Yoshi's Story is one of the most eagerly anticipated N64 games since Super Mario 64. A well-known and popular Nintendo character; a sequel to an extremely good Super NES game; the first wholly Nintendo-produced game since Starfox. That's a whole lot of expectations for any game to live up to. The question is: is Yoshi's Story worth the wait?
Hmmnyeehh... you'll have to get back to me on that in a few pages.
The original Yoshi's Island on the SNES was distinctive in that it combined a very taxing game with child-like presentation, the graphics deliberately looking as if they'd been scrawled, splashed or even abandoned halfway through by a pre-schooler. In some ways this was in keeping with the game itself, which had Yoshi and his many relatives, all called Yoshi, trying to carry a baby Mario to safety through numerous charming yet hostile landscapes. Although the game was, in my view, even tougher than Super Mario World (though not as tricky as Mario All-Stars), a lot of potential players were put off precisely because of the style of the game. Well, looks like somefink for kids, dunnit?
Yoshi's Story stands a good chance of suffering even more from this problem. The look of the game's front end has gone beyond forced cuteness into the outright twee, at least in my view. If you're under five years old or one of those students who watches Teletubbies (for purely ironic reasons of course, yah) then you might get a kick out of it, but once you've got past the initial sense of'ahh, isn't that sweet' it doesn't take that long before all that sugar rots your teeth and sets your stomach a-churning.
Interestingly, the style of the front end isn't really carried over into the look of the game itself. Crayola scribblings are out; high-res Silicon Graphics renders are in. If Bill Gates ever has kids, this kind of thing is what he'll be sticking to his fridge with alphabet magnets.
Yoshi's Story is certainly a feast of eye candy, proving that the N64 can actually make use of all those colours it's got stuffed under the bonnet. Unlike the 'hand-drawn' Yoshi's Island, Story is full of gleamingly crisp, lovingly detailed landscapes made of everything from soft fabrics to armchair leather. Yoshi's enemies are equally splendid to look at, all his opponents from the tiniest insects right up to the screen-high monsters lurking in some levels being treated to the same attention to detail. Everything is beautifully animated and given a shading effect that makes them almost pop out of the screen. Mischief Makers dropped some hints about what the N64 can do in 2-D, but Yoshi's Story pushes the boat out so far it's run ashore on the other side.
Sound, often an under-used part of N64 games, is also rich with clever details. Leaving aside the chorus of singing Yoshis that whine away over the title screen, the music is the perfect accompaniment to the game itself. A jungle level gets pounding tribal drums, a desert island stage features an upbeat Caribbean backing and one chapter even has rumbling shouts of "Yosh-i! Yosh-i!" urging you on!
A really cute touch is the way the music goes wonky when Yoshi is down to his last blim of energy (the energy bar is represented by a flower in the corner of the screen, which loses its petals as Yoshi takes hits), then slowly winds back up to speed when he regains his strength.
Just about all the creatures in the game squeak and mutter away to themselves, which once you're familiar with their burblings can sometimes be used to work out what you're about to face on the next screen. Yoshi himself is especially vocal, grunting with effort as he flails his legs to give himself just a little more height in a jump and squealing in terror when he takes a long fall. He even growls at approaching enemies!
Brought To Book
The game is structured like a story - well, with a name like that you'd sort of expect it - in six 'chapters', each chapter being broken up into four smaller sections. Paragraphs, I suppose. You choose your route through the story (oh god, it's one of those damn Fighting Fantasy books!) by opening up Yoshi's pop-up book. Opening up a new page sends cut-out representations of the horrors ahead springing up at you, giving an idea of what you can expect to encounter in each chapter.
Initially only one level is accessible in each chapter - others open up the more you play the game, but right now I'm uncertain as to what the actual trigger is that lets you enter new levels. Sometimes you might be presented with a full foursome on opening the chapter, other times you'll only get a single choice. As far as I can tell, new levels are opened by collecting the giant hearts hidden around the worlds, but I could be wrong. Since the manual's in Japanese it's not really much help in solving this riddle, but there is a game option where you can practice levels you've already completed, which does improve your chances of uncovering the secrets hidden in each level.
When Yoshi enters a level, he always starts off with only one petal of energy, so his first priority is to bring himself up to full strength. The quickest way of doing this is to collect the fruit which are the key to the whole game. As near as I can gather, the plot of the story is that the evil Bowser (yes, it's him again, or someone who looks an awful lot like him) has stolen the Super Happy Fun Tree and put it in his castle, and Yoshi is the man, or dinosaur, or whatever, up to the task of bringing the tree back to where it belongs.
Luckily for Yoshi, fruit from the tree has been scattered all over the landscapes he has to traverse on the way to Bowser's castle. Once he collects 30 pieces of fruit, the exact number being shown in fruity form around the edges of the screen, he's completed a chapter and can turn the page. Fruit restores Yoshi's energy, and particular colours of Yoshi - there are six of the little fellas to start with, plus another who can be hatched from an egg found along the way - prefer different kinds of fruit. For example, the yellow Yoshi gains the most benefit from bananas. If fruit are scarce, Yoshi can make do by eating the locals!
This fruit-collecting aspect makes the structure of the game a bit different from Nintendo's previous platform games. Since there's no specific exit to a level, the impetus isn't so much on getting to a certain point as quickly as you can, but more on wandering around looking for fruit. On most levels it doesn't make that much of a difference because on the whole, the stages are fairly linear. However, there are some - like the jungle treetops level, where Yoshi has to pick his way over a maze of bamboo platforms - which sprawl all over the place and can get a bit annoying when you reach yet another dead end and have to go back the way you came.
Yoshi's abilities are for the most part the same as in his Super NES adventure. As well as normal jumps, he can give himself a little physics-defying extra boost in mid-air if you keep the jump button pressed, and pushing down on the analogue stick makes him slam into the ground, squashing anything beneath him and jolting things loose from the background. Yoshi's main weapon is his tongue, which as well as grabbing the vital fruit and pulling him up onto certain floating blocks is also used to snag enemies and pull them into his gaping maw. Eating his opponents, as well as usually providing extra energy, also lets Yoshi instantly lay eggs (that's one hell of a metabolism) that follow him around in a trail and can be thrown to bring down flying attackers or pop the tongue-proof bubbles surrounding some fruit and power-ups. Large green-and-white blocks also spew out eggs when Yoshi headbutts them. The analogue stick is used to aim the eggs, and is a lot easier to control than the Super NES method of a rotating cursor. The eggs explode when they reach the position of the cursor, so you have I to make sure that it's located on or past the target when you fire or it'll detonate harmlessly in mid-air-very annoying if you're down to your last egg! Interestingly, Yoshi has actually lost some talents from the older game - he can no longer spit objects in his mouth at his opponents, as anything he grabs with his tongue is now automatically swallowed. This suggests a definite trend in Nintendo's games toward simplification, reducing everything down to the bare minimum of controls. It's not just Nintendo who are doing this - Art Of Fighting Twin, also reviewed this issue, trims the control method to the bone. But is there a point where games become too simplified to maintain interest? With Nintendo's stated intention being to make their games accessible to younger and younger age groups, it's a question that's going to keep coming up in the future.
If you've played any of Nintendo's 2-D platform games before, and with a track record like the Mario games you probably have, then a lot of Yoshi's Story will be immediately familiar. Even with the rendered scenery, many of the landscapes Yoshi has to traverse are recognizable from their past appearances on the Super NES. Lava caves? Check. Bowser's castle? Present and correct. The enemies, too, are largely the usual suspects, with Shy Guys, Piranha Plants and numerous other well-known Nintendo faces doing their damnedest to obstruct Yoshi's quest for fruit.
This recycling of old elements does come across as being surprisingly unimaginative of Nintendo. Although they would no doubt claim the reason for this as being something along the lines of 'it brings a smile of recognition to the faces of players when they see familiar characters from earlier games', it strikes me as being more a case of 'why spend time coming up with new characters and settings when we've got all these perfectly good old ones already designed?' Although it is good to see that Nintendo's team haven't lost their touch with the new enemies they've devised for Yoshi's Story, the fresh faces are vastly outnumbered by the 'regulars'.
The same applies to the level designs. Even though they're obviously a lot nicer to look at on the N64, there are numerous sections which could have been pulled directly from Yoshi's Island or Super Mario World on the SNES. By this I'm not talking about the straight platform sections, but the actual obstacles Yoshi comes across. The final castle levels, in particular, bring on a very strong feeling of deja vu, with rotating drums and blades whirling around on tracks being two very distinctive features from the first Yoshi game.
"So what?" you might well ask. After all, not everybody who owns an N64 will have played the earlier games, and even some of those who have probably won't care about the repetition of old elements anyway. It is, after all, a Nintendo-produced game, a Shigeru Miyamoto-supervised game at that, which pretty much guarantees perfectly-tuned gameplay. Yoshi's Story certainly can't be faulted in that respect - it's very rare that you feel the game is treating you unfairly, and the unusual (for a platform game) use of the analogue stick gives you very precise control over your big-nosed reptile. If you can resist the temptation to scarf up fruit as quickly as you find it and instead delve deeper into the levels, there's a quite a lot of neat stuff to be found.
However, there is a major downside to Yoshi's Story. Even with a 128Mbit cart, there are limits to how much can be squeezed in - 2-D games, with all their graphical data, take up a lot more memory than 3-D environments. The strain is definitely showing in Yoshi's Story, as there are a meagre 24 levels to the game. What's more, that's 24 surprisingly easy levels.
In order to cater for the younger players they're now chasing, Nintendo have set the challenge level of the game so that it won't frustrate inexperienced gamers. Fair enough if they were going to be the only people playing the game, but much of Nintendo's success is built on their very loyal fanbase, who have been playing their games for years and are going to be the people most likely to buy their latest. Anyone who has cracked all the levels in Mario All-Stars is going to breeze through this in no time at all. I'm not the world's greatest gamesplayer by any means, but I completed the game less than three hours after first plugging it in, and by the end of the first day I'd opened up 16 of the 24 levels. By the end of my second day's play, I only had two levels left to see!
Even if you've never played a Nintendo platform game before, you're not likely to find Yoshi's Story all that taxing to beat. Most of the time, Yoshi dies not from running into enemies or being hit by objects but from falling into holes if you misjudge a jump, and once you know where they are they cease to be much of a menace. You don't have to be Einstein or De Bono to figure out the puzzles, such as they are, and the bosses - one gang after the third chapter, and Bowser at the end - are absurdly simple to defeat. Even Mischief Makers is both bigger and more challenging! It's not necessarily a better game to play than Yoshi's Story, as Treasure's title isn't nearly as polished as Nintendo's, but it's got more variation in the gameplay and will take longer to complete.
It sounds almost sacrilegious to say it, but Yoshi's Story would have benefited from being a bit more like Mischief Makers. The letter's linear structure is, ironically, very similar to that of the original Yoshi's Island, and Yoshi's Story would have been much better if players had had to go through all 24 levels in a set order instead of meandering through them on successive plays. As it stands, you only have to complete six levels to finish the game, and though there's still the extra challenge of trying to open up the other levels, it's not quite so much fun going through a story if you already know the ending!
While I'm complaining, I might as well mention a couple of nitpicking faults - once you've completed the game you have to physically reset the N64 to play again rather than just being able to press Start, and when you finish a level there's no way to skip through the time-consuming scoring screens and, infuriatingly, the 30 seconds of scrolling Japanese exposition and wincingly irksome Yoshi song. These are only minor annoyances, but Nintendo games don't normally have these kinds of irritations at all!
Yoshi's Story is rather a flawed gem. Although it's made with Nintendo's usual flawless production values and looks absolutely gorgeous, the fact remains that it's shamelessly recycling past glories instead of offering anything new or innovative, and it is just far too easy to be good value. It pains me to do it, but the limited lifespan of Yoshi's Story means that for the first time ever in 64 Magazine, a first-party Nintendo game can't be given an automatic recommendation. Let's just hope this is a one-off.
Yoshi's Story DownloadsYoshi's Story download
Surprisingly, a Nintendo game that lacks some ingenuity and longevity. But it's amazing to play and beautiful to look at.
Cutesy 2-D platformer which looks fantastic but plays very, very simply. You might like hunting for all the little secrets. We don't.
What can I say about this game that hasn't already been said? Regular readers will know that Andy did a ten page review of the original import version of Yoshi's Story, and being the efficient editor-type that he is, he more or less covered everything of note in the game.
Rumour had it that the UK version of Yoshi's Story was going to be made more difficult through the inclusion of 'letter blocks' hidden in devious locations which would, once collected, provide a top new ending. Sadly, these haven't materialised.
A few things have been changed in the game, although the changes are primarily aesthetic - graphical tweaks and the like. We'll deal with those in more detail a little later. Before that though, let's run over the game for those aliens among you who've only just arrived on Planet Earth and are thus unaware of Yoshi's Story and the cute little dinosaur who gives the game its name.
What's The Story, Morning... Er, Yoshi?
Basically, the story is simple... er, well, it's kind of simple. Apparently the Yoshis (for there is more than one) were all living quite happily on Yoshi's Island, when someone came along and stole their Super Happy Tree, which weakened them and made them all somewhat upset... as it would. The thieving thief turned out to be none other than Baby Bowser, avidly following in the footsteps of his felonious father. By a strange coincidence, the only creatures on Yoshi's Island not adversely affected by the theft of the Super Happy Tree were six little Baby Yoshis, who set out to defeat the evil Baby Bowser by means of eating a lot of fruit. Not exactly the usual method for defeating evil dictators, but who can argue with something as cute as a Baby Yoshi?
Oh, and did I mention that the whole island has been mysteriously transformed into a picture book? No? Well, it has, and the Baby Yoshis have to make their way across the six pages of the book, filled with all manner of cutesy enemies, before they can confront Baby Bowser and set everything to rights on Yoshi's Island Yoshi's Story comprises a total of twenty-four levels, contained within the six pages of the picture book. At the start of the game, players can choose one of four starting levels, each with its own unique challenges and dangers. Later pages in the book start with only one level accessible, and the other three levels (there are four on each page) can only be accessed by obtaining three 'Special Hearts'. Find one Special Heart page one and you'll have access to two levels on page two, find two and you to full while other fruits only boost him by one 'petal'. In addition, every Yoshi has a favourite fruit, which gives him more energy when he eats it than the ordinary fruit.
The favourite fruit teds to correspond to the colour of the Baby Yoshi,so that Red Yoshi likes red apples.
In addition to the standard fruit there are melons. These are often hidden, and Baby Yoshi may need to hunt carefully to find them. It's worth it though, since every Yoshi likes melons, and they're worth more energy than the other fruit.
Eat six of the same fruit in a row, and Baby Yoshi will get the chance to eat a 'Heart Fruit'. The Heart Fruit oosts Yoshi's energy to full and also makes him super happy for a short time. This grants him extra special powers, one of which is temporary invulnerability.
Throughout the game, Baby Yoshi will encounter a variety of enemies, but the most common foe he'll meet will be the Shy Guy. This little chap wears a cloak, has huge eyes, and crops up in a variety of guises, doing a range of activities from carrying fruit to throwing snowballs. The Shy Guys come in different colours, and can be defeated either with an egg which Yoshi obtains by head-butting coloured egg-blocks, or by capturing them with Yoshi's versatile tongue.
The eggs are also useful for destroying blocks which bar passageways, and for bursting floating bubbles which appear holding fruit or various bonuses.
Not The Bottom Bounce!
As well as the eggs and his tongue, Baby Yoshi has another weapon in his arsenal - his bottom. Most enemies can be bounced upon once to send them back to Baby Bowser's castle (no-one dies - this is a Nintendo game after all) but other enemies require the implementation of the more powerful 'ground pound' move.
As mentioned previously, all Baby Yoshis like melons, which, whilst available along with the other fruit on the stage, is more often than not cunningly concealed. This is where Yoshi's nose comes in.
Baby Yoshis apparently have an extremely good sense of smell, and by using the 'sniff' button.
The gameplay in Yoshi's Island is different from those in other platform adventures in that each level doesn't have a specific end goal. Instead, Baby Yoshi exits the level by collecting thirty pieces of fruit.
The levels vary considerably in terms of their environment. Some are straight linear platformers while some are more maze-like. Others require you to run on rotating logs, or ride platforms with helicopter blades, or even to swim.
Games Within Games
At various points on each stage, Baby Yoshi may come across a sub-game. This game is usually in the form of a race - sometimes a straightforward running one, sometimes one where you must negotiate several obstacles whilst balancing a pile of blocks.
These sub-games will give you up to seven melons, and they are essential if you're trying to finish the level by collecting only melons.
Essentially, the problem with Yoshi's Story is the way that the levels are strung together. Because each page holds four levels, of which you need to complete only one, the game can be completed extremely quickly, and this does tend to reduce the game's long-term playability. To finish the whole game, which involves going through it at least four times to access all the levels, would take a little longer, but is still not incredibly difficult.
For younger children though, the difficulty level is perfect. Yoshi's Story should keep them occupied for ages, and even if they manage to finish the game, the variety in the different stages and the various secrets hidden around them will give them something to go back to.
For the older players, the UK version has had an extra ending added, one that can only be viewed if you complete all six pages by collecting only melons. Since it gets progressively more difficult, particularly on later levels to even find all the melons, much less collect them, this addition should extend the life of the game considerably. Bloody good job too!
As mentioned already, there are other small changes to the UK version, besides the obvious English text translations. There's the addition of chillis, for example, a nasty-tasting fruit (are chillis fruit?). Then there's the colour of the egg-blocks, which previously were all green but now correspond to the colour of whatever Yoshi is playing.
On the subject of the text, Andy was worried when he first played the Japanese version that the blocks of text which appear every so often would be instructions on how to complete each test, thereby making the game even easier. It's not quite so bad, for although the text does help you to complete various tasks, the information usually comes in the form of riddles.
Probably the biggest flaw in Yoshi's Story is the fact that it's not as much fun, or as creative, as its SNES predecessor Yoshi's Island. Although graphically the game looks better, the Yoshis in the N64 game aren't half as versatile as the ones on the SNES, and the variety of puzzles isn't as good.
This probably won't matter so much for N64 owners new to the Nintendo who haven't played Yoshi's Island, but it's come as a disappointment to many ex-SNES owners who were waiting patiently for Yoshi's return.