How Can I Play It?: The Yoshi's Island series

Your complete guide to playing side-scrolling adventures starring boot-clad dinosaurs toting babies to safety.

Our ""How Can I Play It?"series lays out the best options for legitimately and legally playing the classic games we cover here at Retronauts, ideally on current platforms. 

This week's podcast episode was inspired by the fact that one of the greatest platformers of all time is finally getting a proper reissue on the Super NES mini after 20 years of unavailability. Yoshi's Island has seen remakes and sequels since the original debuted, but until now the actual Super NES version (with all its technical tricks and gimmicks) has remained locked to the Super NES hardware. In honor of its reemergence, here's a look at all the various ways to play Yoshi's side-scrolling adventures, including recommended versions.

Yoshi's Island

The original and still the best! A wonderful, whimsical, sideways take on the Super Mario series placing Yoshi in the lead. Childish crayon-like graphics belie the complexity of the game's game mechanics, which involve creating eggs to chuck through 180º of space and target with intricate bank shots. Just lovely... but surprisingly difficult to play in its original form.

Super NES
Until this week, the Super NES cartridge has been the only avenue for playing the original, uncompromised version of Yoshi's Island. The cart contains a Super FX/2 chip, an advanced 3D-capable coprocessor… which, in the case of this game, puts polygons to use in subtle ways that make it look like the most elaborate, cartoon-like 2D game of its era. That clever artwork came at a cost, though, as no games based on Super FX tech have appeared on Virtual Console services to date. Zut alors!

Game Boy Advance
Nintendo remade Yoshi's Island for GBA under the name Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island. Some compromises happened along the way: The music suffered a downgrade, and some of the more memorable Super FX-enabled effects vanished, replaced by less impressive substitutes. On the other hand, this version does include new material, including some bonkers-hard bonus stages.

You can't buy Yoshi's Island for 3DS. However, 3DS Ambassadors — people who bought the system in its first few months on the market, before Nintendo gave it a price drop and a soft relaunch — were given the GBA port (along with 10 NES games and nine other GBA titles). If you ever somehow have the opportunity to buy a 3DS with an Ambassador account still on it, you'll be able to play Yoshi's Island.

Wii U: Recommended
You can, however, buy the GBA remake on Wii U with no fuss. GBA Virtual Console on Wii U offers top-flight archival quality, so this is a great way to play.

Super NES Classic Edition: Recommended
This week's big release, the Super NES mini-console, offers the original Super NES version of Yoshi's Island for sale for the first time since, well, the Super NES days. The emulation quality appears to be exceptional, despite the complexity introduced by the add-on chip. If you can find one of these things, it's definitely the easiest way to play the real game in high-def.

Yoshi's Story

Fans expected a direct sequel to Yoshi's Island. They got… something entirely different. Yoshi's Story dropped the Mario escort mission concept, replaced the doodle graphics with arts-and-crafts, and dropped Yoshi into a handful of simple stages where the central task revolved around sniffing for fruit. Weird, but not bad.

Nintendo 64
The strange sequel to Yoshi's Island is not particularly well-loved by many Nintendo fans, so you can pick up the original cartridge for a pretty fair price. The collector's bubble has begin to inflate around N64 games, especially first-party releases, but this one's probably going to be a safe purchase for a while yet.

Wii Virtual Console
You could save a few bucks over the cartridge version by getting the Wii Virtual Console release of Yoshi's Story.

Wii U Virtual Console: Recommended
Or, for the same price as the Wii version, you could have a Virtual Console release in native HD and with off-screen play. Yeah, this one's the way to go.

Yoshi's Island DS

Developed by Artoon, this game was going to be called Yoshi's Island 2 until Nintendo realized it wasn't good enough for that honor. OK, maybe that's unfair, but… even though Yoshi's Island DS copies concepts and visuals directly from the Super NES game, it doesn't feel as polished as its predecessor. The most interesting element — the need to carry around and swap between several different babies, including Peach and Donkey Kong — also can bog down the action with awkward complexity. A good try, but not a great sequel.

You can find the original release of Yoshi's Island DS for pretty cheap these days. The challenge is finding a legitimate copy. Bootlegged DS carts flooded the secondary market years ago, and it's no easy task to be certain you're buying one that isn't a shoddy imitation.

Wii U: Recommended
Wii U Virtual Console version recreates the DS game perfectly, with a huge variety of play options available. The one downside to this version is that you really need to play with a display mode that keeps the two virtual screens stacked one over the other. Since the action takes place simultaneously across both DS screens, using one of the Virtual Console's alternate modes (like displaying one screen on the television and the other on the Game Pad) kinda breaks the game. With that in mind, though, this is still the way to go.

Yoshi's New Island

Of all the games on this list, Yoshi's New Island comes closest to the original Yoshi's Island experience. Critics reamed it pretty hard for its lack of originality, but that was the point: It was meant to be an introduction to the series for gamers who weren't even born when the original Yoshi's Island came out, and it does add a few minor tweaks to the mix to keep things interesting.

3DS: Recommended
There's only one version of this game in the world, so the 3DS release wins by default. It's available both as a cartridge and as a digital release.

Yoshi's Woolly World

By far the best Yoshi's Island follow-up to date. Featuring absolutely gorgeous materials-based visuals and level mechanics and designs that don't simply feel like warmed-over rehashes of the Super NES game. It's good! And charming! And it has co-op play. That's great.

Wii U: Recommended
The original release of this game definitely stands out. The 3DS revamp added new material, yes, but Nintendo pushed an update for the console version that brought the two more or less to parity.

The one major benefit the 3DS version offers over Wii U is portability. If you're not playing on the go, though, you'll probably want the version with the high-resolution graphics. Much of the appeal of this game lies in its visuals, which suffer severely on 3DS.