RetroVision – Yoshi’s Starring Role

Following on from his first appearance in Super Mario World, Miyamoto’s Yoshi went on to play the starring role in Yoshi’s Island on the Super Nintendo.  However, this iconic game may never have been.  At least not without the passion and belief that Miyamoto had in not only the character, but also in the overall style of the game.

Whilst being the Dinosaur’s first starring role, Yoshi had appeared in numerous Nintendo titles following his debut in Super Mario World.  These games included Yoshi’s Safari and Yoshi’s Cookie.  However, Shigeru Miyamoto was notably vocal about not being a fan of these games, and of the way in which Yoshi was being utilised, and wanted to set that right.  As such, he began planning a game that he believed was more representative of the character he created.

Yoshi Island
Gameplay of Yoshi’s Island. A game also known as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

However, when Miyamoto first pitched the idea for Yoshi’s Island to Nintendo’s marketing team in Kyoto, he didn’t get the response he was expecting.  Despite originally being designed in the same visual style as the Super Mario series that Miyamoto is most famous for, Nintendo’s marketing team rejected the idea.  This decision was made in the main, thanks to the recent success of Donkey Kong Country, a game developed by Rare in the United Kingdom.

Despite, Yoshi’s Island having been in development for a number of years prior to Donkey Kong Country, the release of Rare’s revolutionary title threw a curveball for the future of Yoshi’s Island.  You see, in developing Donkey Kong Country, Rare had famously utilised pre-rendered 3D graphics in order to create the game’s graphics.  Just one piece of a puzzle that saw the game praised as being groundbreaking, at the time of its release in 1994.  Not only was Donkey Kong Country a huge success, but it also helped Nintendo turn the tide in the Console Wars against SEGA, pushing back the margins that SEGA had taken from Nintendo since the release of the Mega Drive / Genesis.

Rare’s revolutionary Donkey Kong Country

All this contributed to Nintendo’s marketing team holding a desire to discover new experiences, ones that were more along the lines of Donkey Kong Country.  Thus leading them to conclude that Yoshi’s Island, and its Super Mario visuals, would lack the ability to impress gamers.  As you can imagine, this didn’t go down well with the legendary video game developer, with Miyamoto vehemently disagreeing with the decision.  In fact, when recalling this situation, Miyamoto was quoted as stating that the marketing team simply wanted:

better hardware and more beautiful graphics instead of … art

He also went on to state his disappointment in the decision to focus simply on graphics, by stating:

Donkey Kong Country proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good

Nevertheless, rather than bow to the demands of Nintendo’s marketing team, Miyamoto took the game’s direction down the exact opposite path.  This meant the game became far more abstract than the original design, in turn becoming the cartoon-esque, crayon drawn game, we all know and love.  He even doubled down his focus on gameplay experiences, including both, a variety of gameplay mechanics not seen before in similar platforming titles, and a wealth of secrets for Yoshi to discover.

In the end, Miyamoto’s belief in his vision was eventually proven right, and not only did the marketing team sign off on Yoshi’s Island, but so did Nintendo as a whole.  In fact, following the game’s debut in Japan, Miyamoto was confident enough to state that:

… we have included a lot of magic tricks. The more you play the game, the more surprises it will give you. As far as the quantity and quality of game ideas are concerned, Yoshi’s Island is second to none.

This ultimately proved to be extremely accurate of the finished product, and the industry’s press also agreed, with Yoshi’s Island receiving critical acclaim.  In fact, the game is still revered to this day as one of the most unique, and best developed platformers of the 16-bit era.  Thus, once again proving that the vision and development skill of Shigeru Miyamoto, is something to be respected.  So for everyone who has enjoyed Yoshi’s Island, and for all those still to experience it, once again there is an awful lot for us to thank Shigeru Miyamoto and his team for.  Though you probably knew that already, didn’t you?

Sophia Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she's written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DivaXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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