One word describes Nintendos decision to outsource one of their most loved franchises to an unproven developer, though whether that word is brave or foolish is hard to say. Artoon has hardly excelled in its previous work which was the universally deried Yoshi's Universal Gravitation. So then this is another chance for the development team to try and prove they are up to the standard that we expect from a Nintendo licence.
Much like the original SNES game the title has Baby Mario being carried around levels by one of a number of different coloured Yoshis. When something hits Yoshi he drops the baby and unless he can pick him up before the timer runs out it will be whisked away to a dark and forbidding castle.The main difference this time around- aside from the two-screen layout- is the ability to choose from a number of different babies to carry around, each with their own unique abilities. Mario can hit M blocks and use invincibility stars, Princess Peach can float, Donkey Kong can climb ropes, Wario carries a magnet for moving metal and Bowser shoots fireballs. Each baby has different effects on the shells Yoshi throws as well.
As great as being able to choose from different characters is, it is often diluted by the fact you normally cannot tell which baby you need until you are long past the character changing post. This is a very poor and lazy piece of game design and unfortunately it's not the only place where it's apparent. Furthermore Wario and Bowser are only available for a very short period of time which seems like a real waste of the characters.
We have tried to think this through and all we can think of is that either the work experience people were left to finish the last two worlds or Artoon simply could not be bothered to design the thing properly as all of a sudden we are bombarded with poor level design on the most inept scale imaginable. It seems the developers idea of making a game more challenging is to simply throw more and more frustratingly unfair and badly designed sections together. The black book of video game cheap tricks is all here- Enemies appearing out of nowhere? Check, leaps of faith? You bet, and it goes on and on with one lazy piece of game design after another until after a while you just wished you had never played the game at all.
It is such a shame as the first three worlds are very enjoyable and all of the bosses in the game, although being extremely easy, are well thought out and fun to match up against. It really does defy belief that the last two worlds got through any form of playtesting and they seem like badly thought out beta code that an amateur would be embarrassed with. We have come across freeware titles (such as Within a Deep Forest) which have far better level design than this. Worlds four and five may seemingly be designed by blind monkeys but at least they can be finished fairly swiftly once you have memorised where everything is going to jump out at you. So players should be able to finish the game at least - if they can be bothered to, that is.
Another fault is the gap between the top and the bottom screen. Instead of things moving smoothly from top to bottom instantaneously there is an area of dead space between the screens. It may have seemed like a great idea to produce the illusion of one big screen but in reality enemies and vital platforms end up invisible behind the metal holding the two screens together. This is something else that should have never made it past the testing stage.
Overall, Yoshi's Island is neither as good nor as bad as it first appears. The first three worlds certainly are great fun and the boss design and different babies help add some invention. But as soon as you have seen the back of the third world it all becomes a frustrating mess of a game. Nintendo need to think more carefully about what and to whom they outsource. In the end Yoshi's Island DS just comes off as a pale imitation of the mighty original SNES game, which is disappointing in the extreme.