. Sound effects, fortunately, are fine, largely because they were ripped out of previous Yoshi games.

Graphically, New Island is distractingly unattractive to look at. Some of the backgrounds look pleasant, but all of the characters are awkwardly animated and bear a shader that poorly emulates the series’ vibrant pastel aesthetic. And whereas the first Island rendered familiar Mario iconography in its distinctive style, the graphical shift leaves enemies, such as Boos, indistinguishable from their standard designs, consequently losing some of Island‘s strong visual identity. But it’s the Yoshis who stand out as New Island‘s most visually unappealing component; their feet have inexplicably doubled in size and hover near but aren’t actually connected to their bodies.

Yoshi's New Island (Image: Nintendo)

Other Nintendo heroes like Samus and Donkey Kong regularly have their designs tweaked, but it’s awkward seeing Yoshi, whose design stabilized over a decade ago, look off-model. (Image: Nintendo)

Yoshi’s New Island isn’t the lowest point Mario’s buddy hit since 1995, but if you’ve beaten Yoshi’s Island, its ostensibly New follow-up has nothing new to showcase. Thankfully, the energetic superstar and his fans have plenty to get excited for: Good-feel’s Yoshi’s Woolly World and its commendable Nintendo 3DS port are a more worthwhile successor to Yoshi’s Island than anything else the reptile has starred in since it, and a sequel, Crafted World, will launch for the Nintendo Switch later this year. The future finally looks bright for the neon herbivores.