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Yoshi's Story: 25th anniversary

Yoshi's Story is the underrated sequel to Yoshi's Island. Originally to be named Yoshi's Island 64, the "story" in the title refers to the premise that the Yoshis have become trapped in a storybook by Baby Bowser. This happened when he stole the Super Happy Tree, which the Yoshis can recover by accumulating enough happiness points. Yeah, it doesn't make sense, but at least the wailing Baby Mario doesn't appear.

Yoshi's Story is underrated for two reasons. First, it compares unfavorably to  its predecessor. Yoshi's Island was a late SNES release and one of the best games on the system. Yoshi's Story, in contrast, is merely good. Secondly, in 1998 2D platformers seemed obsolescent, if not moribund. The future was 3D. Especially with the cutesy visuals, Yoshi's Story seemed to many like a game suitable only for little children and doddering old fools. This was to their loss, for Yoshi's Story is a fun, unique, creative, beautiful, and engaging 2D platformer. Although out of fashion for a few years, 2D platformers made a renaissance in the mid-2000's with games like Cave Story, Metroid: Zero Mission, and New Super Mario Bros.

Most of the gameplay elements of Yoshi's Story will be familiar to people who have played either Yoshi's Island or one of the more recent games, such as Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World or Yoshi's Crafted World. The A button jumps, and holding it makes Yoshi flutter in the air, extending his range. Holding ↑ slightly increases the jump's height. Yoshi can collect eggs from Egg Blocks (up to six at once), then shoot them by holding Z, aiming the reticle, and releasing. Shot eggs destroy enemies as well as blocks. The range of eggs is short, about half the screen. Once an egg reaches maximum distance, it explodes in a burst of fireworks.

The goal of each stage is to collect 30 pieces of fruit. Pressing L toggles a frame that displays all fruit collected so far. As in Super Mario World, Yoshi can eat fruit with his extraordinarly long tongue (press B). Levels do not contain an end goal. Instead they loop. Only when Yoshi eats the 30th fruit does the stage end, as he adopts an expression of ecstasy. To speed up your search, each level contains four egg-shaped ladies called Miss Warp. Jumping on a Miss Warp teleports Yoshi to the next one he's already activated, allowing him to move between different parts of the stage instantly.

Before each stage you choose one of six Yoshis: green, blue, yellow, pink, red, or light blue. There's also a white Yoshi and black Yoshi hidden somewhere. Each Yoshi prefers the type of fruit and Shy Guy that matches his color, awarding more happiness points. Most actions you take earn happiness points. Each coin, for example, is worth 1 point, as is each fruit and Shy Guy eaten (tripled if it's the favorite). The color of a Shy Guy can be changed by ground pounding (press ↓ in the air) next to it. In addition, at the beginning of the game, you spin for which fruit will be lucky during this playthrough. Lucky fruits are worth 8 points. But the most valuable fruit by far is melons, of which there are exactly 30 per stage. Melons are worth a whopping 100 points each.

The game contains lots of cute enemies. The main villains are the Shy Guys from Super Mario Bros. 2. Many enemies can be stomped on or eaten. Eating an enemy recovers a point of health, but stomping on them rewards more happiness points. When Yoshi eats a Shy Guy of the matching color, his health is completely restored. Some enemies aren't to his liking and hurt him if he eats them. Eating six of the same fruit in a row causes a heart to appear, which restores Yoshi's health and makes him temporarily super happy and invincible. As in Yoshi's Island, Yoshi's health is indicated by flower petals in the upper-left corner. Once all the petals have fallen off (turning the center of the flower into an unhappy face), one more hit will knock Yoshi out.

The game uses a level structure that seems to take inspiration from Star Fox 64. In that game, there are 25 levels, of which you play seven each playthrough. In Yoshi's Story, there are 24 levels divided into six "pages" (because it's a book). On the first page, you choose any of the four levels. For the rest of the pages, by default you must play the first level. However, each level contains three hidden Special Hearts. For each Special Heart you find, the next "page" will have one additional level you can select. Thus, to be able to choose from all four, you must find all three Special Hearts.

Levels feature many different design elements and backgrounds, such as sewers, lava, water, etc. Frequent hint boxes explain how the various features work. I found every level interesting, and almost every one feels unique.

After you finish page 3 Yoshi faces a boss. Which boss it is depends upon which of the four levels you played. Each boss is cute and unique and takes three hits to defeat. At the very end, you face off against Baby Bowser himself. Yoshi must spit Bob-Ombs at him. Like the rest of the game, the two boss battles are easy.

Also like Star Fox 64, the game uses a no-continue, arcade-style high-score system. At the end of each stage, all points are totaled. If you beat the game, your total score is saved if it exceeds the already-saved score. There are no save files; the score is simply saved to the cartridge. I like that.

When you lose a life, a cut-scene depicts Toadies carrying that Yoshi off to Baby Bowser's castle. Because you get only six Yoshi's and there are a fair number of pits they can fall into, I don't think the game is as easy as people say. While searching for lucky hearts, melons, and Special Hearts, I've gotten several Game Overs. 

There is a way to rescue lost Yoshis: several levels contain a hidden white Shy Guy. If you find him, he follows Yoshi around (like an egg). If you finish the level with him, he will run through the Yoshi select screen. If you choose him, he will propel to the castle and bring back a Yoshi! You can have multiple white Shy Guys on the screen at once, but it's in your best interest to rescue any captured Yoshis immediately, because you get 100 happiness points for each of your Yoshis whenever you finish a stage.

In addition to the main Story Mode, Yoshi's Story has a Trial Mode. This lets you play any individual level, provided you already beat it in Story Mode. The purpose of Trial Mode is to set high scores on levels. The top five scores are saved for each level. Just unlocking all the levels for Trial Mode is no mean feat, as at a minimum this will require playing the game four times. I admit this system can be annoying. I'd rather just play all 24 levels in a row, but I give the developers credit for trying something different, even if it didn't work out that well. Trial Mode also gives completionists the opportunity to make sure they've found all three Special Hearts in every stage.

Hardcore completionists can challenge themselves to find all 30 melons in each stage. Although some are in plain sight, most are hidden in one way or another. For instance, some are hidden in the ground. You can find these spots by holding down R, which causes the screen to zoom in and Yoshi to sniff intently. An exclamation mark appears if he's near a hidden item. The more frequently the marks appear, the closer Yoshi is. When he's right on top of it, he bounces happily and makes a noise. If you do a ground pound on precisely the right spot, a hidden melon, coins, or other item will pop out. Sometimes you'll also encounter the dog Poochy, who will point out spots to search. Setting truly high scores means finding all the melons and eschewing all other fruits.

As I've mentioned, the graphics are super cute. The backgrounds have the crafted look that the series later took its name from. The music is fine, although some tracks contain an annoying spoken "Yo-chi" repeated in a baritone voice. The fact that it says Yo-chi instead of Yoshi only adds to how annoying it is. The Yoshis also sing gratingly between every stage.

Between the relatively easy Story Mode and the deep high-score and completionist potential of Trial Mode (and Story Mode), this game has something for everybody. It's a shame people have had a hard time recognizing this game's quality either because of unfavorable comparisons to Yoshi's Island or because they failed to understand the intricacies of its unusual systems.

Grade: B+

Linked Reviews
"Yoshi's Story tells a bare-bones story against a brilliantly colourful backdrop, utilizing some novel platforming mechanics to bolster interest but ultimately falling a little flat in execution."
— Jonathan Bee, Nintendo Life, 6/10


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