A short story without much fun is something truly criminal

Yoshi’s Story (1998)

I’ve got to come clean with you today – I’m a no good criminal. Actually, I’m no stranger to breaking the law: I’ve pirated just about every form of media you can think of. I’ve even got Virtual Boy ROMs on my computer, for heaven’s sake. I’ve downloaded – and watched – Mean Girls and The Notebook. I’m not sure if you want to know any more about my depraved downloading habits, but one thing I’ll tell you – my conscience is clear.

After all, when downloading films and music, I’m only taking a bit of money out of the pockets of those fine upstanding fellas like Harvey Weinstein. Today though, I have to confess to something a bit more grave: renting games and not returning them on time.

I hate that word, rent. I’m renting a house now, which means I don’t get to complain to people about a mortgage, unless it’s in the context of paying for someone else’s. You used to have to rent books from the college library, since the downloading sites weren’t too kosher back then (I’m sure they’ve gotten better now, if there’s Virtual Boy ROMs on offer). Although they made it a bit classier by calling the process “checking books out”. Oh yes, like I used to check the mousy, bespectacled librarian out? Do me a favour.

Nintendo 64 games weren’t cheap back in the day, you know. They’re cheap now, and this may change, but when someone (usually me) tells you not to get into retro collecting, that it’s far too expensive, then you can counter this by buying N64 instead. The amount of games to obtain isn’t actually that high, only a couple of hundred, as opposed to the seventy thousand on PS1.

There’ll be a few more Japanese numbers in there of course, but how many Mahjong simulators can you cope with? I even made it a mission to get a PAL copy of every Nintendo 64 game, which is a bit like getting a Betamax of every film released in the 80s. I shelved that ambition, temporarily, for reasons unknown. Maybe someone slapped me while I was drunk and rambling about RF Adaptors and told me not to waste my money on rubbish.

Oh no, I save my money nowadays. Which is why, when I’d go to the rental shop in Ireland of a Friday after school, I made sure to invest my dosh wisely. The rental shop in quesiton was called Xtra-Vision, and a quick Google tells me that they still do rentals, although unfortunately they’ve been relegated to knocking out a few DVDs beside the batteries and jellies at shop tills.

Bit of a fall from grace, that. There used to be loads of them in Ireland, and they were backed by Blockbusters, who international readers will be more familiar with. I mentioned Betamax earlier, well, they turned out to be a bit of a Betamax in their war against Netflix, didn’t they? 

The problem with the rental shop is how bare the selection was – we already had the staples like Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, and GoldenEye, so the rental market was slim pickings. Isn’t it always? It tended to one of two games: either South Park 64, which I never thought was as awful as they made out. Or else it was that game that was pretty much made for renting, Yoshi’s Story.

It took me years to finally buy Yoshi’s Story actually, and I’m talking about probably 2017 or 2018 when i got a physical copy. The reason for this is because, even for a weeklong rental, this game never give you anywhere near enough juice. You’ll eat plenty of fruit in this game, but the whole thing was barely worth the squeeze.

I’m thinking that perhaps this game is where we started to smell a bit of a rat with the Nintendo 64. I could hardly name five 2D games, or 2.5D games as it were, on this console, because the early 3D era meant that there was a strict allergy to spritework. I suppose it could have been worse, and the N64 could have ended up like the Sega Saturn, whose disregard for emergent 3D graphics probably wouldn’t even rank in the top 5 worst decisions made by Sega in the mid-to-late 90s.

But by pretty much every measure, this game is inferior to Yoshi’s Island on the SNES. How can that be? The graphics aren’t outright bad, even if the sprites can sometimes look a bit hokey against the polygonated background and level geometry. But either way, the crayon-drawn, cartoonish Yoshi’s Island looks a hell of a lot more appealing to this day. Chief among complaints against this game is how short it is. The game’s got six worlds, with four levels each – but you’ll only play a level from each world on any given playthrough. The supposed replay value comes in trying to maximise your score by perfecting each stage.

Now see here, Nintendo – that kind of thing can work in an action-packed, charming and silly space shooter like Star Fox 64. But when this game’s predecessor had 48 stages, plus a half-dozen hidden ones, then a grand total of 24 doesn’t really wash – especially when you’ll only have to play six before reaching the credits.

One thing that Star Fox 64 and Yoshi’s Island SNES had in common was how the final boss was an enormous abomination, a bleak creature that should have stayed firmly shut away in someone’s brain. The final boss in Yoshi’s Story sums the whole game up really – unambitious, anticlimactic, and far too easy. You can even become invincible during the battle, for heaven’s sake, you’d almost have to try to lose.

I know I’ve just spent a long while writing this game off, so you might think I hate it. Not true, the game is definitely decent fun, for a short while at least. Actually the fun is probably exhausted before your six level playthrough is over. Still, some of the music is fun and so are Yoshi’s interactions, even if this game committed the original sin of giving Yoshi a voice, and we’ve been hearing the same vocals ever since.

Golly, every time I think of something positive to say about this game, I seem to swing right back around to being negative. Possibly the truth is that I don’t know what I want from a Yoshi game anymore – I didn’t want Yoshi’s Story, but then, I didn’t want all of these Yoshi’s Island derivatives either. Have you seen the state of Yoshi’s New Island on 3DS? That one makes Yoshi’s Story look like a Dali in motion. Incidentally, I wouldn’t rent that one either, even if I could. To show my contempt for it though, I might download it in my torrent trawler net, alongside thousands of other games. While commiting my other usual crimes, like being drunk in public and stealing next door’s internet.

2 November 2021

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