Yoshi’s Island Successfully Spun Off the Super Mario Series

Revisiting the Sequel 25 Years Later

A group of multi-colored Yoshi gather around Baby Mario.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island title logo

Yoshi’s Island was my favorite Super Mario game of all time until the Galaxy games waggled into existence. Some people may find this odd considering my well-documented indifference to Super Mario Bros. 2: The Repurposing, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

Super Mario World 2 is a sort of backdoor pilot for the Yoshi’s Island spin-off series of games. TV shows do backdoor pilots all the time. You’re watching your favorite program and your favorite characters are talking to these new people you’ve never met. Then they go their separate ways and the camera inexplicably follows the newbs. You think, ‘Hey! Why are they following these people?’ Sure, there’s still a tenuous thread to your beloved TV characters, but this is not what you’ve come to expect. Your usual cast of characters have taken a backseat to side characters, or new ones entirely. Luckily, in this instance it’s cool, because despite the fact Mario spends most of the game literally along for the ride, I doubt many people felt duped when they jammed their SNES cart in and discovered this was Yoshi’s show.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island isn’t really trying to deceive you. The game logo emphasizes the Yoshi’s Island subtitle, making it much larger than the Super Mario World 2 logo. It’s also done in a different font, giving off a subtle Super Mario World 2 presents Yoshi’s Island vibe.

The unique artwork for this game is gorgeous, and more importantly timeless. I happen to find 16-bit pixel animation to be the most enduring form of retro animation. 8-bit was where it became an art form, but 16-bit perfected it. 32 and 64-bit animation allowed for more realistic three dimensional environments, but it often served as a giant step back visually.

Yoshi’s Island has the look of hand-drawn animation. Animated images wiggle deliberately, and the backgrounds and foregrounds have shading that resembles a child using a crayon. Its look is simplistic, but the work that went into achieving it certainly was not.

The hand drawn, crayon colored art of Yoshi's Island is childlike, unique and wonderful.

This aesthetic has continued on in the Yoshi’s Island DS games, and even evolved in Yoshi’s Wooly World and Yoshi’s Crafted World where our beloved green dinosaur lives on in Jo-Ann Fabrics-inspired universes.

It’s Still a Sequel (or Prequel)

While regarded as sequel, this game is also a prequel of sorts. The introductory story tells us this story about Yoshi and baby Mario happened a long, long time ago. While transporting the Mario babies, a stork is attacked in the sky by Kamek, an evil Magikoopa, who manages to steal one of the babies. The other baby (Mario) fortuitously lands on the back on Yoshi, along with a map that he can’t make heads or tails out of. He takes it back to the other Yoshies (that’s how they pluralize it in-game) who decide to share baby-lugging duties via a simplistic relay system where they toss the baby off like a track meet baton.

Yoshi’s Island does retain some connective tissue from the previous game. There are still Switch Buttons, only now they’re used to effect the level you’re currently playing. They only work temporarily, much like Super Mario Bros. 3 P-switches. Some Red Switches turn invisible, dotted-line blocks into physical blocks, while bigger Red Switches will reveal hidden spots in the ground Yoshi can pound through.

Keys make a return as well, but are used to open locked doors this time around. Upon defeating the end level bosses, you also receive a different, larger key that grants you access to the next island.

Mario and Yoshi exit the level through a giant, magical keyhole.
Yoshi’s Island pays subtle visual homage to it’s predecessor.

Baby Mario’s Super Star Saga

Baby Mario is basically along for the ride in Yoshi’s Island, but he does get a participation trophy due to the appearance of the Super Star, which is a tiny (baby) version of the star in previous Mario games. If you find one of these tumbling around a level Baby Mario will learn to run before he can walk, running up arched walls like a certain finger-wagging hedgehog, and will even have the ability to float using his cape.

You may ask, “Why does Baby Mario have a cape?” Well, mostly because he had one in Super Mario World, and if it makes you feel any better we can say it’s a bib, or perhaps the storks pre-dress all babies in capes as a precautionary method. And if none of that is satisfactory, just repeat to yourself, “It’s just a game, I should really just relax.”

Besides, the only time you’ll even remember Mario is there at all is when he gets knocked off Yoshi’s back and starts wailing. Baby Mario’s wail is legendary for how obnoxious it is. As Mario flails around inside a bubble, he screams nonstop, “Heeey!! HEEEEYY!! HEY!” all while you timer counts down. If the timer reaches zero, Kamek’s minions come and abscond with Mario. The risk of losing a life this way is actually is actually pretty minimal. Most often you die by falling into a pit or hot lava. Still, the sound of Baby Mario alone is enough to make you proceed with caution.

Stars, Red Coins, and Flowers

Super Mario World introduced Yoshi Coins, large coins that you collected in each level. Collect them all and you were rewarded with a 1 Up. They were the precursor to Star Medals in the New Super Mario Bros. series.

In Yoshi’s Island, you are tasked with collecting 20 Red Coins, 5 Flowers, and 30 Stars (for your timer/life bar). Collect them all to score a perfect 100 for that level. Score a perfect 100 in all 8 levels in a world and you are rewarded with an extra, more challenging level to take on.

A chalk board tallies up your point total for collecting stars, coins, and flowers.
The music, as always, is phenomenal. Koji Kondo rarely makes a forgettable track.

Special items won in the various bonus rounds are integral for players interested in scoring 100 on all levels. 10 (and 20) Point Star power-ups somewhat remove the challenge of not getting hit, while the Magnifying Glass will reveal the location of Red Coins in any given level. I always thought this was a form of cheating and made the game exponentially easier to fully complete. Besides, Red Coins look ever-so-slightly different already (or maybe it was just one of those rare occasions where my color blindness lets me see things the rest of you suckers can’t).

Fantastic Newness

There’s a whole lot that is new in this game outside of the scoring system.

Yoshi’s moves have evolved. This is the game that gave Yoshi his now-trademark flutter. Not to mention his egg production was on par with, if not better than, Birdo’s. On top of that, he apparently has a deadly rocket for an arm as he can execute a lethal egg attack.

Yoshi can metamorphosize (or anthropomorphize, if you ask me) into five different modes of transportation: a helicopter, mole-tank, submarine, train, and car. You return to your normal form by locating Yoshi Blocks, these big blocks with a janky Yoshi face on them.

Yoshi, as the Mole Tank, finds the Yoshi block that turns him back to normal Yoshi.
Blue Yoshi was always the highest of all the Yoshies.

Poochy deserves like a paragraph tops.

– excerpt from my notebook

Poochy. I mean, what can you say about Poochy? He’s a game mechanic. He gets you places you couldn’t normally get to. But he’s more of an item than a character. He’s like Rush from Mega Man if his batteries were wearing down. He’s AI, and we know how they can be. Let alone back in 1995? Forget about it. He just sort of did his own thing. He jumped when he needed to jump. He went whatever direction you told him too. I guess he wasn’t all bad. He was good. He was a good boy.

Yoshi and Mario encounter Poochy, a big lovable spotted dog.
Poochy, the lovable spotted dog, would continue to appear in the Yoshi’s Island series despite being just awful to control.

The mini bosses were always new, and never recycled, which was a nice touch. Even if almost every boss was basically, “See that small thing? Watch Kamek turn it big and angry!” The funny thing is, one of the hardest boss fights for me was the one with the simplest solution.

The One With All the Monkey Genocide

Welcome to Monkey World! Population: Dwindling. That’s what the title card for World 3-1 should be. I’m not sure, but I think this species needs to get on a list, because Yoshi gobbles these fools up like candy. But they don’t come off as all that hostile, as your first impression is observing them going about their business quite harmlessly. If Yoshi touches them he doesn’t even take damage. And then Yoshi comes along and swallows them whole, squeezes, says (what sounds like) “Bum!” and then shoots them out as an egg. Straight up monkey murder. They do it in the DS game too. I’m sorry, the monkeys are too cute. You wanna kill monkeys like some monster, don’t make them look like Funko Pop bait.

Yoshi approaches a harmless monkey going about his business in a beautiful jungle. He will soon devour the innocent creature and turn his into a projectile weapon.
Yoshi approaches a harmless monkey going about his business in a beautiful jungle. He will soon devour the innocent creature and turn him into a projectile weapon.

This Game is Easy. This Game is Hard.

When people talk about Yoshi’s Island games they always knock them for being too easy. And sure, if you play this game, or any others in the series, to strictly beat the levels then…yeah, they are a bit easy. However, if you play platformers the way I always have, then you’re not content moving on to a new level until you’ve found all the special coins, flowers, stars, puzzle pieces, whatever they call those blue people you save in Rayman games, etc.

I can’t play modern Mario games without collecting all the special coins, stamps (it’s a WiiU thing), and what-have-you before moving on to a new level. It’s why I take so long to finish platformers. They’re the only thing I’m a stickler for completing. Unless there are time trials. Time trials are a scourge to all gamers. No one likes them, game I mentioned in the last paragraph.

So yeah, even though the levels in this game often require more than simply running to the right, they are pretty standard fare. But if you want to complete the game, your patience will be tested. You’ll find yourself yelling at the screen things like, “How was I supposed to know that?” or “That’s some Mega Man [expletive of choice] right there!”

Bonus Levels: Pain and Frustration are Your Rewards

I got 100% on Yoshi’s Island. I remember doing it. But man those bonus levels, unlocked after scoring perfect 100’s in all stages of a given world, were frustrating. Difficult sure, but the more apt word is certainly frustrating.

The defiantly named “Poochy Ain’t Stupid” is the first bonus level for World 1. The entire level, which is also self-scrolling, hinges on Poochy, the furry little game mechanic, not screwing you over with his somewhat-iffy AI.

The second bonus level “Hit That Switch!!” sounds like the name of every other Mario Maker level, and it’s exactly what you think. It’s a mad dash to the goal following the coin-outlined path to the next switch before the previous one’s power wears off. It’s actually a little quaint now, after a few years of Mario Maker user content.

Bonus level “More Monkey Madness” allows you to unleash more pain on the monkeys one last time. Luckily, your guilt is assuaged a little since they at least fight back more frequently in this level. The other interesting thing about this level is that it is all about finding all the hidden items. The game knows that if you’re playing in a level only accessible via finding everything, that you will naturally be compelled to score a perfect 100 in the bonus levels as well. Otherwise, why did you do it in all the previous levels?

The fourth bonus level “The Impossible? Maze” is annoying, and not just because of that punctuation. It’s one of those Mario levels that you just have to wander around until you learn your way. They’re not my favorite levels.

The fifth bonus level “Kamek’s Revenge” has the penultimate main villain of the game buzzing by you constantly like you’re the control tower in Top Gun. “Maverick!!”

This level, however, is forever burned into my brain for its back half, where Yoshi and Mario enter a locked door and emerge with Yoshi decked out in skis and Mario in a snow cap. A quick skiing segment suddenly ends, and an infinitely more frustrating helicopter segment begins. There are enemies constantly throwing eggs at you to knock your rickety copter off course, and the amount of precision timing (and luck) required was almost too much for me to handle back in 1995. Almost.

The final bonus level, titled “Castles – Masterpiece Set” is actually quaint by comparison. They do throw everything at you in certain spots, but there is always a trick to each seemingly-impossible section. The level even wraps up in classic, auto-play, don’t-move-the-controller fashion. Your reward for beating the whole game.

The End is the Beginning

Super Mario World 2 was the last mainline game in the Mario Bros. series on the SNES, but it spawned one of Nintendo’s more popular IPs. Although it is not on the level of Mario, Zelda, or Smash, the Yoshi’s Island series is a second tier franchise, much like Pikmin or Kirby, that continues to endure even today.

Leftover Eggs

  • Jamming it in was truly the only way to put an SNES cartridge in. You just sort of mashed it in there. Gail the Snail would be excellent at Super Nintendo games.
  • Poochy did not die on the way back to his home planet. You’re thinking of a different Poochie.
  • Flawless boss fights is the hardest part of achieving a 100 score (aside from a few Red Coins hidden in some weird spots).
  • Yes, some of the monkeys do throw things at Yoshi from the trees, but it’s a delicate ecosystem. Some of those little guys are just trying to get by like the rest of us.
  • Why doesn’t Yoshi remember Baby Mario when they meet in Super Mario World? I heard Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) has Yoshi’s memory wiped at the end of Super Mario World 2, which explains why he doesn’t recognize Mario in Super Mario World. Continuity error: Fixed!
    Or it’s a different Yoshi.
  • Next time, we explore the game that blew our minds at mall kiosks everywhere back in 1996, Super Mario 64. Woo! Woohoo! Yipee!

Written by Johnny Malloy

Johnny Malloy has written for 25YL since 2019. A lifelong gamer who considers The Binding of Isaac to be a subversive masterpiece. He has written an extensive series of articles about Castlevania, Super Mario Bros, Final Fantasy, and Resident Evil.

He enjoys writing fiction when he's not watching RedLetterMedia videos on YouTube. He has one of those faces. Sorry about my face. It can't be helped.

He's @mistercecil on the Twitter. Follow him if you like wild tangents and non sequiturs.

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