Let us get this out there straight away: Yoshi’s Story is no Yoshi’s Island. If you were expecting a game with the same challenge, length and fun as Yoshi’s original solo adventure, you will be disappointed. It’s no surprise they changed the title from Yoshi’s Island 64, as that would have been an insult to the original game. If you’re an open-minded platform or Yoshi fan, though, you will likely still find some fun with Yoshi’s Story.
At the offset, it’s obvious that this game is geared towards kids. From the intro’s colourful pop-up picture-book story to the cheerful music with various Yoshi characters singing, you would be forgiven for thinking this game might not be for you. Persevering and pressing Start, however, will give you two main modes of play: Story and Trial. Story has you tackling six pages of the storybook, with you selecting from one of four levels on each page. The number of levels you can choose from depends on the number of hearts you found on the previous level, though. If you found two hearts in the previous level, you will be able to choose from an extra two more on the next page. Generally, the fourth level on each page is the more difficult one.
Yoshi retains all of his familiar moves from his previous game, like flutter jumping, pounding the ground, using his tongue to eat fruit and enemies, as well as making and throwing eggs. You can choose which Yoshi to play as at the start of each level, as well as picking your “lucky fruit” at the start of the story mode. Eating a lucky fruit in the game will recover health fully and reward players with more points. There is no finish line in the levels of Yoshi’s Story. Instead the goal is to eat 30 fruits that are dotted about and hidden in every stage. Each coloured Yoshi has a favourite fruit, and eating it will recover more health than normal. There are even two secret Yoshi types to be found in specific stages of the game, which recover more health upon eating fruit and enemies. Losing a Yoshi in a level will mean it is gone permanently on that play-through, unless you find the hidden White Shy Guy in certain levels who can bring one of the Yoshis back. After picking the next Yoshi the level will start at the last checkpoint, but if all of them are lost, resulting in a Game Over, players will have to start from the beginning of the game again.
Familiar enemies appear in the game; Shy Guys in particular, as well as Piranha Plants, Cheep Cheeps and Boos. The main antagonist is Baby Bowser who has stolen the Super Happy Tree from the Yoshis. For most players, they won’t pose many problems; the game is incredibly easy. Even the small amounts of bosses you come across are laughable. You might find yourself losing the odd Yoshi from falling on spikes or getting eaten by giant fish which instantly cause defeat, but for the most part, Yoshi’s Story does not pose much of a challenge to the average player. Nor does the length of the game in general, and gamers could literally speed through and view the end credits within about 30 minutes. It will take a few replays to unlock all of the levels, which then open up in Trial mode, but clearing the game will not take long at all. It would have been hard to justify the hefty price tag of this game at launch considering the time it takes to clear it, despite Shigeru Miyamoto’s claims that it had huge replay score-attack value.
Despite the short main game, though, there is still a lot of fun to be had through Trial mode. Once a level in the story is beaten, you can run through it collecting fruit and achieving a high score. The key to getting a high score is eating as many melons as possible. Melons are the Yoshis’ favourite fruit, and there are only 30 of them in every level (the exact amount needed to clear a stage). These pieces of fruit are in more secretive locations, with some involving using Yoshi’s nose to pinpoint the areas they are hidden. By holding the R button, the screen will zoom in on Yoshi, and he will sniff around for clues of hidden secrets. Get closer to a secret and Yoshi will sniff faster, with speech bubbles appearing above him to indicate something is near. If right on top of it, he will shout “Pound the ground!” and doing so will reveal whatever is hidden; normally a melon. Poochy the dog makes his reappearance from Yoshi’s Island, although he cannot be ridden on like last time. He now serves as another means of picking out the location of hidden items. Collecting coins and defeating enemies also contribute to your score. The melon-only play-through sessions can be a lot of fun and pretty challenging, and it’s this area of the game that shines the most.
In terms of graphics, Yoshi’s Story uses a 2.5D approach, which works really well and looks lovely. The levels are made up of some beautiful, smooth and colourful details, including denim for sky blue backgrounds and patchwork for plains that Yoshi walks on. The water effects in particular are gorgeous. Some underground levels have newspaper cuttings torn off and stuck on the sides of walls, featuring words like “N64” and “Zelda.” All of this gives Yoshi’s Story character and uniqueness not found in other games at the time. Yoshi’s sprite himself is extremely animated, which brings out his personality a lot more. He always bobs around, dancing on the spot and singing, and even growls at enemies as they approach. There was no shortness of attention to Yoshi’s model, which brings him to life a lot more, rather than him just standing around being boring.
As mentioned, Yoshi will sing, or hum, if you leave him idle, since this is the first game in which Yoshi gets his proper voice. There were plans to use the original voice he had in Super Mario World, but this didn’t go ahead in the end. The voice he got here has been his standard voice in all future games featuring him, bar New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Adding to the great attention to detail the developers placed on Yoshi, each coloured Yoshi has a slightly different voice. It is interesting to notice that as you play with each one throughout the game. The soundtrack itself is also one of the higher points of Yoshi’s Story. Levels reuse the same main theme for the game, but with different styles and instruments, sort of in an expansion of how Super Mario World did the same thing. A variety of genres have been used across the game, with standouts being a lively Athletic-type theme and a pretty cool take on rap that has a good beat and a guy saying “Yo-shi!” throughout. The theme played in Baby Bowser’s Castle is especially amusing, seeming to have derived from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but being darker and more sinister. If you get down to low health, the music will change to a slower pace, emphasising Yoshi’s weakened state and making you more aware. Possibly the most annoying part of the soundtrack is the song the Yoshis sing at the end of each level, so be prepared! The soundtrack doesn’t really compare to other games on the N64, like Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie, but it does a good job and certainly the tunes stick in your head.
Yoshi’s Story is by no means a bad game. It is a cute and fun little platformer that obviously was intended to be played by a younger generation. If you go in not expecting a game on par with the excellent Yoshi’s Island, then anyone can still find some enjoyment with this one. If you are interested in picking it up and don’t have an N64 now, it’s available on the Virtual Console for 1,000 Nintendo Points.