Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Appreciation of the Past - Yoshi's Island

How do you top the best 2D platformer ever made? Simple. You make a sequel that is even better! That is what Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was, and still remains to this day.

Yoshi's Island is an incredible game, even by Nintendo's high standards. The graphics were presented in a very unique "crayon" style that made the entire game look like a drawing. It was cel-shading before cel-shading even existed. Then, of course, there was Koji Kondo's increidbly moody and chatchy soundtrack filled with happy forest tunes and haunting dungeon themes.

But, where Yoshi's Island truly shines, and what makes it a classic, is the incredible gameplay and variety. The gameplay itself consisted of jumping, ground-pounding, and throwing eggs. The game mechanics were very fun, but what truly pushed Yoshi's Island past it's predocessor was the incredible amount of variety in which the player utilized the gameplay mechanics. The level design was incredibely varied throughout the games 8 world, utilizing careful platforming, precise egg throwing, running, and puzzles to make each level feel like it's own beast. No single level can be approached the same; whether it was a level drenched in complete darkness, or one that had mud as the running platform thereby making Yoshi run slower and jump shorther. Plus, the game had many transformations for Yoshi to utilize in various environments. The result was a game expereince that never got boring because the same tactics in one level don't work in a different one.

Furthermore, the boss fights were increidbly varied, and required a sharp mind and skill to take down. Whether it was fighting a raven on the moon, or taking down a frog from teh inside-out, each boss was unique and challenging. The most impressive boss fight in the game, however, is the final battle against Baby Bowser. As if the game didn't have enough variety in gameplay already, the game takes a complete detour from the norm and turns into a psuedo-Fantasy Zone style game, with Yoshi throwing eggs into the background where a giant Baby Bowser runs ever closer to Yoshi trying to crush him. The end result was something increidble, because the game actually forces the player to execute a game mechanic that they've been using the entire game in a whole new way. The change made the final battle very exciting and full of tension, because the player had to adapt to the new situation in the game's final encounter.

In my opinon, Yoshi's Island's final boss battle is one of Nintendo's greatest achievements; because it is a shining example of what Nintendo does best, and that is innovate gameplay (plus, the music is simply incredible). There was so much innovation in Yoshi's Island alone that it became a classic, and stands as one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time, if not the best.

So, what is it that modern developers can learn from Yoshi's Island? It is that a game thrives on it's variety and depth of gameplay; which is something that has been lacking considerably in videogames nowadays. The average length of videogame these days is around 8 hours. Why is that? Also, these short games aren't usually the type that one will go back and play multiple times. Why is that? It is because they lack gameplay variety. A videogame's gameplay needs to interact with every other factor of the game so that variety can be achieved. Level design is absolutely crucial to this, because if every level is the same, then the player will simply be initiating the same actions over and over. Furthermore, enemies must be diverse as well, or every action to take down an enemy will be executed over and over by the player as well. Repitition and predictability of gameplay does not make for an engaging experience. Nintendo understood this, and that is why Yoshi's Island is filled with gameplay diversity and unique gameplay execution. Most modern games beieleve it's fine to have repititous gameplay if the story is engaging or if the game is visually stunning. Story can only carry a game so far, and if I'm only playing the game for story, it simply ends up feeling like a chore to play through, and the story isn't worth slogging through hours of boring gameplay. And visuals tend to grow dull over time; once the initial "wow factor" is gone, the visuals become completely reliant upon art design, and if that isn't up to snuff, then it just becomes boring. Games should never be made to play through once, especially if the game length is only 8 to 10 hours. Reliance on story and graphics is what is killing innovation in modern games.

However, these problems do not face Nintendo. Super Mario Galaxy felt like the spiritual sequel to both Super Mario 64 and Yoshi's Island. As the gameplay variety in Galaxy was superb, and a fantastic display of how to develop a game around gameplay, while still having excellent graphics, story, and music.

Yoshi's Island showed me just how creative a game developer could be in not just execution of graphics and music, but gameplay as well. When gameplay is creative and unique, the player can become enthralled in it, and that leads to total satisfaction. Satisfaction is what all games should provide from their gameplay, and Yoshi's Island showed the world just how satisfying gameplay could be.

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