So this is what wiped out the dinosaurs. Oh, we’re sure Nintendo won’t be sending Mario’s helium-voiced steeds to the glue factory just yet, but Yoshi’s New Island represents an extinction-level event for the spirit of a classic. It’s pitched as a sequel to 1995’s Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, a platformer with the manic creative energy of a sketch, and yet developer Arzest’s lethargic throwback contrives to be as disposable as a child’s abandoned napkin scribble.
From the off, Arzest shows a willingness to reuse anything from the original with the barest minimum of adaptation or reinvention, packing the game with familiar enemies, backdrops, ideas, furniture and collectibles. Meanwhile, the story, such as it is, falls closer to ripoff than homage: Kamek tries once again to become an adoptive parent mid-stork flight, but only manages to make off with Baby Luigi, leaving infant Mario in the tender care of the Yoshi tribe.
In the right hands, these elements might engender fond nostalgia. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering to take parts so beloved and construct something that feels so wrong, like being asked to strip down and reassemble a Bugatti Veyron and ending up with a tuk-tuk that falls to pieces when you turn the key.
Take the controls, once kinetic and honed. Now Yoshi wallows about, taking several paces to break into a syrupy facsimile of his dash. His jump is comparatively sprightlier, but still less bounding than we’d expect. Even aiming egg throws is slow, the reticle gliding up the screen (two alternative aiming modes, Hasty and Gyroscopic, exist, but the former is faster only in that eggs are launched when you let go of X, and the latter is borderline unusable). Nothing feels responsive, stifling any locomotive joy these rote worlds could provide.
That’s betrayal enough of its proud ancestor, but it could have been a deliberate effort to encourage a more relaxed, exploratory playstyle. Inexplicably, however, Arzest keeps showing you collectibles only to whip them away at speeds its controls defy you to match. This seems to be an attempt to attract replays, asking you to memorise layouts to nab those elusive flowers and red coins, but it would take far more than a chalk tick on the end-of-level scoreboard and the chance of gold medals to convince us to wrestle our way through these bland, characterless courses more than once.
We’re not just talking art style, either, although this suffers from slavish adherence to the specifics of Yoshi’s Island – recreating its dank castles with corrugated-card backdrops, say – while never quite capturing the vivid energy that made its source material so striking. After Tearaway’s tactile handicraft, these anodyne pencils and heavy-handed, faux-painterly swirls feel twee. But what irks is a deeper problem: in all but rare instances, levels simply feel like loose collections of platforms strung together, with a frustrating number of lethal drops and instakill lava pits filling the gaps. The enemies that populate the interstitial spaces are seldom a threat, but when they are it’s because they’re cheaply placed to induce a tumble and a restart. Anachronistic checkpointing only exacerbates the difficulty spikes: we died during one boss (knocked into lava, of course) only to have to do the entire preceding section again.
There are precious few new ideas to spin along whole worlds of this kind of level design, and fewer still not stretched too thin by overuse, but Arzest doesn’t help itself by taking the exploratory tools that were Yoshi’s vehicle transformations and turning them into boring gyroscope-controlled minigames. We’re not sure what’s more frustrating: that resources have been funnelled away from graceful design to fund tacky gimmicks, or the more literal funnels in which the vast majority of these sections take place.
Just in case there was still doubt, pushing up the 3D slider makes it clear that Arzest isn’t at home with the 3DS hardware, its stereoscopic implementation so poor that it hampers you. Objects are displayed on a limited number of quantised layers, the choices of exactly where made seemingly at random, fragmenting this resolutely 2D world. Some platforms are placed on the layer behind Yoshi’s feet, leaving him floating awkwardly in front of them, while foregrounded items are distracting. One level has a ski lift carousel, which we tried to cross while avoiding the platforms clearly in the background. But we were being too clever: they were totally safe to land on, a clumsy layer shift explaining away how you can alight on something several feet into the screen with a forward jump.
As limp as Yoshi’s New Island’s uses of 3DS are, they are as nothing to when it crashes up against its own heritage. Precision aiming is a core part of this series, with ricocheting eggs used to collect items that are hard to reach, but it’s ruined here by the spotted projectiles not being tracked mere millimetres beyond the screen’s boundaries. You can throw an egg at a line of coins, walk forward a few steps and see where the game stopped bothering to pick them up – and since the 3DS screen is just a few times Yoshi’s height, you’ll run into this often with objects placed above you. The laziness is only highlighted by the insipid sequences with humongous, scenery-destroying eggs, which span entire segments of level without issue.
No one part of Yoshi’s New Island is ruinous by itself, but the sum is so much less than the 20-year-old parts from which it’s cobbled together. No one deserves to be duped by the Crayola box art into expecting a true sequel to a childhood-gulping adventure, which is still counted among the most innovative 16bit games of the mid-’90s. Arzest has laid an egg here, but not of the golden variety.