Yoshi’s Island Tour, Part 17: The Best and the Worst

July 29th, 2013 by Reed2 comments so far

Shocking Discovery Time! After playing this game since 1995, I just realized that Bumpties (the blue, penguin enemies) can steal Baby Mario! This almost never comes up, since they can’t damage you directly, and their primary threat is knocking you toward pits/instantly lethal hazards. You almost have to go out of your way to get damaged near one. But if you do, it will flip out, running and jumping toward Mario until it catches him. There are obviously several enemies that actively kidnap Mario, but they’re usually very upfront about that purpose, and it’s usually the primary threat those enemies present. The Bumpties have an entirely different gimmick. This game already goes above and beyond in terms of effort, and this is just another example. Someone went to the trouble to program that behavior and animate a couple extra frames. It really adds to the penguins’ playful nature (and ties in nicely with Mario carrying penguin babies around in Super Mario 64).

As the name implies, Items are Fun spotlights several of the game’s tools. All three melon types, Puffins, and a couple other toys all come into play. But the stage’s layout is even more intriguing. At the very beginning, you can tell there’s something up in the ceiling, but can’t reach it (the only enemies present can’t be bounced on). Even stranger, the goal ring is on the very next screen. But there is a pipe right before that…

The pipe leads to an underground area that will supply both eggs and Puffins. While the puffins are just there for fun and variety when they appear in the SNES game, here we need to use their boomeranging qualities to pick up some red coins and flowers. Then we come to the focal point of the stage. There’s a room with a cloud in it. Striking the cloud will spawn a door. It will naturally fall onto a floor of sponge dirt, but if that’s destroyed, it will fall to the floor below. That is, unless you hit the ! switch in the room, in which case it will land on a ledge that creates. Regardless, this will lead to a single-screen underground room, which will then lead to a snowy, icy, outdoor area.

What the game doesn’t come out and tell you is that there are three different areas that look very similar. The little “transition” rooms first hint at this, with their borders decorated with red, yellow, or green blocks, depending on where the door was resting when you entered it.

Entering through the red passage will lead to a snowy room that eventually gives us a fire melon. This allows us to access a pipe that’s been frozen over. On the other side, we have a rather tricky maze of tightly packed ice cubes. The goal is a separate pipe that leads back down, blocked by an ice cube with a flower inside. There’s one fire melon in this area, so we have to choose which cubes to melt carefully. Falling will simply drop us back into the previous area, so we get as many tries as we like. It’s all about pulling off jumps with low ceilings and choosing the best path to make for ourselves.

Leaving this area will take us back underground, and there’s a locked door as well as a couple pipes we can enter. One such pipe leads to a room with a green melon, a spring ball, and a wall of thorns. We can use the spring to shoot at the wall at various heights, eventually unearthing the key, as well as several 1Ups. It’s a nice blend of different elements.

You can’t access the locked door the first time through, but continuing along will eventually put us far above the game’s first area, with a massive block of sponge-dirt below. There are a couple more Puffins we can snag, and their boomeranging nature is a great help in digging through. There’s also another green melon. There are a few red coins to find, as well as a hidden door that leads to a room full of Bandits. Defeating them all will net some collectibles. We’ve had digging segments before, but this one is so large and we have so many different tools at our disposal that this is a lot more fun.

The room beyond the yellow passage immediately gives us another fire melon, but this time we see an icy melon…embedded in ice. We need to use fire to blast through the ice and claim ice. I like it! At the far right side, there are a couple Tap-Taps bouncing. Behind them is a high wall, insurmountable in the red version of this area. But now we can freeze them and bounce off them, reaching a little ski lift section (with a snowball rolling along below).

We eventually come to a hole and drop down it to find two more Tap-Taps harmlessly patrolling a ledge. We can use a ! switch to extend their ledge (and drop them below when it vanishes). The goal is to defeat them to gain some more collectibles. This isn’t immediately clear, but the fact that they’re conspicuously out of the way, there’s an opportunity to bring them closer, and that we’ve frozen some already serve as tip-offs. What’s nice is you can do this in two ways. Obviously, freezing/shattering them is easiest, but if you happened to use up all of the ice, you can bring the snowball down and bowl over them that way.

The locked door grants access to a different chunk of ceiling above the early part of the stage, where we can grab a few more red coins.

The green room is all that’s left now. In it, the pipes that are decoration in the other versions of the room are now accessible. They lead to a massive vertical chamber, with one fire melon available at the bottom and several more encased in ice along the way. The goal is to climb, using the fire to both liberate the next melon and provide a staircase to allow us to continue. There’s more than enough fire to make it to the top. It just requires knowing how high Yoshi can jump and melting the correct cubes. Should you happen to blast away your path forward, you can always drop down and exit/re-enter the area. After this, it’s just a matter of looping back to the start/finish.

This is easily the best of the GBA-exclusive stages and one of the best in the game. Playing these stages really makes me wonder why Nintendo outsourced YIDS to Artoon; they seemed to have a solid understanding of what made the original great, even years later. We have some tricky spatial challenges regarding fire and ice cubes, some creative use of Puffin babies, a clever dynamic between fire and ice powers, and the puzzle it all hinges on is pure genius. And just on the side, it runs with World 5’s wintry motif very well. The stage is large and can be tricky, but it’s almost entirely non-lethal. The puzzles and emphasis on exploration feel exactly like a 3D Mario, but many of them can really only work in 2D. This is one of the greatest examples of this game being the best of both worlds.

Kamek’s Revenge: Hope you enjoyed that “non-lethal” thing, because Extra 5 makes up for it in spades. Throughout this entire stage, Kamek will fly by in the background. Shortly after he flies offscreen, you’ll hear him call out, then he’ll zoom by at whatever height you’re at just before he emerges. He’s completely invincible, even against items like the POW block.
We begin on a bridge in the clouds, and it sets the tone early with staggered, separate steps and ground-bound Goonies running along them. Then we have a Chomp Rock sitting on a one-tile ledge…with a key in it. We need to roll the rock off, while staying balanced and avoiding Kamek attacks.

Then we go over a series of individual logs scattered across the screen. There are red coins in the mix, and Baseball Boys assaulting us from below. They can be helpful in snagging the coins for us, but combined with Kamek and the uneven terrain, they can make even this early portion of the stage rough.

We finally get a little solid ground, but immediately have to cross a bridge triggered by an ! switch. In addition to Kamek’s swooping, there are Fly Guys toting red coins, a flower, and several star-containing clouds…all very high up. It takes some quick action and precise egg shots to snag them. Fortunately, there are switches on either side of the bridge, so you can take as many passes as needed (but obviously the Fly Guys won’t stick around). Just a few skips over some pillars to a checkpoint, then things really get tough.

The key leads to another ski-changing hut, and this one is more complex than the previous one. Fortunately, the difficulty is mainly psychological, at least for the first part. Kamek is still active, but you change altitude so much that he’s extremely unlikely to hit you. The red coins and flowers need apparently psychic knowledge to obtain…until you realize that if you jump at each arrow sign you see, you’ll be perfectly set up to grab them.

Where things get ridiculous is when we leave the mountain and start skiing along a bridge. We have to make several quick jumps onto small platforms in order to grab the coins on them (but if you’re not going for 100 percent, it’s okay to miss these).

Next comes the cloud of treachery. There’s a strange tendency for Yoshi to wipe out and go rolling, (as he does if you hit a rock) while crossing the cloud. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what causes this. I’ve tried jumping at different points, and I can never find a reliable way to avoid this.

After that, the skiing section culminates in one final leap. We drop into a massive canyon, glimpsing a flower (or possibly collecting it on the fly) and eventually hitting a helicopter transformation bubble. As you can see on the map, there are red coins lining the canyon walls, but they’re protected by Baseball Boys. They can actually be helpful if you approach at the right angle/time, but usually they simply delay you, which you can’t really afford. Running out of time at this point leads to instant death. Throw in Kamek harassing us constantly, and the chopper’s inability to turn with any kind of speed, and this is downright brutal.

Once the canyon is cleared out, it’s time to make a break for the goal (the excessive arrow signs letting you know you have to book it…if you hadn’t figured that out already). Walls both high and low get in our way, as well as flying Bumpties, but it’s not so bad if you can establish a rhythm here.

This stage is complete insanity from start to finish. I love how both it and Items are Fun run with the world’s theme so completely, but play completely differently. Kamek’s Revenge is nasty from start to finish. I think what’s most dangerous about it is that the challenges keep switching up. The previous Extra stages (and others that were particularly lethal) all tend to focus on one particular type of challenge. But here you have small, unreliable platforms while being shot at, items to collect on a temporary bridge, a skiing section (over both a snowy hill and platforms), and finally a chopper section that you either have to complete in one shot or die. The game has plenty of stages that change up their challenges abruptly, but up until now, they’ve all been easier/slower-paced/more exploration-based stages. This shows some clear restraint on the part of the designers, not wanting to overwhelm the player when they come up with an extra-devious concept. But this is a hidden stage, and the second-to-last at that, so going all-out is more acceptable. It’s really fun to see the insanity they can come up with when “unleashed” like this, and despite containing radically different challenges, it all feels cohesive.

World 5’s Secret and Extra stages are pretty much the best and most extreme examples of each end of the game’s spectrum. I think that pretty much cements World 5 winning the Most Valuable World award.

The GBA’s certainly out to ruin World 6’s chances. Our final handheld-exclusive stage is called Endless World of Yoshis. Unless it’s called Crazy Maze Days. The latter has more of a ring to it, and the stage can be considered a maze, at least for portions of it. All I can figure the other title is alluding to is the fact that you will be using up several lives (or “Yoshis”) here.

We begin in a “storming the castle” type of setup. The oddness of this stage is already evident. We have an autoscrolling gauntlet over several small platforms with a variety of enemies assaulting us with a massive full moon in the background…and we have the mellow Flower Garden tune playing. The segment feels redundant after Secret 4’s similar gauntlets, but at least we get a wide variety of enemies here (dynamite-dropping balloons, Spike, Flying Wigglers, Spear Guys, Piranhas, and Tap-Taps). It’s a really intense, fast-moving start, and it has a good chance of killing you. The Flying Wigglers deserve particular props. They were basically just scenery in their only other appearance, but here they’re very effective. Since tossing eggs in a high-speed situation like this is impractical, it’s likely that players will try to spit some at others in order to clear the path. Spitting usually takes out other enemies or simply sends the spit-tee harmlessly offscreen. But spitting at a Flying Wiggler will simply make it angry and make things even worse for Yoshi.

Fortunately, there’s a checkpoint afterward. Then we can enter the castle proper. And now the wheels just fall off. We have to descend through several screens of thorns placed everywhere. There is no “easy” route, there’s no item that can make this easier, and you can’t really clear any thorns away before taking the plunge. Now, for (arguably) the game’s final stage, and a hidden one at that, this isn’t so bad by itself. After all, we’ve had gradually tougher tests of midair control and fluttering throughout the game. So capping them off with one that’s instantly lethal, has no safe spots, requires us to constantly readjust our trajectory, and doesn’t allow us to use tools to make the journey easier is not a ridiculous expectation. It comes right after a checkpoint, and there’s another one at the end of it, so that’s pretty fair for a “final secret level” sort of challenge, right?

Well, it would be, if you didn’t have to go through it three times if you want 100 percent. You see, once we hit the bottom, we can go either left or right. Both have a mini-gauntlet over lava, featuring lots of fireballs. The right side also includes Fishbones. The right has lava spitters and a (semi-)new enemy! We get a special brand of Bullet Bill that is extra fast and tries to home in on Yoshi. Well that’s cool at least.

Reaching the end of these corridors leads to a series of five (nearly) identical rooms. Each has a left door, a right door, and a central door. The middle of these five rooms is locked. The outer ones lead to chambers back at the top of the thorn drop. Each contains one red coin, and some platforming over a thorny floor with some enemies that only made one appearance in the game proper (the left side contains the noise-sensitive Boo Man’s Bluff, seen back in Bigger Boo’s Fort, while the right has the expanding and contracting Sparkies, who were only seen in a hidden room in 1-4 that wasn’t even necessary for 100 percent). These are some pretty cool callbacks, and fit well as mini-challenges in a situation where you have very limited floor space. But to continue, you have to drop down the thorn maze again (once after clearing out each side). That’s just mean, and since the maze is exactly the same, it doesn’t test any new schools, just your patience/endurance.

And that’s not all. Remember how I said there were five different doors to enter? And only two lava gauntlets? That means we’re going to be retracing our steps through those a few times. At least in this case you get two choices, so you can just keep doing one over and over if you wish.

The second and fourth doors in the set lead to opposite sides of one massive chamber (they meet up in the middle, but only via one-way flippers, so you can’t access one from the other). These are much more in the spirit of the previous Secret stages. There’s really nothing lethal here, and it involves some advanced maneuvers to get collectibles. On one side, we have to bounce off Shy Guys and make a very precise egg shot to collect some coins and a flower nestled high off the ground. Then the purple bubble-spewing guys make a return and we actually have to use their bubbles to reach higher ground (this really should have been done in the game proper. Bubbles were a cute little gimmick, but had so much potential in the SNES version. It’s nice to see that addressed).

On the other side, We have one of those malleable cube things, outlines of ! platforms, a spike pit, and a cloud. We have to flatten out the cube so it can reach over the pit, shoot the cloud, which produces a ! switch (and will fall into spikes if there’s nothing beneath it to catch it), then hit the switch so we can shove the cube to the other side, then push it against the wall to make it tall and reach some collectibles. I love it!

After that, we proceed upward and can spit melon seeds at Sluggers, which they’ll bat away at high speeds, sending them upward and collecting coins. Not only is this a brilliant case of enemy being used for our benefit, but it perfectly follows what we’ve seen them do. Even better: On our way up, we can see some monkeys with melons spitting seeds at them and demonstrating the effect. See, THAT’s how you teach a concept in gaming. Screw tutorials, let it flow naturally.
Both of these areas converge in a central room, where we have to shove a Chomp Rock along several platforms, then bait a Slugger into smacking it into position for us. Arrows clue us in on what to do. This triggers a beanstalk/flower that allows us to reach the key to the central door.

Oh man, this is such a ridiculous blend of good and bad. Let’s do it list-style!

Making us run through the stupid thorn gauntlet three times.
Making us take five trips through two lava gauntlets (we get the choice, but there’s still going to be some repeating in there).
Abruptly abandoning the castle motif for “forest/grassland” in the big room.
See, Secret 5 had us retrace our steps too, but that worked out so well because the actual act of retracing wasn’t emphasized or difficult. The focus was on discovering what led to different areas, discovering what was different about those areas, and conquering those (very different) challenges. The fact you had to blast through the same couple screens a few times was basically inconsequential, because the challenge was all loaded in the different areas. Making the point that you have to repeatedly cycle through so difficult (and more importantly, unchanging) is totally missing the point.

But there is some GOOD here, mostly in the large chamber:
Getting creative use out of enemies (Sluggers, Barney Bubbles, Boo Man’s Bluff, Sparky) and creating a new variant.
Really clever puzzles involving Chomp Rock and the cube (two “items” that were neglected in Items are Fun).
Reprising the intro stage’s theme. It helps emphasize the lack of danger and encouragement to experiment in this area.

But we have a long way to go still!

After the locked door, we have to balance on a Chomp Rock as it crosses some spikes. We’ve basically done this in 6-5, and it’s no big deal next to what we’ve been through.

Now we drop into a cave with lava-falls (at least that’s a more natural transition from castle). We immediately pass over a flower, but the blocks its behind make an egg shot impossible. Fortunately, we see the rare “super tall Shy Guy”, that spits seeds when jumped on. We can place him in range, then jump on him to pick it up. That’s pretty clever.

There’s a Chomp Rock given to us, and a locked door, but no apparent key in sight before we reach some one-way flippers. In another pretty clever setup, we have to use the Chomp Rock to hold the flippers open so we can explore further and come back when ready.

The key actually reveals itself pretty quickly, as there’s another set of one-way flippers and a cloud on the other side. The flippers open and shut periodically, unlike any others in the game. This is basically ripped straight from 6-7, but there they actually had a patrolling Bandit repeatedly knocking them open. Here it happens for no reason. It’s not a big deal, but it’s pretty sloppy.

With key in tow, we can check out that room. It’s one last hurrah for Powerful Mario. It starts out pretty cool, as the area is made up of massive, circular rocks, and we have to run laps around them to pick up red coins. Man, the original version had the Raphael Raven battle on the moon, and now the GBA version has Mario orbiting circular areas. You can definitely see the roots of Mario Galaxy in here.

Unfortunately, just when it seems like the stage has hit its stride, it punctuates this area with a ridiculous, confusing conclusion. Basically, the trail of coins splits, going both forward and down. Arrows point both ways. The intended way is to continue forward, where some red coins and a star await (at that point, the arrows make it clear you’re supposed to turn back and drop down). But there’s nothing that indicates that’s preferable to going down first. Really, if they just removed the downward arrow, I think that would eliminate the confusion, because if you go forward first, you’ll see the arrows saying to turn back, see nothing else there, and see the coins below. But as it is, it’s a 50/50 shot. Fortunately, once you complete this section, you can simply re-enter it and explore any loose ends, but it’s still unnecessary confusion. Oh, and Poochy gets one final appearance, taking us across some spikes. There are several coins above that we’d need to jump to reach, but it turns out none of them are red. It’s kind of funny, but in a stage as long and brutal as this, I think dying by missing Poochy while trying to jump for these coins and finding out they’re all worthless is pretty cruel.

But wait! The stage still has some good left in it! Moving on, we can grab a melon and use what we learned earlier to get a Baseball Boy to help us collect some goods. Then comes a really clever moment: We have an out-of-reach flower, a Slugger on one platform, and a Green Glove on another. We have to toss an egg at the Slugger, who will hit it at the Green Glove. He’ll catch it, but the momentum will knock him to a lower platform, where we can guide his throw to collect the flower for us. This is just awesome. It may take a couple tries to sort out exactly how all the pieces fall into place here, but we basically get all the tries we need. It also asks us to use our knowledge of how these enemies work (most subtly, the fact that Green Gloves are knocked backward when they catch something). But we’ve beaten at least all of the non-hidden levels to even attempt this stage, so it’s perfectly reasonable. This is a GREAT example of forcing you to recall prior experience without being brutal. Plus, it’s more using enemies to your benefit.

We’re finally approaching the end. There’s an intense sequence where we ride a high-speed platform through some Green Gloves who are trying to unseat us. It can be tough to stay on, but getting knocked off is rarely instant death. It’s so weird that this stage was so sickeningly brutal early on, then scaled back to resemble the other Secret stages as it progressed.

There’s one last spiteful act of confusion at play. There will eventually be a chance to go right, but we can also ride the platform all the way to an exit at the top. Going up…will lead to an exit that misses out on the last few collectibles. And there’s no turning back. Again, there’s no real indicator that the right path is better. Why?! After all this stage has put us through, right at the finish line it can force players to suicide for daring to pick the wrong fork.

The right path actually has one last burst of creativity, requiring us to use the Boys’ tossed eggs to get over a tall wall. Getting boosted by them is something that has doubtlessly happened naturally, so it’s nice to make it a requirement once before the game ends. Except…this is really similar to a wall in a lava-cave in Secret 4.

The final stretch is a pretty cool finale for the game. It’s a reprise of the Welcome to Yoshi’s Island tutorial, with Kamek hassling us. He’s basically inconsequential at this point, unless you don’t have any +Star items in your inventory. Just push for the goal ring, don’t forget the last flower, and kiss this stage goodbye!

Ugh, what a pain. I feel like these stages avoid any of the typical “romhacky” stereotypes…until now. There are some clever ideas in here, but that’s mostly by virtue of the stage basically being a dumping ground for any ideas they hadn’t implemented yet. It’s so huge and so full of concepts that some of them are bound to be good (but they still deserve credit). But there’s no cohesion to it, it needlessly drags you through the same obstacle courses multiple times, it needlessly gives bad directions, and parts of it feel like they were taken from Secret 4. Given that Secret 4 is the least “exploration-based” of the Secret stages, I wonder if some of it was sacrificed to Secret 6.

This is one of the worst stages in Yoshi’s Island. Which is unfortunate, because the rest of the GBA-exclusive stages are seriously good, with some being among the game’s very best. Even more unfortunate is that Artoon seemed to take much of their inspiration from this stage. The lack of atmosphere or cohesion, “more death = more fun!” and even, to be fair, the occasional flashes of brilliance all rear their heads in YIDS.

Castles- Masterpiece Set (a.k.a. Ultimate Castle Challenge, a needless name change if there ever was one) fares a bit better. This castle sets the mood nicely, with a “sentry” mace-swinging Shy Guy posted on a tower. We have to get past a few of the extending/expanding ghost enemies, then it’s inside with us!

We have a series of 3D rolling logs to deal with next. These were vastly underused in the rest of the game, so it’s nice to get a little mileage out of them, and to provide quite a variety of situations in a relatively small space (thorny ceiling above, bottomless pit below, dancing Spear Guys dangerously close to coins, little alcoves that we need to drop off the log to reach).

Now we get a very nasty sequence. There are thorns all across both floor and ceiling, and we have a series of moving platforms to cross, as well as collectibles While Secret 1 tested our savvy regarding moving platforms in a wide-open environment, this test is claustrophobic and deadly. Keeping control of our momentum and keeping an eye on the subtle differences in the platforms’ height and speed are the keys to survival here.

The second wave has the platform tracks spell out Yoshi’s name, and escalates things with protruding thorn walls and thorns intersecting the platform paths. This is a very tricky section overall that forces us to use a lot more restraint than we normally have. But it’s far better than Secret 6’s thorn gauntlet. It’s much briefer for one, and it continuously changes and escalates. Plus, once we’re through, we don’t need to do it again.

Now we enter a vertical shaft full of platforms moving at different speeds and locations, and the lack of thorns may lead to a false sense of security. Dangling Ghosts are waiting to capitalize on players who are too quick to start relaxing.
Strangely, the stage eases off after this, although it’s not totally toothless. We make a long ascent on a single platform, with Baseball Boys trying to knock us off our perch in a sequence similar to Secret 6 (but a slow platform instead of a fast one). Hilariously, one of them actually knocks an enemy at us. The only real threat here is the thorny ceiling at the very top.

We follow that up with a long descent. This is interesting, because the walls are thorn-lined, and free-falling Baseball Boys will try to blast us into them. But that’s easily resolved by ground-pounding all the way down. I always did this instinctively, but more cautious players may not want to commit to a drop into the unknown, and they may have a harder time.

Then we go into a completely nonlethal drop that forces us to ground pound all the way down (as if to say “this is how you should’ve handled that last one.”) If all works out, Baseball Boys will actually grab the last flower for us at the end (if not, it’s an easy reach).

The final sequence is a completely autopilot platform ride. The only way to screw it up is if a player panics or gets suspicious that they’re missing something. It’ll drop us off at the goal ring, and that’s game!

This stage starts off strong, and has some cool ideas, but it’s pretty underwhelming. Its difficulty peaks early, and while the subsequent sections can’t be completely ignored, they’re not nearly as dangerous, and the final sections are a breeze. Still, it always feels like one cohesive castle, and it transitions very smoothly from section to section. It’s one of the game’s weaker stages just by sheer lack of content, but what’s there is enjoyable.

Next Time: Let’s beat this game!

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