<This is not a review, but an exploration of the character of Mario within the context of Yoshi’s Island.>
Who is Mario? In Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Mario is a baby. And barely a baby at that. When the game opens, a stork is shown flying across a dark sky, a bundle of fresh-out-the-oven twins between his beak. The Nintendo Power strategy guide for Yoshi’s Island informs us that the stork is taking the twins “to their parents.” Clearly this is not our present day world. No, Yoshi’s Island exists in a fantastical land where babies are either made and hatched in a laboratory before being brought to their parents, or storks manage baby farms, and when two people copulate, a baby that looks similar enough to them is dropped on their doorstep. Surprise!
Either way, Mario has just been born and is en route to his parents with his twin brother, Luigi. Suddenly, a freaky bespectacled creature emerges from the black pre-dawn and manages to steal Luigi. The stork loses his grip on Mario, who careens downward to Yoshi’s Island. Now, were this any other character than Mario, he would be killed. But fate knows who Mario is and how important his role will be in this universe. His bundle lands, not in the sea or on the ground, but atop a poor Yoshi’s head. The fact that both baby and Yoshi are still alive is a miracle in and of itself, and Yoshi sees it as such. He takes baby Mario, along with a map that fell next to Mario, to a group of Yoshi elders to see what they have to say.
As Yoshi rides to the Yosh Counsel, we get a glimpse of Mario in full. He’s got a diaper on, no shirt, but he does have his trademark red ‘M’ cap. Did the stork give him a random hat with a red ‘M’? Did his parents know he was going to be named Mario, so they made the hat for him in advance? How is a small child’s head able to keep such a large hat balanced so perfectly on his head? The story gives no answers, though I’m quite sure Nintendo put the hat on Mario so that we would know the baby is, in fact, Mario and not some toddling nobody.
Once Yoshi meets the elders, Mario is placed in the middle of their circle while they decide what to do with him. They deduce that he – a child who couldn’t be more than a few days old – knows precisely where to go to find Luigi, because of the twin bond they share. I’m not sure how they figured out that he had a twin ’cause Mario certainly can’t talk, but so be it; not even Nintendo games are exempt from plot holes. In order to get Mario there, the Yoshies decide to take him all the way to the other side of Yoshi’s Island “via relay system.” In other words, after each stage, Yoshi will pass Mario off to the next Yoshi and so on until all Yoshies have done their part.
But why? What do the Yoshies have to gain by taking this baby through six worlds of varying danger? Yoshies are kind creatures, granted, but this act goes beyond kindness into potential martyrdom – all for some big-headed baby that fell out of the sky. My theory: from Mario’s miraculous no-death landing, the Yoshies intuited that Mario was special. With the map as their guide, they realize that taking Mario to his final destination isn’t just a noble gesture, but a duty of sorts. They might not even know why they care as much as they do, but they’re going to ensure Mario’s safe arrival and, perhaps at the end, get a glimpse of why the baby is so important.
Each of the game’s fifty-plus stages has an array of hazards – from the multifaceted Shy Guys to the Bandits that steal Mario off Yoshi’s back to the harsh terrain of Yoshi’s Island itself. Thus, it’s surprising that Mario is able to cling to Yoshi’s backside as well as he does. Either Mario’s grip strength is unprecedented for a baby, or Yoshi has a sixth sense about where Mario is on his back and accommodates for the extra weight while jumping, hovering, etc.
The only time Mario is in any real peril is if Yoshi gets hit. Mario floats away from Yoshi within a bubble and begins to cry, as any baby would upon being frightened. If Yoshi is unable to reach Mario within a certain time limit, he gets carried away by Solo Toadies, a group of jerks working for Kamek, the main antagonist of the story. Kamek is the Magikoopa responsible for Luigi’s disappearance, and attempts to recover Mario throughout Yoshi’s Island.
Kamek is driven to find (and presumably kill) the two Mario twins because of the trouble they will make for Bowser and the Koopa Kingdom in the future. Given Bowser’s numerous failed attempts to kidnap the Princess and take over the Mushroom Kingdom, it’s clear Kamek’s crystal ball prediction was accurate.
Mario, and to a lesser extent, Luigi, are the biggest threats to Bowser’s dominance, but you wouldn’t know it from Yoshi’s Island. Unless he gets knocked off of Yoshi’s back, Mario appears unfazed for the majority of the adventure. This is understandable. Lest we forget, Mario has just been born and is likely unable to comprehend all that’s happening to him; we should consider the possibility that adult Mario doesn’t remember the events of Yoshi’s Island at all. Considering many of the creatures in this game – the Naval Piranha, the Bigger Boo, and the lava monster Gargantua Blargg – would bring a conscious child to tears, Mario’s glassy eyed lack of awareness serves him well.
The one exception to Mario’s languor is when he collects a star and turns into Superstar Mario. Collecting the star must be the equivalent of ingesting a thousand Pixy Stix, as Mario is unable to sit still after getting the star. He dons a cape similar to the one he wears as an adult in Super Mario World, and is able to glide and run up the wall and across the ceilings with surprising gusto. Yoshi is so frightened by Mario’s energy that he hides himself in a large egg while Mario tugs him across the stage.
The entirety of Yoshi’s Island – six whole worlds consisting of sultry jungles, frozen mountains, lava-filled caverns, thick forests, and open vistas – passes Mario by. Then when Yoshi reaches the boss room in King Bowser’s castle, Mario and Bowser meet for the first time, sort of. Mario remains unaware and Bowser wants to ride Yoshi. He seems to take no interest in Mario, and why would he? Unlike Kamek, Bowser has no foreknowledge that Mario will be his mortal enemy for the next thirty-plus years. Bowser is older than Mario, probably closer to a toddler. He can talk, and his desire to make Yoshi “MINE! MINE!” stems less from his internal badness and more from the fact that he’s a spoiled young king. Once Kamek enlarges Bowser beyond the realms of his castle, he tries to destroy both Yoshi and Mario, though once again, I suspect it’s more because Bowser can’t have his way. As with future Mario games and his continual stealing of the Princess, Bowser’s desire stems from wanting something Mario has – even if, as is the case here, Mario’s not physically trying to keep Yoshi from Bowser.
Once Bowser is defeated, Yoshi finds the stork tied up and Luigi still sitting in a bundle atop the castle roof. “The twins are reunited!” the game exclaims. Guess Mario knew exactly where to go after all. The stork flies both Mario and Luigi to their parents’ doorstep. Yes, Mario and Luigi have parents! Which, of course they do, but who even gave their parents a second thought before Yoshi’s Island? We only get a glimpse of their lower half – their bathrobes and their feet, which is very much intentional. It doesn’t matter whether Mario got his dad’s gut or Luigi got his mom’s mustache. The twins are the focus, not their parents. And hey, their house is shaped like a mushroom. This means that they live in the Mushroom Kingdom, not Brooklyn, like every Mario fan assumed prior to Yoshi’s Island.
Mario and Luigi are safe in the hands of their parents. This is good, but if we’re all honest with ourselves, we’re more thankful that the Yoshis and the poor stork can go home and enjoy some much-needed rest. Let their soon-to-be-frazzled parents handle the twins unearthly baby cries from now on.
One could argue that Baby Mario is the main enemy in Yoshi’s Island, even over Kamek. Once knocked off Yoshi’s back, he floats away from Yoshi in a bubble that can often only be reached with Yoshi’s tongue. Mario’s cry pierces your being – the first time it occurs, out of pity, then every subsequent time, out of frustration. There’s a sense that Mario is floating away from you intentionally, like he doesn’t want to be rescued. Which sounds ridiculous, considering scooping him up is the only way to shut him up, but still, he’s a baby, bound by an unapologetic need for comfort. Pity the poor Yoshi clan. They’re his adoptive parents, forced to keep the peace with a random child (however golden he may be), while the Island they call home turns against them because of said child.
Indeed, Yoshis – the group of selfless dinosaur creatures who happily take Mario from one stage to the next without asking anything in return – are the real stars of Yoshi’s Island. If not for their actions on his behalf, Mario would not be the Koopa-crushing, Goomba-stomping hero that he is today. Without the Yoshis, there’s a good chance Mario would have met his final end in the jungle somewhere. God bless them. Even if Mario doesn’t remember his first epic adventure now, I hope that if some old Yoshi ever recounts the tale to him, he’ll be humbled by their courageous actions on his behalf.
NEXT TIME: Yoshi’s Island DS
*thanks to VGMuseum for these particular snapshots.
^thanks to MarioWiki for this snapshot.