Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yoshi's Story (N64) Retro Review

This month is light on new releases thus far, so we'll have to make due with another retro review. It's the colorful and fun storybook classic, Yoshi's Story for the Nintendo 64. Let's take this one off the shelf and start reading, eh?

Not Exactly A Storybook Ending

Shigeru Miyamoto is one of the most acclaimed, if not the most, game directors in the video game industry's history. However, even he isn't above making a misstep here and there. Enter Yoshi's Story. While a grand idea on paper, the execution isn't necessarily a storybook ending.

Six baby Yoshis awake from their slumber with their island caught in the middle of chaos. Baby Bowser intends to be on Santa's naughty list for yet another year in a row by stealing the Yoshis' Super Happy Tree and flattening their world into a pop-up book. The plot may be grim, but the Yoshis are adamant on retrieving their tree and shelving Baby Bowser for good. While there are twenty-four different levels, only six can be played during a given playthrough. Depending on which path you embark on, the story changes until the obvious and given conclusion of Baby Bowser's defeat. And so the Yoshis' journey begins.

As stated there are indeed twenty-four levels to explore, but you won't be able to access all of them in one runthrough of the game. Instead, there are six chapters to the tale of the Yoshis, and each chapter has four levels. You select one of the levels to play through, and after that level is completed, you move onto the next chapter. Depending on how many hulking happy hearts you collect, there's three in each level, you open up new levels to choose from. So if you don't collect any of these giant hearts in a level, you'll have access to only one level in the next chapter. If you collect all three, the next chapter will have all four levels open to choose from. But you still only get to play one level in each chapter.

The fruit eaten will show up as a frame around the game.

Yoshi's Story doesn't play as your standard, typical 2D platformer. There is no running to the stage exit. Instead, you complete a level by gobbling up thirty fruit of any variety. Once thirty fruit have been consumed, you check out of the level and move on with your journey. There's several types of fruit, but by far the most valuable fruit are the melons which there are exactly thirty of in each level. By eating fruit of the same variety in a row, your point score multiplies. Since melons are the most abundant fruit in a level, it's imperative to eat as many melons as you can find to get the highest score in a level. At the start of the game, you randomly choose a favorite fruit for your team of Yoshis. This fruit, either grapes, bananas, apples, or watermelons, will refill your Yoshi's health completely when eaten. It's their lucky fruit. Still though, for the best tally of points, melons are the way to go.

Yoshi has a bone to pick with these dragons!

And these melons aren't easy to obtain either. At least not all of them. They're hidden in the ground, inside poles that need to be ground pounded, mini-games that need to be won such as running to a marked goal with a stack of melons that your Yoshi has to careful balance, and inside one-chance prize bubbles. Usually it's just easier to eat up thirty random fruit and breeze through a level, but again, if points are important to you, then you'll want to search and gobble up all that you can. It'd be nice if there were point scores to beat that would unlock hidden content, but gathering and gobbling melons is just for show and nothing more. So what's the point really then?

Controlling Yoshi is very similar to how he plays in Yoshi's Island. The difference is when Yoshi gets hit, he doesn't lose a screaming toddler. Instead, he loses some health which can be restored by eating some fruit or an unsuspecting enemy. When a Yoshi fails, depletes his health to zero, or falls into a pit, Baby Bowser's minions grab Yoshi and capture him. Then you have to choose a different colored Yoshi (up to seven others) to continue the last Yoshi's work. Though the game isn't entirely on the challenging side, really, so you should be able to keep most of your Yoshis intact.

This tower is something out of Vertigo.

Yoshi is a very agile little fellow with plenty of moves in his arsenal. The most noteworthy feature of Yoshi is his ability to chow down foes and poop up eggs. These eggs can be used as weapons, targeted at enemies, and then thrown. You have much more room to maneuver when aiming instead of the fixed up and down targeting of Yoshi's Island. It's much simpler to aim eggs at enemies in Yoshi's Story. The multicolored dinosaurs also can flutter-jump. That is, jump and then hover for a brief period of time. Then there's the Mario-patented ground pound, perfect for smashing open crates and stomping down wooden planks. In all, Yoshi controls a bit too loosely for my liking, but other than that, the game controls nicely.

As aforementioned, there's six chapters in total. Each chapter has its own theme from jungles to lava caverns to oceans to Baby Bowser's castle. Each chapters also has four levels to choose from numbered from 1-4. The higher the number, the more challenging the level is going to be. Levels are full of gimmicks, challenges, and enemies both new and familiar to fans of Yoshi's Island including those lovable shy guys. Levels are pretty long and have four warp points each to help get around levels more quickly. The Yoshis will definitely need them as it's easy to miss melons or any other desired fruit to clear a level fast. One level will put you inside a flooding maze where it's easy to get lost searching for delicious yummy delights, while another will have you running from shy guy ships in the distance blasting cannonballs at you. In short, there's a lot of variety in the levels, and it's worth playing through the game multiple times to see them all.

Tricks not treats abound in Baby Bowser's castle.

Yoshi's Story isn't a terribly long game. Even so, you can save and continue after every chapter and pick up your progress from there. The story mode itself will take most players but a handful of hours to complete. This is where things get tricky. If you're an old-school gamer, you're much more likely to try out getting top scores, scouring every level for melons. Everyone else may see no reason to do such a thing, and they wouldn't necessarily be wrong. With no incentive besides high scores to collect, there's nothing to gain from gathering all the melons in each level.

Visually, Yoshi's Story is one of the more impressive 2D platformers on the Nintendo 64. Everything from the denim jean backgrounds to the cardboard mountains and trees scream "style". The game runs at a steady clip which is always tough for a graphically-intensive N64 game such as this one. Meanwhile, the soundtrack recycles the same melodies quite often, but it's nothing that grows grating or annoying. Overall, a truly impressive presentation package for this storybook game.

Level selection occurs in this pop-up book.

Ultimately, Yoshi's Story is an entertaining experiment, but it's over far too soon to shell out the original fifty or sixty bucks to play through it. With the game on the Wii Virtual Console for ten bucks, there's much more to love about the game at that price. Even then, Yoshi's Story remains a rather flawed game. Pick it up if you're curious, otherwise steer clear as there's not much to this twenty-four level title.

[SuperPhillip Says: 6.5/10]

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