Once upon a time Nintendo released a little Super NES game called Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. Set in Mario's infant years, the game followed the adventures of the Yoshis as they attempted to ferry Baby Mario across an island full of dangers towards Baby Bowser's castle for a reunion with Baby Luigi. The game went down in history as one of the best side-scrolling games of the 16-bit era (if not all time). Then came the darkness. Nintendo followed up with lackluster disappointing Yoshi adventures such as the beyond-kiddie Yoshi's Story, the too-short Yoshi Touch & Go, and the disappointing Yoshi Topsy-Turvy. Now, eleven years later, Nintendo and developer Artoon have come back to the classic Island formula, crafting a new adventure for the Nintendo DS that retains just about everything from the original game, but makes it all bigger, larger, and more involved. At long last, it's Yoshi's Island DS.
Anyone who spent a lot of time with Yoshi's Island will feel right at home in this DS sequel. Yoshi is still an enemy-snarfing egg-laying coin-collecting power-stomping flutter-jumping powerhouse. The biggest change to the formula is the addition of additional babies to the mix. The game begins with a brief summary of the tale of Yoshi's Island (and includes some great character artwork of the bosses from the previous game) before launching into new material. Kamek the Magikoopa is back, and this time he and his henchtoadies have kidnapped every baby in the Mushroom Kingdom and its nearby territories. As dozens of babies are taken away under cover of darkness, the stork (remember him?) intervenes and manages to knock two babies free from their captors: Baby Mario and Baby Peach. The kids fall to Yoshi's Island where, as before, the Yoshis team up to carry the babies across the island in order to rescue the kidnapped kiddies. Along the way new babies will join the team, such as Baby Donkey Kong, Baby Wario, and even Baby Bowser.
Each baby gives Yoshi a special ability. When Mario is on the dino's back our hero can run (all other babies only allow Yoshi to merely walk), hit "M" blocks that are used as stepping stones, and use the familiar super star. Baby Peach gives Yoshi a boost while flutter jumping, Baby DK can climb vines and perform a power dash (plus with him on Yoshi's back the classic ground pound move stomps posts and poles into the ground with only one pound). Baby Wario carries a magnet that attracts nearby coins and certain metallic platforms. Finally, Baby Bowser blows fireballs that melt ice and fry enemies (but when Bowser is on board Yoshi cannot use his trademark tongue). It's important to take the correct baby into battle, as not being able to run leaves Yoshi open to, say, a crushing attack by a rolling spiked ball. Without Baby Peach our hero cannot catch windy gusts to soar super high. It's all about identifying the particular puzzle presented and choosing the correct kid to solve it. Fortunately, whenever a baby change is optimal a "baby switching" station is never far away. Just step on the switch and the stork zooms in with another baby. Don't get too attached to the tykes, however. At certain points in the story some babies wander off, making them unavailable for use until they return (if they return, that is...).
The rest of Yoshi's Island DS follows very closely to its predecessor. In fact, the game's introduction stage and part of World 1-1 are lifted right from Island. The same gimmicks are back, such as boss battles with giant variations of standard enemies and another frustrating "very long cave" level that scrolls by itself. With two screens of action to explore, the levels in this adventure are massive compared to the previous game. Levels often branch out into multiple paths, some of which are dead ends that contain the familiar combination of stars, red coins, and flowers that make up your score for each level. As before, you'll swallow Shy Guys, collect keys, play mini-games, and try to catch wayward babies before their cries annoy you too much. This is not a complaint. Getting into Yoshi's Island DS is like putting on a favorite pair of sleep pants at the end of a long day. It's familiar, it's comfortable, and (moving away from the pants metaphor) it gives me more of the great action I've craved since the end of the last adventure.
A few things from Island are missing in this new title. Poochy the helpful puppy does not return for an encore. Items are out altogether; no more watermelons, firemelons, icemelons, +10 or +20 stars, magnifying glasses, or instant egg refills. Mini-games at the end of levels are played for extra lives instead of items. The loss of items does sting somewhat, as it's no longer possible to collect the 20 red coins and 5 flowers and then tromp through the level without regard for preserving the 30 stars needed for a perfect score, as previously one could stop right before the goal, use a +20 star item to boost one's star count, and get an easy 100 points for the level. Without items each collected star and saved egg matter. It actually makes the Island formula more of a challenge. As for Yoshi's famous transformations, watch for the return of the helicopter, the submarine (without missiles this time), and the digging mole. The car, train, and other such changes are out. However, now that the special effect to transform Yoshi into a new form is powered by the DS's native hardware instead of the awesome power of the Super FX2 chip from the Super NES era, Yoshi morphs from one form to the next in just a blink of an eye instead of during the five-second game-halting span of time in Island.
So yes, it's more of the same. And again, that's not a complaint. If you couldn't get enough of the original Yoshi's Island, you'll take right to this sequel. With the exception of music (there's not a memorable or catchy tune in the bunch, unfortunately) Artoon has really nailed this game, making up for their dismal showing in Yoshi Topsy-Turvy. It's a challenging game, and scoring 100 points on each of the fifty levels will take quite a while. Don't let Yoshi's Island DS slip through the cracks. It's probably the most fun you can have in 2D this holiday season.