Don’t judge Super Mario Advance 3 – Yoshi’s Island by its cover–it’s not a game just for kids. And please forgive its confusing title–it’s not a spinoff of Yoshi’s island for the SNES. Yes, give the game a chance and you will quickly discover a 2D side-scrolling adventure with plenty to do and see within its magical storybook world.
The game, essentially a GBA port of Yoshi’s Island released in 1995, features baby versions of Mario and Luigi caught up in a battle between good and evil before they can even talk. After a stork carrying the two babies gets attacked by Baby Bowser’s minions, the Italian duo is separated once again. A number of colorful Yoshis find Baby Mario and embark on a quest to save his brother, now captured by the upcoming King Koopa himself.
Along the journey, players control one of the many Yoshis while Baby Mario sits defenseless atop the unstable dinosaur saddle. Whenever a Yoshi gets hurt, Baby Mario floats away in a bubble and screams his baby lungs out while baddies try to kidnap the future hero. If only the Yoshis had seat-belts. When Baby Mario’s bubble timer hits zero, you lose a life. And while Yoshis can take an unlimited amount of abuse, every time they’re damaged they become temporarily incapacitated. Too easy right? Wrong. The timer continues to count down as players remain immobilized, making for some stressful and intense moments. You can also perish by plummeting into your traditional bottomless pits or getting impaled on spikes in areas that have definitely not been childproofed.
To navigate the treacherous landscape, the Yoshis have more abilities and control than most Mario games. They can flutter jump over vast distances, ground pound, and eat enemies to turn them into projectile eggs. And this is where the more advanced strategies emerge within the game by carrying six eggs at a time. Grab an enemy with Yoshi’s tongue, press down, and you first acquire a green egg. Recycling at its finest. Ricochet that egg off of a wall and it becomes yellow or red, depending on the number of bounces, giving the egg special powers. Red is the most helpful because when they hit certain enemies or special red coins they will explode and release two collectable anthropomorphic stars to increase Baby Mario’s bubble timer. These 30 stars are also tracked, along with the 20 red coins and five flowers in each level, that result in an overall grade each time.
After you have your egg arsenal, you can launch them with a very precise targeting system. Tap a button and an egg trajectory repeatedly swings up and down. Then you can lock the angle you want for future attacks. And this aiming can all be done while moving Yoshi with the d-pad or control stick at the same time. All of this control might seem like a lot to take in at once, but soon players will be sniping even the smallest targets like a pro. With the amount to collect and see in each level, players are rewarded and encouraged to explore every possible inch. Collecting everything in all of the six worlds will unlock a special, heart-warming ending capable of melting even the toughest Internet troll’s heart. And this won’t be easy either. Some of the collectables are very tough to find and if you miss one you will have to go back and re-acquire everything over again. Yes everything. Since this game came out years after the original, it would have been a great chance to update the somewhat outdated all-or-nothing approach.
The Yoshis can also hit special blocks to morph into helicopters, digging tanks, submarines, cars, and trains. These sections, though limited to enclosed areas, provide a nice change of pace. Other items can be collected in minigames between the stages and used at any time in the level. There are star boost items that add 10 or 20 to the countdown timer, magnifying glasses that reveal secret red coins, Powblocks that wipe out all enemies on screen, egg refills, and even watermelons that let Yoshis spit seeds, fire, and ice.
Though the topnotch gameplay remains intact from the SNES version, the graphics and sound take a significant hit to run on the GBA hardware. Overall graphic quality has been reduced compared to the original. The soundtrack has also been compressed which is a shame since it’s otherwise another memorable and infectious creation by composer Koji Kondo. During the most hectic areas of the game with multiple enemies, the game can also start to chug with a reduced frame rate and slowdown. While these changes don’t break the game, it’s simply not as polished as the original.
For those who have never played Yoshi’s Island before, buying this game for the Wii U Virtual Console is a no brainer. Fans of the SNES version also have an incentive to repurchase the title since there are six new levels that unlock after beating the game. It’s too bad Nintendo didn’t combine the graphics and sound from the SNES with the new GBA content for a remastered version. I would have paid a few extra dollars for that in a heartbeat. In the end, Super Mario Advance 3 – Yoshi’s Island is a highly imaginative storybook tale with playful exploration and one of the strongest platform games Nintendo has ever made.
TheMattBreadown Rating = 4/5
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