Franchise Festival #78: Yoshi

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.

This week we’ll be swallowing whole the history of Yoshi. Cover art, unless otherwise noted, is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its volunteers tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium. Where two dates are presented, the first indicates a Japanese release and the second indicates a North American release unless otherwise noted.

Primary sources, especially interviews with the developers and contemporary reviews, will be cited below. I referred to the following secondary sources for an overview:

Table of Contents

Background
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)
Yoshi’s Story (1997/1998)
Yoshi’s Island DS (2007/2006)
Yoshi’s New Island (2014)
Yoshi’s Woolly World (2015)
Yoshi’s Crafted World (2019)

Background

Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. was a blockbuster hit on the Famicom / Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) when it launched in 1985. Designer Shigeru Miyamoto, never one to rest on his laurels, began to explore plans for a sequel as soon as development wrapped up. One such notion was a horse that could aid protagonist Mario.

Mario-World-Yoshi-Prototype-02
The original Yoshi sketch that hung on Shigeru Miyamoto’s wall as he dreamed about how to implement it in a game. Source: USGamer

Technical limitations prevented the implementation of the partner animal in Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988/1990), but the concept persisted and evolved into a rideable dinosaur by the end of the decade. The dramatic expansion of processing power and graphics technology on the Super Famicom / Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) finally made the character possible in Super Mario World (1990/1991). Yoshi, a species of sentient green dinosaur with the ability to eat enemies and walk across otherwise deadly spikes, was designed by Shigefumi Hino with assistance from longtime Mario co-developer Takashi Tezuka and made his celebrated debut in Mario’s fifth side-scrolling adventure. As with Donkey Kong‘s Jumpman/Mario before him, Yoshi was soon the protagonist of his own series.

30330-super-mario-world-2-yoshi-s-island-snes-front-cover

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)

Development on Yoshi’s Island began around 1990 and took five years. The bulk of this time was dedicated to crafting gameplay mechanics, including Yoshi’s distinctive flutter jump, and level design.  An all-star team comprised of Takashi Tezuka, Toshihiko Nakago, Shigefumi Hino, and Hideki Konno directed the project. Studio newcomers Yoshiaki Koizumi – a rising star best known for his work on the script of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993) – and Hisashi Nogami contributed to the realization of Shigefumi Hino’s famously detailed art design.

Though Super Mario Bros. had established the standard for 2D platformers in the 1980s, Yoshi’s Island was a direct response to another intellectual property (IP) which had stolen some of Nintendo’s thunder in the early 1990s: Rare’s Donkey Kong Country (1994). Like Yoshi’s Island, the Nintendo-published Donkey Kong Country was in development for a long period of time due to its idiosyncratic presentation; Rare’s spin on the classic 1980s arcade property saw the introduction of quasi-3D graphics that dazzled contemporary audiences but reduced the precision of its underlying platforming mechanics. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto was famously not a fan.

eemies
Yoshi’s Island features an uncommonly high number of enemies, like these shy-guys, drawn from Super Mario Bros. 2 / Super Mario Bros. USA. Source: Redx Jason Cordray

Miyamoto used his role as producer of Yoshi’s Island to push the game in an alternative direction. Though the gameplay fundamentals had been set in place by 1994, the release of Donkey Kong Country and a marker drawing of Mount Fuji worked up by Nogami led Miyamoto to encourage a hand-drawn aesthetic for Yoshi’s Island. As Tezuka and Konno had already moved on to begin developing the next-generation Super Mario 64 (1996) by this time, implementation of Yoshi’s Island‘s unprecedented art design was left almost entirely to Hino and Nogami. The remaining team members painstakingly drew each frame of pixel art by hand and then digitized them over the following year with programming support provided by second-party studio SPD Co., Ltd.

Of course, none of the game’s still-impressive visual flair would have been possible without Argonaut’s SuperFX2 microchip. This small piece of technology, successor to the SuperFX chip that powered Star Fox (1993), was included on the board within each Yoshi’s Island cartridge. As with its predecessor, the SuperFX2 allowed real-time resizing and manipulation of sprites in a manner which suggests 3D graphics.

27082-super-mario-world-2-yoshi-s-island-snes-screenshot-boss-battle
Bosses, like Burt the Bashful, are nearly always oversized versions of standard enemies which highlight the SuperFX2’s chip’s capacity to resize sprites. Source: MobyGames

Yoshi’s Island was released in Japan in August 1995 and in North America two months later under the name Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. In spite of its publication during the SNES’ twilight – the Nintendo 64 had already been shown off and would be available for purchase less than a year later – Yoshi’s Island was heralded as a masterpiece upon its release. Five years in development had allowed Nintendo to craft one of its most ambitious games to date.

Players take on the role of Yoshi as he navigates 48 sprawling 2D stages, protecting a baby version of Mario and attempting to gather collectible items which unlock bonus stages. These collectible items are divided into three categories: flowers, red coins, and stars. Each stage hides five flowers, which are often revealed by completing an environmental puzzle, and 20 red coins masquerading as standard gold coins. Yoshi can hold a maximum of 30 stars, though there are often more than 30 stars per stage; these collectibles function as a health gauge, depleting rapidly when Yoshi is hit by an enemy and loses control of Baby Mario.

babymariocry
Baby Mario floats away, crying very loudly, as Yoshi scrambles to rescue him and the star gauge counts down. Source: A+ Start

While Yoshi himself is largely invincible, Baby Mario is a helpless passenger on Yoshi’s back and must be protected from attacking foes. One hit from an enemy sends Yoshi’s ward floating away in a bubble as he cries loudly. If Yoshi is unable to pop the bubble and retrieve Baby Mario before his diminishing supply of stars is reduced to zero, a group of [Magikoopas] appears, whisks the child away, and forces the player to restart at their last checkpoint. Completing a stage with a full supply of stars depends on the player avoiding damage wherever possible.

Due to the focus on acquiring collectibles, rather than platforming gauntlets, Yoshi’s Island features the largest discrete stages so far produced for a Nintendo platformer. Yoshi’s flutter jump, which allows the dinosaur to briefly hover in an arc mid-leap, marks a departure from the precision that characterized the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Yoshi can also produce eggs by sticking out his tongue and consuming enemies, then hurl these eggs at distant objects. Projectiles are flung by tapping the B button, waiting for a rotating directional indicator to align with the intended target, and then tapping the B button again. Yoshi’s final major action is a ground pound that causes damage to enemies and drives certain environmental features into the earth. This technique, which resembles a move used by Wario in Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, would go on to become a key action in later core Super Mario Bros. titles.

27077-super-mario-world-2-yoshi-s-island-snes-screenshot-yoshi-turns
Yoshi takes to the sky as a chopper. Source: MobyGames

At certain points in stages, Yoshi can also transform into one of five vehicles by collecting a power-up. The helicopter form lets Yoshi fly, the mole tank form lets Yoshi dig through the ground, the submarine form allows Yoshi to move water and fire torpedoes, the train form features the ability to move along vertical and horizontal rail tracks, and the car form conveys the ability to access small holes. All forms are temporary. Three additional forms – a plane, a mushroom, and a tree – were planned but do not appear in the final game.

As Yoshi had evolved from being Mario’s rideable partner in Super Mario World, the developers introduce a new mount for Yoshi himself. Poochie appears in three levels to shepherd the dinosaur and Baby Mario across hazardous terrain. This charming dog would go on to become one of the Yoshi series’ few recurring non-player characters (NPCs).

poochie
Poochie is a very good boy. Source: Yoshi Wiki

The story of Yoshi’s Island, in the manner characteristic of its parent series, is slight. Baby Mario and Baby Luigi are dropped by a stork flying them to their parents and Mario must be transported by Yoshi as the two attempt to save Luigi from the clutches of Kamek, a unique Magikoopa making his series debut. A diminutive version of Super Mario Bros. series antagonist Bowser also appears to inaugurate a rivalry with Mario. The plot is largely limited to an opening and closing cutscene, though very brief animations between stages see Baby Mario being handed off, relay-race style, between different-colored Yoshis on their journey across the titular island.

96209-yoshi-s-island-super-mario-advance-3-game-boy-advance-screenshot
Yoshi aims an egg in the Game Boy Advance’s Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island. Source: MobyGames

A port to the Game Boy Advance in 2003 largely retains the look and feel of the SNES original, though its graphics are slightly simplified and new sound effects based on Yoshi’s later appearances are added. A 3DS adaptation modeled on a pop-up book made a brief appearance on a 2010 E3 demo reel but was never published. Despite the presence of SNES games on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS Virtual Console digital distribution networks, the original version of Yoshi’s Island would not be re-released until 2017’s Super Nintendo Classic miniature console. Nintendo claimed in a Forbes interview that the SuperFX chip and its successor had been difficult to emulate accurately on the Virtual Console. Happily, the appearance of Yoshi’s Island on the Switch’s Nintendo Switch Online service in 2019 made it widely available to a new generation of players who might otherwise have missed out on one of Nintendo’s greatest technical achievements.

50109-yoshi-s-story-nintendo-64-front-cover

Yoshi’s Story (1997/1998)

The Yoshi franchise nearly made a leap into 3D following its SNES debut. Argonaut, the studio behind cutting-edge polygonal rail shooter Star Fox (1993), developed a demo known as Yoshi 3D that predated even Nintendo’s work on Super Mario 64 (1996). The prototype was turned down and subsequently evolved into Croc: Legend of the Gobbos (1997). According to Argonaut founder Jez San, the prototype likely went on to have an outsized influence on Nintendo’s own forays into 3D on the Nintendo 64.

The series’ next 2D title, Yoshi’s Island 64, began development for the Nintendo 64DD before being shifted to a cartridge format when that disk-based peripheral proved to be a commercial disaster in Japan; at some point during this process, it was renamed Yoshi’s Story and underwent some tweaks to its visual style. The game was produced by Takashi Tezuka, directed by Hideki Konno, and scored by Kazumi Totaka (who also lent his voice to the character in this and all subsequent appearances). Art design was again led by Shigefumi Hino. While it would be reasonable to expect a follow-up designed by so many alumni of the series debut to resemble its predecessor, major alterations to the series’ gameplay and visual design make Yoshi’s Story a divisive sequel.

stage1-2prototype
Comparison of an image from the prototype (left) and an image from the final game (right) that are believed to be from the same portion of Stage 1-2. Source: Beta64

Baby Mario is gone, and an introductory cutscene instead centers on a curse cast by Baby Bowser that has transformed Yoshi’s Island into a pop-up storybook. Six differently-colored Baby Yoshis, hatch determined to reverse the curse. These six Yoshis, which effectively serve as the player’s extra lives, must explore stages represented by book pages and recover the fruit within to restore their home. Bonus black and white Yoshis with slightly advanced abilities augment the crew if their hidden eggs are discovered in the game world.

Though Yoshi looks a little different than his SNES version, now being rendered as a polygonal model within a 2.5D world inspired by real-world art materials, the controls are more or less the same as they had been in Yoshi’s Island. The player character can stick out his tongue to swallow enemies, turn them into eggs, and then fire them off at distant targets along an arc. Poochie returns, though this time he acts as a hint system for discovering hidden fruit rather than being a rideable companion. The flutter jump and ground pound likewise return. The most significant changes are the absence of Baby Mario, necessitating a more traditional health gauge for Yoshi, and a new objective system.

97873-yoshi-s-story-screenshot
So many shy-guys! The flower petals in the upper left act as Yoshi’s health gauge. Source: MobyGames

Rather than moving linearly through a series of areas while trying to amass three different sets of collectibles to open up bonus stages, as he had in Yoshi’s Island, Yoshi completes each stage by collecting 30 pieces of fruit across each of the game’s sprawling environments. Yoshi’s Story is broken into six worlds, represented as pages, and the player only plays through one of four stages on each page as they progress through the game. This has a surprising consequence for players who fail to read the instruction manual: the credits roll after only six stages, suggesting that the game is over when it is actually only 25% complete. Multiple runs are therefore required to see every stage in the game.

Yoshi’s Story reviewed very poorly at the time of its release and has seen no major critical reappraisal in the two decades hence. The general consensus suggested that its short playtime and simplistic mechanics were worthy only of a rental, rather than a full purchase, though this reading neglects the expansive nature of its scavenger hunt design. Poor reviews may have nixed the retail release of a Game Boy Advance version previewed by Nintendo to IGN in 1999 and then again publicly in April 2000, though this software may have simply been a tech demo with no plans for commercial publication; enterprising fans have managed to capture and preserve the demo online. Yoshi’s Story was eventually made available to Japanese, European and North American  players through the Wii and Wii U eShops, while China received a version on the iQue platform in 2004. Yoshi’s Story would be the last internally-developed core Yoshi title as of 2019.

73972-yoshi-s-island-ds-nintendo-ds-front-cover

Yoshi’s Island DS (2007/2006)

Yokohama-based studio Artoon was founded in 1999 and developed properties for other publishers, including Microsoft’s notorious mascot platformer Blinx: The Time Sweeper (2002). It began to work as a third-party developer on the Yoshi franchise with 2004’s spinoff Yoshi: Topsy-Turvy (more on this below). Artoon’s next intersection with Nintendo’s puzzle-platformer IP would be the first direct sequel to Yoshi’s Island, supervised by senior Nintendo producer Takashi Tezuka. This DS game was originally promoted as Yoshi’s Island 2, though the name was changed to Yoshi’s Island DS between its debut at E3 2006 and its North American release later that year.

For the first time since 1995, a Yoshi title emphasizes the dinosaur’s aptitude for protecting diminutive versions of its parent series’ protagonists. This time, however, the baby roster is expanded to include Peach, Donkey Kong, and Wario in addition to Mario. Baby Bowser also makes a brief appearance as a temporary ally midway through the adventure. The story, which is much more extensive than earlier series entries, concerns a plot by Kamek to kidnap the Mushroom Kingdom’s infants. Yoshi is tasked with helping Baby Mario and his friends rescue the region’s progeny.

kangaroo
Animal buddies, like this kangaroo, offer new movement mechanics. Source: World of Longplays

Gameplay is virtually identical to Yoshi’s Island, though it plays out across the DS’ two screens rather than a single television screen. Each of the game’s five worlds features eight stages tackled in a linear order, including boss encounters in Stages 4 and 8. Acquiring all collectibles in each stage of a world, as in Yoshi’s Island, opens up a challenging bonus stage.

The chief mechanical distinction that sets Yoshi’s Island DS apart from its predecessors are the different attributes associated with its baby characters. Baby Mario allows Yoshi to dash and use eggs which bounce off of walls, Baby Peach enhances Yoshi’s flutter jump but prevents eggs from bouncing, Baby Donkey Kong lets Yoshi climb on vines and use exploding eggs, Baby Wario attracts coins and opens up paths otherwise obscured by magnet blocks or platforms, and Baby Bowser breathes fire. Once they have been collected by defeating a world’s boss, the babies can be traded off at Stork Spots placed throughout each stage.

dk
Baby DK is so helpful. Source: World of Longplays

Yoshi’s Island DS released to generally positive critical reception, though its strong art design and successful recreation of Yoshi’s Island‘s strengths were diminished by a lack of innovation. While a Virtual Console port on the Wii U made the game accessible to players who didn’t own a DS, it exacerbated the problems associated with the gap between action on the top and bottom screens. The next Yoshi title, rather than addressing concerns about the absence of experimentation, would double down on the series’ increasingly conservative identity.

284964-yoshi-s-new-island-nintendo-3ds-front-cover

Yoshi’s New Island (2014)

Artoon was absorbed into parent company AQ Interactive in 2010, where it developed The Last Story (2011) for the Wii. AQ Interactive itself then merged with Marvelous Interactive and LiveWare to form Marvelous AQL in 2011. In the midst of these corporate acquisitions, Artoon co-founder and Sonic the Hedgehog creator Naoto Oshima left AQ Interactive to form Arzest with other former Artoon employees on June 25, 2010. Unlike its predecessor, Arzest became almost exclusively known for Nintendo-published titles beginning with 2011’s Wii Play: Motion. Arzest was soon tapped to develop the next handheld release in the Yoshi franchise under the oversight of producer Takashi Tezuka.

111800-yoshi-s-new-island-screenshot.jpg
The player must rapidly tap a button to successfully swallow a metal shy-guy and get access to the metal eggdozer. Source: MobyGames

Yoshi’s New Island was published on the Nintendo 3DS in 2014, and is still more traditional than Yoshi’s Island DS. The plot serves as a direct sequel to Yoshi’s Island, revealing that the stork delivered Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to the wrong parents at the end of the series debut. While the error is being corrected, Kamek strikes and separates Baby Mario from his brother once again. Yoshi discovers the abandoned child on a floating landmass called Egg Island and sets out on another quest to reunite Baby Mario with the stork and Baby Luigi after both are captured by Baby Bowser.

As this narrative outline suggests, no babies other than Mario are available to carry in Yoshi’s New Island. The gameplay consequently features less mechanical variance than Yoshi’s Island DS. Its most significant update to the original game’s template is the addition of several new egg types: mega eggdozers are generated by swallowing giant shy-guy enemies and destroy obstacles, while metal eggdozers are generated by swallowing metal shy-guy enemies and roll horizontally across the ground. Flutter wings and golden flutter wings, which respectively grant indefinite flutter jumping and invincibility, allow even players unfamiliar with platformer mechanics to make their way through the game’s stages.

111795-yoshi-s-new-island-screenshot.jpg
The visual design is indeed a bit odd, though at least Blargg looks cooler than ever. Source: MobyGames

In addition to its intensely conservative narrative and mechanics, Yoshi’s New Island‘s presentation came under fire from contemporary critics. Characters are fully polygonal but are juxtaposed awkwardly against hand-drawn backgrounds reminiscent of the SNES classic. The audio was similarly maligned, with Masayoshi Ishi’s kazoo-heavy score a far cry from Kazumi Totaka’s iconic Yoshi’s Island soundtrack. Nintendo had staked the series’ identify on nostalgia, but faced diminishing returns as Yoshi failed to evolve nearly two decades after his debut adventure.

310309-yoshi-s-woolly-world-wii-u-front-cover

Yoshi’s Woolly World (2015)

Development responsibilities for the next Yoshi game shifted from Arzest to Good-Feel, a studio founded in 2005 by Etsunobu Ebisu and led by Ebisu’s fellow Konami alum Shigeharu Umezaki. Among other titles, Umezaki had produced Nintendo 64 platformers like Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (1997/1998) and Castlevania (1999) while serving as CEO of Konami’s now-shuttered Kobe branch. Good-Feel developed numerous edutainment titles for the DS in the 2000s and an entry in the Wario Land franchise (Wario Land: Shake It, 2008), but became especially well known as a second-party Nintendo-affiliated studio with the hugely popular Kirby’s Epic Yarn in 2010.

IMG_20160113_115036
Early version of Yoshi’s Woolly World featuring a very different Yoshi and environmental design. Source: Twinfinite

Unused data discovered on the Yoshi’s Woolly World disc in 2016 suggests that Good-Feel’s next major release after Kirby’s Epic Yarn – and the fifth entry in the Yoshi franchise – was initially planned as a Wii release. Icons exist for the Wiimote and associated motion controls, while its Yoshis are comprised of yarn outlines and its world resembles the relatively flat 2D space of Kirby’s Epic Yarn. By the time of its reveal under the tentative name Yarn Yoshi during a 2013 Nintendo Direct, however, the Takashi Tezuka-supervised game had evolved into a state largely similar to the final retail release. Further polish was added between this announcement and its playable debut at E3 2014, with the renamed Yoshi’s Woolly World being released to widespread critical acclaim on Nintendo’s Wii U platform in 2015.

The most immediately noticeable feature of Yoshi’s Woolly World is its spectacularly detailed rendering of Yoshi’s Island. The landscape and characters are all crafted from what appear to be real-world materials, with the hand-stitched fabric look of Yoshi standing out as a particularly cute example; Good-Feel’s style was so instantly iconic that Nintendo actually produced and sold Yoshi and Poochie amiibo figurines made out of yarn. Though the overall look had been pioneered five years earlier in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the integration of high-definition graphics and a comparatively expansive 2.5D world made its later implementation more successful.

91938-yoshi-s-woolly-world-screenshot
Two Yoshis bounce through a knitted environment held up with strings hanging from the top of the screen. You can’t get cuter than this. Source: MobyGames

Though its presentation is highly innovative, Yoshi’s Woolly World‘s narrative is traditional by contrast. Kamek has turned most of the island’s Yoshi population into balls of yarn and it’s up to the species’ most recognizable green variant to rescue the rest. For the first time in a core Yoshi title since 1998’s Yoshi’s Story, no baby characters are present. Each stage across the game’s five worlds only requires the player character to cross a goal line for completion, but ambitious players are encouraged to collect bonus items hidden behind scenery or invisible to the naked eye. These collectibles are often uncovered by throwing eggs at odd environmental features or unspooling obstacles through the use of Yoshi’s tongue.

Collectibles are divided into four broad categories: beads, flowers, stamp patches, and yarn bundles. Accumulated beads can be spent on consumable power badges that enhance Yoshi’s abilities when applied at the start of a stage. Collecting all flowers in a world opens up a challenging bonus stage. Stamp patches are traded for stamps that could be used when creating images on the Wii U’s MiiVerse social network before that service was discontinued in 2017. Finding a stage’s five yarn bundles frees a new Yoshi, which bears a unique pattern and can be played in subsequent stages. Yoshis with patterns resembling other Nintendo characters can be unlocked by scanning an associated real-world amiibo figurine on the Wii U GamePad.

IMG_20191205_211920600
No wait, you can get cuter – Yarn Yoshi and Yarn Poochie amiibos! Source: SingingBrakeman

A handful of other gameplay updates set Yoshi’s Woolly World apart from its predecessors in more ways than its appearance and stage progression. Enemies are no longer defeated outright when struck by eggs, but are instead entangled with yarn and then squished when jumped upon. The game’s difficulty hews closer to Yoshi’s Story than Yoshi’s Island, though it offers opportunities to reduce or increase challenge depending on player preference: engaging Mellow Mode makes Yoshi invincible, while bonus stages constitute some of the series’ trickiest platforming gauntlets. A two player mode also makes its series debut, allowing less skilled players to partner with more skilled ones to explore the game’s lush environments.

In spite of the Wii U’s infamously low rate of ownership, Yoshi’s Woolly World sold over 1,000,000 units by 2016. A faithful 3DS port called Yoshi and Poochie’s Woolly World (2017) scaled back the graphics but gave Yoshi’s canine partner greater prominence and added animated sequences starring the game’s characters. Though some outlets criticized Yoshi’s Woolly World for its low level of difficulty, it was generally regarded as the series’ strongest entry since its inaugural title two decades earlier.

563667-yoshi-s-crafted-world-nintendo-switch-front-cover

Yoshi’s Crafted World (2019)

Yoshi’s next adventure was again developed by Good-Feel. Yoshi’s Crafted World made its debut at E3 2017, though the Nintendo Switch game would not be published until nearly two years later. These delays might be attributed to Yoshi’s Crafted World‘s status as a rare example of a Nintendo IP developed using an off-the-shelf engine: Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 powers the series’ sixth entry.

Yoshi’s Woolly World and Yoshi’s Crafted World art director Ayano Otsuka once again uses real-world arts and craft materials to inform the game’s visual palette. Rather than emulating fabric, though, the areas of Yoshi’s Crafted World are primarily comprised of  household objects. Yoshi can even don a cardboard box which confers additional hit points; different cardboard box designs are acquired as the game progresses, in the style of Yoshi’s Woolly World‘s alternate character patterns, and special boxes can be accessed by scanning amiibo figurines associated with the Mario franchise.

972435-yoshi-s-crafted-world-nintendo-switch-screenshot-intro-to
Poochie pups are running wild in the background versions of stages. Source: MobyGames

Gameplay is generally similar to Yoshi’s Woolly World, as relatively simple but lengthy stages can be easily completed if the player focuses only on reaching the end credits. Hidden collectibles again serve to enhance replayability and direct the player’s eye towards the ingenuous use of virtual found materials in level design. Each world features a devious bonus stage that can be played once Yoshi acquires all flowers in its other stages.

The most significant update to the franchise in Yoshi’s Crafted World, aside from its revised visual design, is enhanced depth. Yoshi can now fling his eggs into the background to hit enemies or environmental details hiding new paths or collectibles. Paths sometimes extend into a stage’s background, too, permitting Yoshi to occasionally move along the z axis for the first time in the franchise. Finally, each stage can also be rotated 180 degrees once Yoshi reaches the end goal; this reveals an alternate reverse path in the background of the stage’s initial route. Yoshi must find adorable Poochie pups and escort them to a second goal once the stage has been rotated.

488577-yoshi-s-crafted-world-screenshot
In this stage, Yoshi must hurl eggs at oncoming 3D obstacles while moving left and right on a 2D plane atop a vehicle that’s rapidly accelerating into the background. Source: MobyGames

Mellow Mode returns, as does two-player couch co-operative play. This time, though, one player’s Yoshi can ride the other player’s Yoshi; this makes the game even more accessible than its predecessor for young players or those unfamiliar with platformer mechanics. Yoshi’s Crafted World reviewed well upon its release and was another commercial success for Good-Feel, cementing the studio’s reputation as a reliable shepherd for one of Nintendo’s most conservative IPs.

135572-yoshi-s-safari-snes-front-cover

Spinoffs

Paradoxically, the Yoshi series’ spinoffs actually precede its first core entry. For the purpose of this article, these include any title primarily starring Yoshi but which is not a puzzle-platformer. The first such release appeared in 1991/1992.

Yoshi, a falling block puzzle game developed by Game Freak and published simultaneously on the NES and Gameboy, sees the player attempting to match identical enemy icons by swapping two at a time as new icons fall from the screen’s upper edge. The gameplay is reminiscent of falling block pioneer Tetris (1984). A two player mode, in which players compete for a high score, is present in the home console version.

150298-yoshi-game-boy-screenshot-first-level-in-progress.png
Yoshi looks on as Mario does the heavy lifting in the Game Boy version of Yoshi. Source: MobyGames

The Yoshi franchise’s spinoffs drew more explicit connections to Tetris with Yoshi’s Cookie (1992/1993) as developers Tose (NES/Gameboy version) and Bullet-Proof Software (SNES version) enlisted the aid of Tetris designer Alexey Pajitnov to create its puzzles. Its gameplay, however, was less reminiscent of Pajitnov’s noteworthy Soviet export than Yoshi had been; Yoshi’s Cookie sees players attempting to rotate full rows and columns of patterned cookie tiles in an attempt to match them rather than managing falling icons. A debug mode present in the Game Boy version confirms that the game was originally in development by Bullet-Proof Software as Hermetica, a long-lost title only shown off at the 1992 Consumer Electronic Show, though a full picture of how that demo evolved into Yoshi’s Cookie remain unclear.

145173-yoshi-s-cookie-snes-screenshot-vs-mode-line-up-the-5-cookies.png
Two (non-Yoshi) competitors go head to head in the two-player mode of the SNES’ Yoshi’s Cookie. Source: MobyGames

The franchise’s next spinoff is among the most surprising titles in Nintendo’s catalog, despite being developed internally by Nintendo itself: first-person shooter Yoshi’s Safari was released on the SNES in 1993 to support the previous year’s underused Super Scope peripheral. In the game, the player sees from Mario’s first-person perspective as he rides Yoshi and fires eggs at enemies across 12 stages. The player only controls the targeting reticle in single-player mode, as Yoshi moves around automatically, while a co-operative mode features a second player manually controlling the eponymous dinosaur.

534092-yoshi-s-safari-snes-screenshot-mid-level-boss-battle-against.png
Mario and Yoshi gun down a Sledge Bro in Yoshi’s Safari. Can you believe this got made by family-friendly Nintendo during the fallout from Mortal Kombat (1992)? Source: MobyGames

The Game Boy Advance’s Yoshi Topsy-Turvy (2004/2005), which bore the rather unwieldy name Yoshi Universal Gravitation in Europe, was Artoon’s first title associated with the Yoshi IP. Using a tilt-sensor built into the cartridge, players angle their device left or right to alter the pull of gravity in the game’s 2D stages. An onscreen Yoshi can simultaneously jump or stick its tongue out using the Game Boy Advance’s face buttons. Yoshi’s actions must be combined with gravity alteration to acquire all collectibles of a specified type in each stage.

tt
Yoshi rides a metal ball manipulated by the player tilting their Game Boy Advance left or right in Yoshi: Topsy Turvy. Source: Diamond Longplays

The final Yoshi spinoff, at the time of writing in December 2019, is Yoshi Touch & Go (2005). Developed internally by Nintendo Entertainment and Development as GameCube title “Balloon Trip,” a DS prototype was exhibited at E3 2004 and was popular enough that development was shifted to that platform. The update was fortuitous, as Yoshi Touch & Go’s heavily touchscreen-oriented mechanics served as an effective tech demo for the recently unveiled portable platform.

touchngo
Though Yoshi moves to the right automatically in Yoshi Touch & Go, the player here has drawn a cloud platform and hurled an egg using the stylus. Source: World of Longplays

The short game consists of variations on two primary stage designs: one in which a falling Baby Mario must be guided to the ground through the judicious placement of clouds, and one in which a succession of Yoshis move automatically through an obstacle course and must be aided in throwing eggs or by having the player drop new platforms. The DS’ stylus is the only input mechanism, and it is used to draw clouds or arcs for thrown eggs to travel along. Though the story mode is brief, multiplayer and challenge modes offer some replayability.

Conclusion

Yoshi may have begun as Mario’s trusty partner in Super Mario World – or rather as a hopelessly ambitious goal in the mind’s eye of Shigeru Miyamoto – but he became so much more over the course of two decades. With Yoshi’s Island, the greatest level designers at Nintendo laid out a template that was so successful that successive internally and externally-developed entries during the 1990s and 2000s were bound to imitate rather than innovate. It was only with the introduction of Good-Feel’s highly tactile arts and crafts visual palette and the associated updates to gameplay that the franchise began to carve out a unique identity in the 2010s. With the long-overdue re-release of its debut title on the SNES Classic and Nintendo Switch Online, the Yoshi series seems reinvigorated and ready to impress again in the 2020s.


What do you think about the Yoshi series? Which is your favorite entry? How about your favorite enemy or boss character? How could the series meaningfully evolve without losing its identity in the future? Which came first: the Yoshi or the egg? Let’s discuss below.

Here is a tentative list of upcoming Franchise Festival subjects:

  • #79: SSX – December 13
  • #80: Dark Souls – December 20 (plus an interview with Bonfireside Chat‘s Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross)

As an exciting announcement, and to make you aware that this is on its way during the hectic holiday season, I’d also like to announce that a Franchise Festival podcast will make its debut on January 1, 2020, and be published monthly on the first of the month after that. More info to come, of course!