Re(?)Considered: Yoshi's Island

Is this egg-throwing masterpiece starting to show cracks?

Yoshi's Island, you are a complicated game. I used to be obsessed with it, you know. I never had a SNES, so I first got to play its platforming swansong using the ZSNES emulator at roughly half its intended speed. But Yoshi's Island in slow motion is still Yoshi's Island. Still a stage where every single level has the depth of design and surplus of imagination that most games struggle to muster across their entire duration. I'm just going to immediately repeat myself, because I want to hammer this home. Yoshi's Island is a triumph of level design. Every single one is a beautifully crafted joy to explore, and it rewards curiosity, ingenuity and brute-force stupidity in all the right ways.

So why do I almost never go back to it?

I think it's a valid question. A game whose component pieces are so undeniably strong somehow coalesces into something that I no longer want to spend much time with. And I've come to realise why that is - the structure. The drive to get 100 points on each stage, turning them from breezy obstacle courses into meticulous treasure hunts.

You may be saying right now - possibly into a megaphone - "But Stu, you don't have to do that stuff." I'm not sure that's necessarily the case for me. Playing Super Mario World, I could finish a level having taken multiple hits and going back and forth from Fire Mario to Small Mario, or whatever, but the level would still be finished. Get to the end of one of Yoshi's Island's courses but don't manage to find the five Flowers and 20 Red Coins? Sorry, you've finished it incorrectly.

It's much the same as Diddy's Kong Quest (which I recently discussed), though that game is even more egregious because it gates the true ending behind its secret areas. Yoshi's Island doesn't, but it does lock whole extra stages away unless you 100-point the rest of the levels in each of the worlds. They're good stages, too. It would be a shame to miss them. And if that means replaying a whole stage because you took a hit right near the end, then that's what you'll need to do.

But that in itself wouldn't normally be enough to put me off playing such a brilliant game. There's something else, and it's also related to the structure. The likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and particularly Super Mario World let you carve your own path through the game, wherein if you really wanted to you could skip stages using shortcuts, Lakitu's cloud, or a Warp Whistle. In Yoshi's Island it's a straight line all the way. It's fine, but it adds to the regimented feeling I get from the rest of its structure. There's also the fact that the levels being so jam-packed with stuff to find means that clearing one usually takes me a good ten minutes, by which time I'm remembering what the game is like and how frustrating full-clearing it is going to get. Then I switch it off and play something else.

And that's a shame, because Yoshi's Island - as I've said repeatedly - is obviously an incredible achievement. It's just that it happens to be an incredible achievement that I can no longer really tolerate. We've had our fun, I suppose.