It makes a quite refreshing change to hear the impossibly cute mumblings of Mario's eternally helpful sidekick, Yoshi, directly after having your eardrums burst by Marcus Fenix's hyper-macho marine madness. It's refreshing in all sorts of ways. Going straight from the jaw-dropping high-definition next-generation graphics of Gears of War to the tried and trusted 2-D cartoon platform action of Yoshi's Island DS, and not missing Mr Fenix a single bit, is one. Leaving behind the whining and bitching of the ever polite Xbox Live community for the peace and quiet of a classic single-player adventure is another.
But it's the realisation that you can still lose yourself in a virtual world, whether it be blasted into your living room from a 40-inch LCD or engraved onto your retina from the back-lit glow of the Nintendo DS' dual screens, that is most refreshing of all. It's back to basics in the most pure, unadulterated fun kind of way that the DS seems to have a monopoly on (well, pre-Wii at least). It's the embodiment of the fundamentals of gameplay that I sometimes pine for, even when picking my jaw off my carpet following the resolution of a particularly exhilarating fire fight in Gears of War.
And you really have to hand it to developers Artoon for such a noble effort, not without a sizeable amount of pressure. The Yoshi's Island franchise is treasured among Nintendo platform devotees - 1995's Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island on the SNES (remade in 2002 for the GBA as Yoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3) is arguably the greatest platform game of all time - and a cock-up could have resulted in a particularly nasty backlash. But don't worry - you can put down your protest banners - despite some niggling annoyances, Yoshi's Island DS is a thoroughly enjoyable re-imagination of a classic platformer and a heart-warming alternative to the next-gen madness which will no doubt dominate the gaming agenda this Christmas.
I say re-imagination because it's more a remake than a sequel. The simple backstory involves the Yoshi clan helping babies Mario, Peach, Donkey Kong, and, later on, Wario and Bowser (don't worry, that's not a spoiler, the manual will tell you that much) to rescue Baby Luigi from the evil Kamek, the Magikoopa in his floating castle. The staple Yoshi's Island platforming goodness remains, but with a DS twist. While carrying a baby on his back, Yoshi can swallow enemies by sticking out his tongue, then either spit them out or turn them into eggs. Get hit by an enemy and the baby will start bawling and float away in some demented direction, forcing you to frantically retrieve the babe before its protective bubble disappears and Kamek comes calling.
There's lots of precision jumping, puzzle solving and pipe exploration, as you'd expect. And the structure of the game is equally predictable - complete levels, get to castle, defeat boss, start next world.
Within five minutes of play you'll notice how long the game is compared to, say, New Super Mario Bros. By no means will you fly through the game, platform guru or not. But it's not because the levels are particularly difficult, they're just, well, long. Reflecting this, there's no time limit, so there's no pressure to rush through things. It's more a case of relaxing, bopping along to the cutesy music and enjoying the ride.
You won't die too often either, which is curious, given the masses of extra lives you'll pick up along the way. Yoshi's Island DS feels more like a coin hunting exercise than a platforming extravaganza.