Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
Although the Tetris video game was developed by a brilliant Russian before being released as a home console version for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo itself showed that it could provide innovations in the puzzle-game genre with the advent of Dr. Mario, a touchstone point for puzzlers; and, later, to an admittedly lesser extent, the plate-twirling stack ’em challenge known as Yoshi in 1992.
The player controlled Mario who, at the bottom of the screen, was under four columns that would fill with enemies dropped from the top of the screen. Pressing left and right on the directional pad would move him to either the left (hands under the first and second columns), center (second and third), or right (third, fourth) position. From these positions, you could press the A or B button to rotate Mario, and thus rotate the columns of blocks, which stood upon the plates that Mario held. As enemies dropped onto these plates to form the columns, you had to deftly control the columns of blocks onto which the next would fall. Playing thusly, every time a pair of like blocks touched, they were eliminated from the playing field for points. The blocks came in forms of classic Mario enemies, such as Blooper and Goomba.
Although the simple match-like-blocks premise was basic and all the enemies were worth the same amount of points to clear (5 points, to be exact), there was one catch: The other type of item that would fall, rather than an enemy-themed block, was either a bottom or top eggshell piece. If you had a bottom eggshell somewhere on the column on the plate, then later were able to put a top eggshell above it, they would not only eliminate each other but also any enemy blocks in-between, forming progressively bigger bonuses (and resultant Yoshis, from baby to adult to adult-with-wings to adult-with-star) up to a massive 500 points for an eggshell at the very bottom of the stack, with seven enemy blocks on it, then letting an eggshell fall onto the whole mess from the top of the screen.
The Start button paused, the down button accelerated falling blocks, and there were two modes of play: Type A, which was the marathon option, where the player would see how many points he or she could gain, how long could be lasted, along with how many Yoshis could be formed. Type B began the game with enemies already in the field of play, and clearing all enemies would advance to the next level, after a cutscene animation involving Yoshi eating a particular fruit for bonus points (with pineapple being the final, ultimate prize that repeated once you reached a certain point). Difficulty level could be chosen on the menu as well, potentially resulting in beginning with more enemies or the blocks falling faster. Background music could also be chosen from either three track selections or silence.
Although it is fun to see the recognizable Mario Bros. canon characters, and those blocks themselves are represented on-screen fairly, the Yoshi video game on the NES does lack a certain visual polish. The playing field has a completely blank, blue background. Perhaps this would be considered optimal from a gameplay perspective, but does not help in the graphics department, especially when the rest of the background visuals is a rough checkerboard pattern that changes colors per level.
The effects are innocent and pleasant enough, nothing too audacious unless you form the Star Yoshi, at which point a proclamation jingle sounds and he lets out a roar. The background tracks are fair, ranging from bouncy and lighthearted to slightly more edgy and even unnerving (that would be the Fire Flower song).
Yoshi is one of those puzzle games that is original enough to not be perfect; in other words, the column-reversal was still a new enough idea that Nintendo was content enough just to present it intact, rather than developing it more deeply and more tightly, as later sublimated in titles like Tetris Attack for the SNES.
The two-player mode was decent fun, and the one-player mode can provide a challenging adventure into puzzle exploration. However, with a somewhat bland presentation (especially since this is essentially a Mario game), the potential for a repetitive feel, and better options available elsewhere, this is a well put-together game that does not strive for legendary greatness. It will have to be content with three stars out of five for helping advance the puzzler category without being an all-time great.