[Currently listening to: Yoshi’s Woolly World OST. Appropriate, no?]
If you think I can’t find serious literary juice in super cute and colorful platformers, then you’ve got another thing coming.
I’ve mentioned before that Super Mario RPG is the game of my childhood, but maybe I should amend this declaration and say that I have two games which hold such a coveted place in my heart. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island fills me with wonder every time I play it. The game mechanics are flawless, the world is beautiful, and the challenge is balanced enough that even when you die repeatedly attempting 100% level completion you still feel like you’re having fun.
(But will you just STOP CRYING, BABY MARIO.)
(Keep this on in the background for full enjoyment of post.)
I have two memories from when I first played Yoshi’s Island: the first was letting the title screen sit so I could hear this way good island melody play. The second was watching the end in awe, allowing my adrenaline to settle after finally beating giant baby Bowser, captured by the simplicity of 16-bit piano music and a stork intent to deliver two celebrity plumber babies to their parents.
It. Was. Immersive.
I didn’t keep up with Yoshi’s solo games after that. Once the next gen of consoles arrived, my brother and I opted to get the PlayStation instead of the N64. When the Wii was released, I returned to play the Super Mario Galaxy games, but by that point at least three Yoshi games had come and gone, and I’d heard they weren’t earth-shattering.
Fast-forward to the present year. Yoshi’s Woolly World makes its debut, and fans wonder if this will be the game that brings the magic back. And you know, it’s this blogger’s opinion that it did.
Since it’s a newer game, I won’t spoil the nuances that Woolly World implemented to bring back memories of Island. Sufficed to say, there were several levels where I was grinning like a fool at the way Good-Feel perfectly pushed all my nostalgia buttons. They made a whimsical setting on par with the childlike world of Island and even mirrored some of the challenge present in the first game.
But this is a blog that talks about story elements in games, right? And while playing Yoshi’s Woolly World, I was surprised to realize: I wasn’t as interested in its story as I was with Island’s.
That seems silly, since platformers generally stay light on plot so the player can focus on enjoying level design. How could the two games’ stories produce such different responses from me? Well, aside from an obvious nostalgia factor (I won’t deny it), there’s that question every person who creates a story needs to ask concerning his/her plot: What is at stake for our characters?
In Island, the Yoshis are tasked with the protection of baby Mario, dropped from a sabotaged stork delivery and separated from Luigi, who’s been captured by Kamek. Not only does our dino friend have to keep Mario safe, he also must find a way to reunite the separated brothers and get them back on their way to their family!
In World, Kamek has turned nearly all Yoshis into skeins of wool to complete his plot of building Baby Bowser a bigger castle. The remaining Yoshi(s) must chase after him and rescue their un-spooled friends along the way.
Both plots give enough premise as needed for their games, but in the case of Island, there’s far more the player needs to care about. I mean, yes, rescuing your entire species from being un-spooled is serious business, but since Woolly World mainly uses it to create a goal for collectibles, emotional attachment is never quite established. Additionally, there’s no increasing tension as we near the end: We’ve saved several Yoshis at that point. The crisis has gradually been lessened.
Meanwhile, in Island, the risk is always increasing for Yoshi and the infant plumber. In later levels it becomes harder to keep Mario on the saddle; there are more enemies to avoid. Plus – provided the player has experienced other Mario games – there’s a sort of “destiny” on our shoulders to make sure baby Mario becomes the video game hero we’ve already known and loved for a decade.
How do we apply this practically if we attempt writing our own stories? Think about what’s at stake: for your characters, for your world, even for the readers. Is the potential loss serious enough to warrant emotional investment?
I mean, if a cute, green, tennies-wearing dinosaur can pull it off, then surely so can anyone.