Welcome back to Games That Time Forgot, where we take a look at the games that have been lost by time. With Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remakes coming out pretty soon, let's talk about Game Freak (yes I know they aren't working on the remakes, but work with me here). Contrary to popular belief, Game Freak are not actually owned by Nintendo, nor does Nintendo fully own the Pokemon series. It's a little confusing, and it has been something that's been talked about for years, but for our purposes today, know that Game Freak isn't part of Nintendo; in fact, they're technically third party. That's why every once in awhile you'll see them do something like Drill Dozer, Teemo the Badass Elephant, Little Town Hero, and also why the Pokemon characters are listed as a seperate credit for every Super Smash Bros., so you can technically argue that Pikachu was the first third party character. But before the success of Pokemon, Game Freak was a small little game magazine turned game studio that needed money to stay afloat, and it was that need for cash that brings us to the game we're talking about today: Yoshi. The puzzle game, not the character.
Yes, Yoshi (the game, not the character) is one of the odder and more obscure games that Game Freak and Nintendo have done, and is often ignored by a lot of fans, myself included. In fact, outside of it being the first game that Game Freak made that was published by Nintendo, Yoshi (the game, not the character) is one of those games where you aren't 100 percent sure is a real thing. It's not even Game Freak's first NES game or even the last time they made a game with Mario characters. But despite it's history and arguable importance to Game Freak, Yoshi (the game, not the character) was never a game that I felt like playing, with it never really leaving an opinon on me when I saw it on the Virtual Console, and this being my first time playing it ever on Nintendo Switch Online. And after playing it? Well you'll just have to read this to find out.
So let's stick out our tongues and get ready to lay some eggs (I swear that'll make sense), this is Yoshi, the game, not the character, for the NES. I could have been playing Metroid Dread instead of this.
Yoshi (the game, not the character), or Mario & Yoshi in Europe and Yoshi's Egg in Japan, was released on the NES and Game Boy on December 14, 1991 in Japan, the NES version releasing in North America on May 28th 1991 (or June 1991) in the US, with the Game Boy version released in July of that year, and the Game Boy version releasing on December 17th 1992 in Europe, and the NES version releasing on December 30th 1992. As I said earlier, the game was developed by Game Freak, so let's talk about them for a bit. Initally founded in the 1980s, it started off as a magazine run by Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori, the former being the writer and the latter doing drawings. Game Freak wasn't a huge name, but it did well enough to gain a following, and at one point Tajiri was asked by Namco to do a special Game Freak issue on Xevious. However things changed when Tajiri and Sugimori both started playing Dragon Quest III. The story goes that while they were obsessed with it, Sugimori had two of a rare item drop, while Tajiri had none. This, combined with his childhood love of bug collecting, became the catalyst for the game franchise that would make them famous: Pulseman-I mean Pokemon.
Naturally, game development isn't easy, so to keep Game Frek afloat, they had to make some games to not only give them cash, but to also make it easier to pitch this new game. Game Freak's first game was Mendel Palace, or Quibby as it was known in Japan, and while it wasn't a massive success, it was enough for them to get some money, make a name for themselves, and even landed themselves a contract to make Yoshi (the game, not the character). As to why the game Yoshi was made, if you remember back when I talked about Yoshi's Safari back in July, which based on the number of likes and comments wasn't that many of you, you may remember that I talked about how Nintendo was in a weird place with Yoshi (the character, not the game). How basically he was super popular character, but a lot of what made Yoshi the character we know today wouldn't be established and finalized until the release of Yoshi's Island, which was released about five years after the release of Super Mario World. This meant that between 1990 and 1995, Nintendo had to figure out what to do with this new character. And this game was one of those things they did.
So not really a passion project, but more something to keep the lights on. But hey, every job is a new experince, so let's see how one of Game Freak's earliest games went down.
The video you just saw was a commercial for Yoshi (the game, not the character). Bless Nintendo of America for trying to make this game look interesting, but it says a lot that I had more enjoyment watching that video than playing the game.
Yoshi (the game, not the character) is a puzzle game in which you play as Mario (or Luigi in two player) and must stack enemies that fall from the sky onto one of five plates (?). You can rotate the plates by moving the D-pad left and right to grab enemies that fall down the screen (Goombas, Bloopers, Piranha Plants, and Boos in case you were wondering). Each plate can only hold a certain number of enemies and if one goes beyond the line at the top of the screen, it's game over. So how do you clear the enemies off the screen then? Well, that's where Yoshi comes in. Kind of.
You see, in order for you to clear the screen, you need to get rid of the enemies; having two enemies of the same type will make them disappear, but that isn't the ideal way to get points. Instead, you need to hatch Yoshis. You do that by grabbing two halves of a Yoshi egg, a bottom and a top, which also fall from the top of the screen. You get points by putting the two halves together to form an egg, with a Yoshi hatching out of it. The different the Yoshi, the more points you get, with the number of enemies you stack between the two egg shells playing a part in which Yoshi you get, ranging from regular little Yoshi (0-1 enemies), regular Yoshi (2-4 enemies), Winged Yoshi (5-6 enemies), and finally Thicc Yosh-I mean Star Yoshi (7 enemies); the Game Boy version is a bit more leninet with the numbers due to the obvious smaller screen. And that's the whole game.....and it is boring.
Like it's not bad, but Yoshi (the game, not the character) is in a weird pattern where it's slow, but at the same time chaotic. Despite showing up on the top of the screen, because there's such little room to work, it can at times to be difficult to plan ahead, especially since there's no way to what I call "Bob Rossing". By that I mean is that remember how when Bob Ross would make a mistake and instead of fixing it, he would roll with it? "No mistakes, just happy accidents"? That's something that you see a lot of in puzzle games, and I feel like that goes a long way in making them as fun as they are. Dropped the wrong pill in Dr. Mario? That's okay, the next one can help you clear the line. Put the wrong Puyo in the wrong place for your chain or someone blocked it in Puyo Puyo? That's cool, you can work on a new one. Puzzle games aren't just about clearing lines, but are also set up in a way so that if you make a mistake, you're still fine, and can actually make things work; some of my best moments in puzzle games like Panel de Pon or Super Puzzle Fighter were me turning things around after it looked like I was screwed, and it can argubly make puzzle games compelling competively as any fighting game or shooter.
Yoshi (the game, not the character) does not have that. Instead, if you mess up here, it's a lot harder to make a happy accident, since you can only clear enemies vertically, unlike other games where you can do so horizontally. Not only that, but the egg halves fall at such inconsitent rates, that it's hard to plan; no joke I had two bottom halves drop but didn't get the upper half until much later, and by then, it was too late. Not only that, but everything just falls so slowly, Mario himself moves so slowly, it just overall is a slow, numbing game. Besides the Endless mode, there's also a mode where you have a predetermined set of enemies that you have to clear out within a time, getting bonus points the faster you clear it out. It is a little bit better I felt since there is some more strategy involved, but it still isn't any better, with the only thing setting it apart from the other mode is that there's a cutscene where Mario and Yoshi run along a football field (?), and Yoshi eats an item to get points, with the item depending on how fast you cleared the screen.
So yeah, I don't really like this. It's too awkward to wrap your head around, and once you do, it's just incredibly boring. Boring gameplay, boring music, boring graphics, just everything about it is so bland and forgetable. I have heard some people say that this is one of their favorite puzzle games, and I just couldn't see it. Maybe there's something there that I can't see, but this game did nothing for me. So let's see what everyone else thought!
So there really weren't that many reviews of Yoshi (the game not the character) when it first came out, so most of the reviews are from the various re-releases of the game, and most of them felt the game was meh. Nintendo World Report thought the game was pretty average and that there was "too much luck and chance in the game to make playing it satisfying." Jeremy Parish did say that "decent and actually had some relationship to the Mario series", but was overall not worth the actual purchase price of 500 Wii points. And finally, IGN's Lucas M. Thomas both gave the game 5 of 10 stars, stating the controls were cubersome and the gameplay slow. While sales numbers were never released, it apparently did well enough and met Nintendo's satisifaction, to the point that Nintendo let Game Freak make another game, Mario & Wario, which while not amazing, was a lot better than Yoshi (the game not the character), and more importantly got their foot in the door to get the approval to make they game they were famous for: Magical Tarurūto-kun, I mean Pokemon. In fact, even some of the music from the Game Boy version of Yoshi has a small sample of the Pokemon Center theme that plays during one of the tracks. So that's neat.
As for why it's forgotten, I think we all can guess why, and that it partially has to do with Game Freak swimming in their Pokemon money a la Scrooge McDuck. But I think there's a little bit more than that, since Game Freak has other games that people talk about, and I feel that reason is that Yoshi is basically the gaming equivalent of a summer job. A game that's done because Game Freak needed the money, experince, and make the connections they needed to make their dream game. Likewise, Nintendo didn't really care about this and needed some sort of game that woulld fill their release schedule and make some cash off NES and GB owners. No one made this game in the hopes that it would be amazing or that it would be considered one of the greatest games of all time. This was just made for some quick cash, and while it is important, much like a summer job, it's not really something that you're going to want to go back to.
That's honestly why as much as I don't like the game, I can't really bring myself to hate it, since again it was one of Game Freak's earlier projects, and everyone involved moved on to better things. At the same time, it also makes it really hard to talk about in any serious way, like a food critic reviewing a bag of Sun Chips. It's there, it exists, there's nothing wrong with, but it's not really something that you'll make a main course. It just exists.
Yoshi (the game, not the character) is as mediocre as they come. While I didn't like it, I also can't hate it either, due to it's importance to Game Freak and the fact that there's nothing here to really despise. You aren't missing much if you don't play it, but you also aren't going to hate yourself afterwards if you decide to try it. It existed, it happened, and that's all there is to it.
So my hope was to get two of these out in November. Since we're nearing the end of November, that obviously isn't going to happen. However, I do know what game I'm going to talk about in December and will also have something planned for my upcoming one year anniversary. So stay tuned for that! Now I'm off to play more Metroid Dread. Now that's an amazing game!