Yoshi’s Island Tour Part 8: Contemplating Our Navel

The first segment of Jammin’ Through the Trees shows that we’re not alone in our ability to interact with our environment. All of the terrain is made up of sponge-dirt, and monkeys recklessly blast through it with dynamite and melon seeds. This gives the stage a rather hectic sensation. They can help us by clearing a path, but they can also destroy the floor beneath us. We also meet a new enemy, the Spiked Fun Guy (I have no idea what that name’s about). It’s a tiny spiked cactus that ordinarily simply moves along the ground at a decent clip (no stomping, but eating’s fine). If it comes across a pot, it starts leaping at incredible heights. It’s an interesting little dynamic, changing the enemy’s behavior on the fly, and we can use both pot and Guy as projectiles (and spitting one into the other won’t hurt them, but will unite them).

Next, the monkeys’ attack from the trees becomes more aggressive, and we have to cross some platform-go-rounds over lethal spikes (with Shy Guys serving as Reznor-wannabes). This segment’s pretty brief, but emphasizes the stage’s “platforming with death below and projectiles from above” motif.

The next segment opens up dramatically, but largely encourages us on a path across several trees, and we meet a new Piranha variant. This one is green and spews Needlenoses at us (there are two varieties, one that spits three then pauses, and another that spits one then pauses). These guys make an interesting counterpart to the Blow Hard. They’re a bit more limited in their attack trajectory, but there’s no convenient tell, and they attack very quickly. They can’t be conveniently stunned, but they can be killed (it takes three hits to do so, though). They’ll be frequently used to harass us in precarious areas, or wall off something of value. Their intro is slightly gentler because we have a melon we can use to defeat them, and more layers of trees should we get knocked off our perch.

Speaking of that layer, retracing our steps back beneath the Piranhas leads to another shooting gallery, this one on a mobile platform. Then we come to some stone ruins and get a few opportunities to do some trick shots (with both eggs and melon) as well as a rare case in which we want to pound a stump only partially down.

Then we get a crazy finale, with several disjointed platforms with small trees on them, a ! switch providing temporary coins that encourage us to speed our pace along, monkeys throwing projectiles from the trees, Shy Guys under and on the trees, and a rather sneaky flower. Like the end of 3-2, it’s another brief flirtation with some more traditional, precise, “everything trying to kill you” platforming. Yoshi’s flutter abilities really shine here, and the fact you have multiple decisions (under the trees or on them? Take out the monkeys or speed by before they have a chance to react?) really make this a fun segment to rush through.

Visually, this stage is a bit bland between what came before and the subsequent stages (the big mound of dirt in the sky in the first segment doesn’t help), but it’s nice to have a dose of some fast-paced platforming mixed in. Note that it’s still in wide open areas with ample chances to save yourself by fluttering to a previous/lower platform. Far from my favorite stage in this world, but it’s a nice palette cleanser.

What’s blue, spiky, and runs really fast? Harry Hedgehog, of course! This little raspberry at Sega owns his own cave, and like many caves in this series, we begin outside. So far, each world has had a basic theme, but this is the most direct transition from one stage to another that we’ve had so far. We start out on top of a hill, with several of the monkey-filled trees we were just bouncing along in the last world decorating the landscape. We can run down the hill into the cave…and very shortly we’ll see a key, flower, and tulip that we have no apparent way to access. There’s also a path leading back from the flower. The tree-jumping skills that were put to the test in the previous stage can get us to a second, higher entrance, which lets us bag the goods (plus a few red coins).

Once we get in the cave, we find ourselves assailed by tiny blue rodents. Mousers return, and they’re back to their egg-napping ways. Meanwhile, the titular hedgehogs behave unlike anything we’ve seen so far. Jumping on those spines is right out. They’re edible, but their blazing speed and the uneven cave floor can make it tough to snag them. They can also spontaneously grow, becoming inedible (but also immobile). There are plenty of mushrooms available to stay out of their path, but at full size they can often still reach Yoshi. The cave is littered with fire melons to assist in keeping the critters at bay, and we also get a Chomp Rock to steamroll them.

There’s a rather neat setup halfway through the cave, where we see a yellow egg block beneath us, but can’t turn it into an egg from above. We have to circle around, find a mole tank transformation, and dig our way beneath it. Then we can hit it, and actually bounce much higher. We get a chance to show some fluttering prowess here, with long jumps required to pick up all the collectibles. In fact, we can do a huge jump to reach the locked exit door without dealing with the hedgehogs and Mousers below.

Unfortunately, this is a little misleading. We’re only missing one flower at this point, and as far as we know, it could be in the homestretch of the stage. The way the stage guides us straight from the previous ledge onto this platform seems to hint it’s the way we should continue. Instead, we have to drop to the ground below and check out the pipe in the corner, which leads to the flower. It’s one case where the game’s natural design leads you away from collectibles, and there’s no going back once you go through the locked door.

Aside from the final flower faux pas, this is a fun, fast-paced cave stage. I like how the game is really encouraging you to use the flutter to make some lengthy jumps. Having a “real” cave entrance is also an interesting feature, and most of the level simply gives you speedy enemies to contend with. Again, it feels like they’re just reacting to an intruder, and you have the freedom to play aggressively or evasively. Unfortunately, you get a harsh lesson about one-way doors toward the end.

Monkeys’ Favorite Lake is an exam of a stage. It’s also another very organic location, not just a level. We have Shy Guys and monkeys splashing around, Stilt Guys navigating through the shallows, the sun breaking in through the canopy, and caches to seek out up in the trees. We begin innocently enough, with some Shy Guys and Stilt Guys (who prove more troublesome than before if you let yourself drop into the water with them), and some monkeys providing only a token resistance, as you get a feel for the wet, muddy terrain. At the end, we come to some overgrown stone ruins, and there’s a suspicious gap with a secret winged cloud ala 3-5. It leads to yet another submarine segment.

Soon things get extremely chaotic, with more monkeys bombarding you from above (your hampered mobility in water/mud can be a problem here), trees patrolled by Spear Guys, and fake flowers prepared to get the drop on you. There’s a winged cloud cleverly placed near the top of the screen. I like this more than the similar setup at the end of 1-7 because monkeys on vines above are designed to both spoil your aim and “frame” the empty space, highlighting something suspicious. Paying attention to the water is another tipoff, since there’s a single tile of land perfectly between the two monkeys.

The cloud produces a large flower stalk that lets us access the trees above. Here, we can use melons both to fend off some quick monkeys and collect a huge formation of coins.

After our “summary” of the world so far, we end with a completely new segment, with the terrifying Lunge Fish lying in wait. Lunge Fish is an ugly catfish, and one of the few enemies that can kill Yoshi instantly, by swallowing him whole. It’s a definite sendup to SMB3’s Boss Bass. Fortunately, Lunge Fish isn’t quite as persistent, peeking out of the water, descending, and only attacking if you come near that area. When it does attack, it breaks the water with a terrifying, grating noise and a “vacuum” effect drawing toward its mouth. Once again, this has the dual role of making the enemy distinct and memorable, and clearly conveying the nature of its threat to the player.

With Yoshi’s great jumping, the Lunge Fish is really only threatening if you need to go near the water, and the game taunts us with a flower/bonus game that we need to swim under some rocks to reach.

Finally, we have several very tiny protrusions of slippery mud, with several coins on the water’s surface in between. This is brilliant teaching on the game’s part. Yes, we can make some daring plunges with some good timing and pick up the coins that way, but the last section has given us good reason to fear the Lunge Fish. The second option is to collect with eggs, and in doing so, we discover that eggs fired at the proper angle will skip across the water’s surface, picking up everything along the way. It’s a fun trick that the game teaches us totally naturally. But something this gimmicky and situational probably won’t come up again…

I suppose it bears note that just before the mud islands is a rock ceiling with an extremely narrow vertical gap and cloud inside. Attempting to hit this is a risky business, since it involves shooting eggs upward while fluttering over fish-infested waters. Once we hit the shore, we reach a cloud that creates a bridge over the whole thing and trivializes the process.

This is a cool stage that thoroughly plays up the jungle setting, tests us on our experience in the first six stages, and caps off with a new challenge.

Apropos of a Piranha Plant, Naval Piranha’s Castle resembles a network of pipes. We quickly meet a ghostlike creature blocking our path. It will spit Shy Guys at us until our eggs are maxed out, and each successive strike will cause it to withdraw slightly. Like the Potted Ghost, the fun of this enemy is its changing expressions depending on the situation.

A bit further into the pipes we meet Hootie the Blue Fish. Not only is it one of the most painful puns in video game naming history, they’re tough customers. They’re completely indestructible, and an egg will only give them brief pause. Like Piranhas, getting eaten by these guys is a massive inconvenience, guaranteeing several seconds will come off the timer, making you drop your eggs, and remaining a solid obstacle (if Baby Mario winds up on the opposite side of this thing…ugh). Approach with caution, and they’re not so bad by themselves.

What’s cool about the setting is the water flow, which impacts your progress and can lead you to little side areas. Early on, water drains into a couple pools off to the side. A sharp eye will spot a tiny snorkel floating around on the surface… it’s Aqua Lakitu, waiting to ambush you even in areas non-conducive to clouds! Creating a funny enemy variant, only to hide him in a single level off the beaten path for true explorers to find…that’s why this game is great.

The flowing water can affect your enemies as well, sending Piranha Plants gliding across the floor at you, and allowing you to ride the wave and crouch under Piranhas on the ceiling. Then we come to the Tutorial Room.

We’ve seen this a lot in the first two worlds: the game introduces a concept in an optional setting, not really telling you about it. Later it makes sure you know what’s up. This is the most blatant case of that practice. We stumbled across skipping eggs at the end of the previous stage. Now we have an entire room with three message blocks explaining it. Granted, this also takes it up a notch, asking us to bank shots off walls while keeping the angle shallow enough to skip afterward. This is definitely the most heavy-handed tutorial the game has seen so far, and it feels a lot like learning new techniques in the 3D platformers just around the corner. It should be noted that even if it’s heavy by this game’s standards, you can still ignore all the message blocks, simply get most of the collectibles directly, or blaze right through the room if you don’t care about collecting. More on this at the end.

The latter half of the castle gets a little meaner with its enemy placement, trying to wash you right into the jaws of Hootie, having you practice your bank shots on Piranha and Ptooie Plants, and crowding enemies on the floor and ceiling of another branched-off path (this includes mixing very visible plants with an Aqua Lakitu that’s easy to lose and can be anywhere on the floor, which really puts your crowd control to the test). Probably the toughest challenge is cutting another one of those path-blocking ghosts down to size while Hootie cuts your operating space down to just about nothing. You have to time your assault to begin when Hootie’s on the far side, and by the time it comes around, the ghost should be small enough for you to be able to breathe.

It’s boss time, and this is one of my favorite bosses in gaming. Naval Piranha’s design is so great, they reused it for MegaSmilax, Lava Piranha, and Big Bungee Piranha. Her smaller tendrils seem to bob to the beat of the music, her vines churn up the water to propel her along, and her “head” is animated smoothly as it snaps, swings up and down, or turns around. Her “snapping” sounds also differ from ordinary Piranhas’. All in all, she’s an extremely impressive creation to see in motion. The vines alone are a marvel, something that most contemporaries would depict with a series of segments rather than single, fluid entities. The fact that they rotate, bob, and float according to Naval’s momentum is simply incredible.

Naval basically serves as a skill measuring stick. If you’ve taken the egg-banking skill the game’s been preaching hard to heart, then this fight is a breeze. But as a kid, I remember being stuck here for a long time, and from conversations with other gamers, I was far from the only one. I think part of that comes from being young and inexperienced, and the other speaks to the difference between high and low (or no) pressure.

As for the battle itself, Naval’s primary attack is to charge “head” first at you, which is easily leaped over. Occasionally, she’ll throw in a fakeout, which is still not a huge problem for Yoshi’s aerial mobility. Naval supplies eggs by spewing Nipper spores into the air, though you obviously have to allow them to land if you want ammo. Finally, Naval can use her two smaller tendrils to hassle Yoshi from below, having them pop up repeatedly while “laughing.” This is a weird one, since Naval uses it very unreliably, especially in the SNES version. Sometimes I’ve deliberately stalled the fight for several minutes and never seen it; occasionally she’ll use it immediately. It seems a little more frequent and reliable on the GBA.

In the meantime, you should be rebounding eggs beneath the platform and across the water into Naval’s exposed weak spot basically any time she isn’t headbutting you. Three hits are all it takes (really, the test is if you know the technique and can do it under pressure, not how often you can do it). Naval has a spectacular death scene where she seems to turn to stone, then crumble to dust piece by piece.

It bears mentioning that there’s an alternate, easier way to kill Naval. If you manage to hit the dormant Piranha with an egg before you trigger Kamek’s appearance (the room’s platform is made up of several tiny segments. Basically don’t go beyond the leftmost one), she’ll glow yellow, Kamek will swoop into view and scream “OH MY!”, then she’ll die and you can move on. It’s such a cool fight that I hate to pass it up, but it’s a hilarious little feature and a safe way to conclude the stage with 100 percent.

This is one of my favorite stages. We get several new enemy types that are mixed effectively, unusual terrain that both fits the environment and allows for interesting gameplay, some clever secrets, and an awesome (if effortless) boss. It feels like this stage had a lot of late work done to it, what with how overt and exhaustive the egg-skipping tutorial is, and with the in-game acknowledgment of the ability to one-shot Naval.

Overall, the jungle does a great job of presenting us with a compelling location. It also ups the challenge, but mostly from an exploration standpoint. The bosses continue a creative hot streak. This was the world when I first realized this game was special, all those years ago.

As usual, thanks to Peardian for those sweltering jungle maps.

Next time: Fluttering’s easy to take for granted. In this next stretch, we exercise it to a far greater extent than what we’ve seen so far.

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