I feel more than a little sorry for Yoshi as a career video game character. His first protagonist role was framed as a sequel to one of the Super Nintendo’s most popular titles and was then best remembered for its annoying sound-design. He then starred in some puzzle games, one of which forgot to even advertise his inclusion, and then we arrive on the Nintendo 64, where he yet again stars in a smaller, experimental title that can’t compare to what Mario was up to.
Taking the cute aesthetic of Yoshi’s Island to a next step, this spiritual successor is framed as a pop-up storybook about the Yoshis fighting back against Baby Bowser to protect their Happy Tree.
The whole game is in semi-2D with all the sprites being presented as part of the book. It makes for an interesting artstyle, but it can’t quite match the sheer vibrancy of Yoshi’s Island, feeling a little too pre-rendered in places and having some curious themes for the levels. This sometimes works out well, but I also recall how some of these levels and enemies felt unsettling or even scary to me as a young boy. Even today, I don’t quite like some of these designs, whereas others are inspired, fun, and entirely kid-friendly.
What makes this platformer more experimental is that you don’t need to reach any specific point. There are no level exits or finish lines to work towards, rather you are encouraged to explore as much as possible and see where that leads you. A level ends when you have eaten the required number of fruits and there are way more of those than you’ll need. Many levels are thus non-linear or feature branching paths and side-rooms where you can take on optional challenges for extra fruit. You are then also not punished for skipping or not finding these, as you’ll just find more fruit later on in the level.
Yoshi still has the same general moveset he had in Yoshi’s Island. You run around, you can ground-pound enemies or lick them up to turn them into eggs, and you can throw those eggs to hurt other enemies, solve puzzles, or get fruit down to where you can eat it. The jumps are still floaty and come with a flutter to extend your reach. This was useful for making tricky platforming segments easier in Yoshi’s Island, but Yoshi’s Story is a big step down in terms of difficulty and avoids challenging platforming almost entirely.
New moves include a button you can press to have Yoshi sniff for nearby fruit and secrets, and various smaller mechanics that sometimes pop up for variety. The transformations that used to be in Yoshi’s Island are entirely gone, but the levels feature many creative ideas that easily compensate for that mild loss.
At least, if you end up finding those creative ideas. The abundance of fruit means that dilligent players who grab everything they come across will end up completing levels very quickly, sometimes even before the halfway point. This was most obvious in a level in the clouds, where I reached this giant dragon I could fly around on with literally 1 fruit left to go, which was right at the very start of this reptilian ride. I had to purposefully play poorly to actually see most of the level. This makes Jungle Hut a personal favorite of mine, as that level makes subsequent replays more fun by starting you in the middle of the level and letting you pick one of many paths both hidden and obvious.
Another curious decision is that the game isn’t separated in worlds that you complete by beating each level. Instead, each “world” is a page and you pick a level from it, after which you move on to the next page without touching those other levels. There 6 pages in total with a boss-fight at the end, making this game very short. Naturally you can replay it to see the other levels and unlock more of them, maybe even find the hidden White and Black Yoshi variants, but the short storyline and mandatory boss-fight does mean some repetition is guaranteed. Not being able to fast-forward the dialogue between levels doesn’t help either.
Revisiting this childhood game brought me much joy and it held up about as well as I expected. It’s a cute title and its fruit-collecting gameplay is a nice twist on the traditional 2D platformer. It’s brimming with creativity and often surprises with its setpiece moments, though its low difficulty and short campaign end up causing it some problems, especially for older gamers.