At the fast rate video games are changing these days to the slow (becoming slower) wait between sequels, it’s a wonder that developers are able to keep us coming back for more fun with whatever set of characters to which we’ve become attached. Consider the Uncharted series. There was a mere two-year span between the releases of the first three games, and here we are waiting for Uncharted 4 to be unleashed next year, five years after Uncharted 3. (Granted, the first three games didn’t have to deal with the release of a new console.) Also consider titles like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed where you get a new game every year or two that essentially follow the model of “same game, different place.” Then you have games series that follow their own rules, like anything that might involve Mario. He’s got a whole empire of various games series bearing his name, some of which are related (Mario Party), some of which are revamps (nearly anything Mario Bros.), and others of which are complete one-offs (Mario Paint). And what about series like Final Fantasy? This year (July 12th) marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Final Fantasy on the NES in the United States, and fans were treated to the recent announcement of a Final Fantasy VII remake. Like, in a sense, the Legend of Zelda series, these games offer unique experience under the same brand. You get to spend time in somewhat familiar places with mostly familiar (and sometimes the same) people playing with familiar mechanics. But I’m not sure we’d agree upon whether or not everything that came after Final Fantasy (1990) or The Legend of Zelda (1986) were true sequels to those originals.
I recently played and beat Chrono Cross, and let me tell you, it was quite a struggle. Due to a leveling up system where you really only level up when you beat a boss or when you fight the first few enemies after a boss, I had lots of frustration trying to defeat enemies that were just too tough for me, which was helped when I got the Mastermune, but still. I nearly quit the game several times due to this, and while I can now say that I did enjoy it, I still have mixed feelings about it. I loved the battle system, even though I didn’t like that most battles were pointless due to your stats never going up. I thought the story was interesting, while at the same time, I just couldn’t get attached to any of the characters. Continue reading What Makes a Game a Sequel?
(Image by Flickr User: walknboston)
Yoshi has been my Nintendo character of choice for a long time. Be it Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, or Mario Party, Yoshi is my dinosaur. I know I’m not the only Yoshi fan out there, why else would Nintendo treat his inclusion in games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros Wii U like such a big deal otherwise? Despite that popularity, Yoshi has had few successful games of his own though, the only ones I can think of being Yoshi’s Island (I love this one so much!) and Yoshi’s Story (it’s not Yoshi’s Island, but still great!). Both of these had their own visual styles, their own music and their own gameplay, and we love them for it. Yoshi’s other recent games though…not so much. They try, they really do, but that’s actually the problem. They each attempt to build on the Yoshi’s Island formula, but since that formula was as close to platforming perfection as a game can get, all their additions and changes manage to do is mess it all up. My case and point: Yoshi’s New Island.
I was really excited for this when it was first announced. “Finally” I thought, “Maybe Yoshi’s Island will get the sequel it deserves!” After picking up last week though, I found myself disappointed yet again. It comes closer to being a good sequel than any of it’s predecessors, but still falls way short. It doesn’t over-complicate the game like Yoshi’s Touch & Go or Yoshi’s Island DS did, but simplifies it instead, and I mean that in every sense of the game.
To start, the levels are short and simple, and incredibly easy to clear. Now Yoshi’s Island wasn’t known for it’s difficulty, but it still out its players to the test. Getting all the Flowers, Red Coins, and Timer Stars was a matter of skill, and made finishing a level particularly satisfying (especially if you did it without resorting to the items). In Yoshi’s New Island though, completing the level is a simple matter, to the where I’d racked up over 100 extra lives by the time I got to World 3! It’s still difficult to finish with all the flowers and coins, but not because the took skill to aquire. Instead they’re just hidden all over the place, making finding them a chore and critically slowing down the game from what should be an energetic and lively pace, to a relative snail’s crawl. To top it off, the fun of the end-level goal ring has been completely drained. Since the levels are already too easy to allow for the old items and extra lives are given out like candy, they didn’t bother to include the end-level bonus games (since they’d been rendered pointless), instead we get “Egg Tokens” which I haven’t found a purpose for other than collecting. This simplification also applies to the castles and bosses, as both never put up much of an effort to prevent Yoshi from progressing. Put it all together and what you get are ultimately bland levels completely devoid of everything that once made them fun adventures.
The gamplay follows a similar pattern. All the elements are there, the enemy-swallowing, the egg-throwing, the transformations, and the Baby Mario-obnoxiousness, but it all feels…off. This first one might be a personal preference thing, but Yoshi’s throw, it’s just…slow. I constantly found myself having to sit and wait to throw my eggs, and only from solid ground. It just take too much time to do any of the fancy fast-paced egg-slinging that made the original game such a blast! Then there’s the transformations: they’re only done in special rooms and consist almost entirely of tilting the 3DS one way or another. Instead of the fun little breaks from the normal gameplay that they used to be, they now feel like tacked-on excuses to make use of the 3DS tilt functionality. The segments are playable, but the total reliance on the tilting often makes for frustrating control issues that hinder progress through a level. As for the new mechanics, or should I say mechanic of the giant eggs, it’s novel but doesn’t add anything. The giant eggs are always in self-contained areas and are either used to clear obstructions/gather massive amounts of coins to level up, or to allow Yoshi to go underwater for a time (I believe we already had something for that…). They have potential to be cool additions to the gameplay, but I have yet to seem them realize it.
There is one fun addition to the game though, in the form of Super Yoshi. Super Yoshi have our dinosaur moving fast, traversing tricky terrain and always finish with Yoshi going full Superman on us and flying at incredible speed through enemy and obstacle alike! They’re exceptionally fun segments that, while few and far-between, area always a joy to come across!
Last but not least, there’s the music and art style. I actually like the art style to be honest. The pastel painting aesthetic is a nice happy medium between the classic Yoshi’s Island cartoon look we all know and love, and the need for new games to look…well new. It allows the visuals to retain some 3D aspects without totally doing away with stylized Yoshi game look. I wish I could say the same for the music though, which I can sum up in one word: bland. It’s completely devoid of the life and joy that made the music of the original so memorable and delightful. I can’t say it’s bad though, because I honestly don’t remember any of it. It literally leaves so little of an impression, that it might as well not be there. I suppose they could have been trying to compliment the calmer tone of the pastel art style in the same way the distinct and memorable themes of Yoshi’s Island complimented it’s loud and cartoony style, but there had to be a better way to do it than making the music calm to the point of non-existence. In short, the game really does look nice, but just sounds so bland!
Now my love for the original Yoshi’s Island may have colored my impressions of the game, but in my defense the name “Yoshi’s New Island” very much invites that comparison. The total under-performance of this game has convinced me of something that I didn’t expect to ever think though: it’s convinced me that we need to move on from Yoshi’s Island. Yoshi doesn’t need more sequels to old games, he needs fresh ideas he can thrive in. He needs a game that’s as different from Yoshi’s New Island as Yoshi’s Story was to Yoshi’s Island. If he doesn’t get that soon, then maybe we’ve seen the last game that will star our favorite green dinosaur.
What are your thought on the more recent Yoshi games? What’s your favorite game that includes the saddle-wearing reptile?
Gaming idiosyncrasies, quirks, preferences — most gamers posses them to varying degrees. From playing only during a particular time of day, to having a preferred TV setup (that must NEVER be altered), to eating certain snacks only with certain games, they are what make gamers true individuals. And maybe a little…neurotic. Oh, I’m not making fun; you tell me it isn’t the truth! Personally, I have a Pelican PS3 controller that I never let anyone borrow. (It’s mine and it fits my hands perfectly!) I always, nay, I am compelled to read game manuals before starting up a game. And I’m still working on my queasy fear of first-person-perspective games. As silly as these quirks might be, they aren’t nearly as problematic as the most prominent peculiarity with which I continue to struggle: starting a game series at some point other than the beginning.
I haven’t always been so conscious of this notion. Early on, since I wasn’t an arcade regular, I often missed out on the original versions of games. I started with later Castlevania games. I never played the original Street Fighter and yet adored Super Street Fighter II. I played Ms. Pac-Man well before Pac-Man. But all this gaming happened during a time when I had regular access to games at home, before I moved away from home for college. When I moved away, none of the games came with me and so marked the beginning of a roughly decade-long gaming drought. I occasionally played here and there, but never at length.