*This is not a review. This is an exploration of the character of Mario within the context of Yoshi’s Island DS.*
No one would classify Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island as minimalistic by any means, but the game’s focus on Mario and Yoshi’s relationship was simple and sweet. Yoshi’s Island DS by comparison is an overwhelming ensemble film, driven by noise, an abundance of half-formulated ideas, and an absurdly long running time. Baby Peach, Baby Donkey Kong, Baby Bowser, and Baby Wario all make their debuts as playable characters, taking turns riding Yoshi up and down across his Island. Being able to control different characters within the Nintendo universe – each with their respective strengths and weaknesses – adds depth to the game, but takes the center stage off of Mario. While Mario has never had much personality to begin with, in Yoshi’s Island DS, he is little more than a bit player, a nameless cry in the symphony of screaming mouths.
In the original Yoshi’s Island, Bowser’s right hand Magikoopa, Kamek, tried to steal both Mario and Luigi from a stork after he foresaw they would foil Bowser’s plans until the end of eternity. In Yoshi’s Island DS, Kamek and his toadies steal all the babies they can find around the world, including the Mushroom Kingdom. This includes the Mario twins, the young Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, and a handful of other no-named babies of little significance. While the babies are being whisked away, however, a stork – perhaps the same one that delivered Mario and Luigi to their parents – attacks the toadies carrying Peach and the Mario twins. Peach and Mario fall to the ground, but Luigi – poor, helpless Luigi – gets taken with the rest of the kids.
Mario falls directly on Yoshi’s back while Peach floats down gently in her bundle. “One of the babies looks very familiar to Yoshi…” we are told. One would hope so. Either this Yoshi took no part in transporting Mario between stages in Yoshi’s Island or the species as a whole has a terribly short memory. The Yoshies hold a meeting of the Yosh Counsel, once again placing Mario in the middle of a circle of Yoshies. “Baby Mario looks forlorn and confused,” or so it is written. He is distressed because of the other babies. “Baby Mario can’t save them by himself!” No, of course not. One wonders if he could save himself, feed himself, hold his head up without falling over, let alone saving children as young as he.
Mario’s sudden ability to communicate telepathically with the Yoshies makes one wonder how old he is here. If we’re basing his age solely on looks, perhaps a few months old. Then again, he doesn’t appear to have aged since Yoshi’s Island and he was a supposed newborn there. Who knows, but rest assured, he’s still an infant. A preternaturally gifted infant, perhaps, but one still incapable of doing much besides riding on a gentle dinosaur creature’s back.
To understand Mario’s role within Yoshi’s Island DS, we must compare him to the other babies. Each of the five babies have different characteristics that move Yoshi closer to his goal. Peach doesn’t offer much commentary on the situation she’s found herself in, but she does offer Yoshi a parasol. With it comes the ability to hover for a longer period of time, and also, to float wherever air currents are found. Donkey Kong is the perennial favorite. He climbs and swings from vines, and when he throws eggs, they have a blast radius, similar to a bomb. Bowser and Wario appear infrequently, but are particularly helpful when they do. Wario has a magnet that pulls coins, metallic blocks and lifts closer to Yoshi, while Bowser can breathe fire and kill almost anything. What can Mario do? Well, he lets Yoshi run fast and jump higher than the other babies, and there are blocks that appear in the world only when he’s equipped. That’s it. These simple gifts come in handy, but not very often. They highlight just how useless Mario seems when he’s around stronger, more interesting company.
But perhaps it’s wrong to focus on Mario’s inability to be interesting in Yoshi’s Island DS. While the other babies certainly have characteristics that better aid Yoshi in his quest than Mario, none of them show much in the way of personality (save for Baby Bowser who is, once again, a cranky toddler, not an infant). Peach stays silent, a binky in her mouth at all times. Donkey Kong has dilated pupils and an endearing smile, but otherwise, does little. Wario grins wickedly and bears an everlasting thirst for money. Outside of the initial contact with the Yoshies, Mario too stays quiet for the rest of the journey, allowing his over sized red cap to do the talking.
A little over halfway through Yoshi’s Island DS, the game loses control of what little plot it had. Baby Bowser is brought to his future self’s – Big Bowser – castle by a different Kamek than the one that cares for him. Baby Bowser is told that “powerful stars had fallen into this time period” and that these stars reside within the souls of certain special babies. Anyone who possesses them is allowed to control the universe. Baby Bowser mouths off, proclaiming that it’s “lame” that his older self would still be trying to take over the universe. Big Bowser breathes fire at him and he falls out of the castle directly onto Yoshi’s back. He then steals Yoshi from the rest of the babies – but not before letting Mario know that “there’s a kid in green up there… totally stealing your style!” As in Yoshi’s Island, Bowser is unaware of the significance of either Mario or Luigi and apparently doesn’t remember fighting Mario/Yoshi in Yoshi’s Island (he calls Yoshi a “gigantic lizard”). His weak memory is the party’s gain, as he inadvertently helps them on their quest for a few levels. After the defeat of Big Guy the Stilted in World 4, Kamek faces everyone – Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Peach, even the stork – and asks Baby Bowser what he’s doing there. Bowser doesn’t answer, but decides to hitch a ride with Kamek briefly before falling off – intentionally or unintentionally – into the sky below.
What does the last paragraph have to do with Mario, you ask? Not much. In fact, the rest of the game focuses more on Baby Bowser and Big Bowser, while relegating the other babies – and even Yoshi – to the sidelines. Once Yoshi and the babies get to Bowser’s castle, Baby Bowser and Wario are already outside fighting about Bowser’s treasure. The babies and Yoshi blankly stare as they fight, something most players will be doing by this point. Baby Bowser has to explain the plot because it’s needlessly convoluted and he’s the only character that talks, we get it. But what do these sitcom hi-jinks have to do with rescuing the babies?
There are three parts to the final battle: the first is with Baby Bowser, the second with Big Bowser, and the last with a gigantic enhanced Bowser, courtesy of Kamek’s magic. The first two parts are fought with Mario alone, but the last battle is fought with all of the babies at once. This collective group effort drives the point home that Yoshi’s Island DS is a Nintendo game starring Mario and friends, not Mario and Yoshi as in Super Mario World 2. In fact, with the exception of the opening scenes, Mario receives little special attention throughout the game. He’s a tool to be exchanged by a helpful stork, usable to Yoshi for his speed, fantastic jumping ability, and occasional invincibility.
At the ending screen, it is revealed that the babies – Mario, Peach, Luigi, Bowser, Wario, Donkey Kong, and a random baby Yoshi – each carry one of the seven stars Big Bowser had been looking for. What do these stars do? The game only discusses their mysterious world-conquering power when all of the stars are brought together, but doesn’t elaborate beyond that. More importantly, a star given to each character implies that none of the characters are more special than the other. It’s true that each of them has their role to play in the future formation of the Mushroom Kingdom. But considering Mario is and has always been the star, hero, and face of Nintendo, to lump him in next to Wario, Donkey Kong, and Luigi as equal partners in the Book of Fate feels curious and misguided. One should expect nothing less from Yoshi’s Island DS, though. Yoshi’s second adventure featuring Mario feels less like canon and more like a footnote one could easily erase.
*thanks to VGMuseum for the screenshots
^thanks to email@example.com
It came to this author’s attention during the writing of this piece that Yoshi’s New Island is chronologically sandwiched between Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Island DS. As the author is trying to examine Mario as he ages throughout the history of his games, it is most important that he play Mario’s games in strict chronological order. The author apologizes profusely for this error and promises that it will probably never most likely ever happen again.