Super Mario World may not have been as hip and blast-processed as Sonic, but the game did have one major thing on its side — you could ride a friggin’ dinosaur in it. Yoshi would go onto become Nintendo’s most significant new creation of the 16-bit era, starring in numerous spin-offs and sequels. Since that 16-bit era, Yoshi’s games have been a bit hit or miss, but Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island earned the green guy cred for life.
So, here are a few facts you might not know about the career of gaming’s most famous dinosaur…
1) Yoshi was supposed to debut on the NES. Ever since the development of the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted Mario to have some sort of animal steed to ride around on, but Nintendo’s programmers just couldn’t make the concept happen using the NES’ limited capabilities.
Early Yoshi concept art. Hee hee, pixel Mario is adorable.
2) Yoshi was originally going to be some form of Koopa. An early idea was for Yoshi to be a tame Koopa Troopa. Eventually he morphed into a dinosaur, because the shape of a dinosaur’s body meshed better with Mario’s sprite.
3) Yoshi was probably influenced by a Japanese game that takes place in hell. Devil World is the only Shigeru Miyamoto-designed game to never be localized for Americans because, well, it revolved around a dinosaur attacking hell and collecting crucifixes and bibles to defeat a Speedo-wearing Satan. For our purposes today, the important part of that insane description is the dinosaur part — the hero of Devil World was Tamagon, a small green dinosaur with red spikes on his back that hatched from an egg and swallowed enemies. Sound familiar? The game’s sound effects and music also had a distinctly Yoshi-esque feel. Judge for yourself…
4) The frog suit from Mario 3 was a Yoshi stopgap. Takashi Tezuka, the designer of Super Mario 3, came up with that game’s frog suit to get dino-crazed Miyamoto off his back. I guess letting Mario turn into a cold-blooded creature instead of riding one was enough to temporarily mollify Miyamoto. While not confirmed, I can’t help but think that the infamous Kuribo’s Shoe from Mario 3 was also a, “We can’t do a rideable dino yet, stop yelling at us Miyamoto-san!” stopgap.
5) Yoshi’s gender is, uh, complicated. So, Yoshi is often referred to as a “he”, but “he” lays eggs, so wouldn’t that make him a female? But the Japanese version of Smash Bros. Melee claims Yoshis actually reproduce asexually. But but, Yoshi can’t be that asexual, because he seems to have a romantic thing going with Birdo (who’s also of unclear gender). Oh well, let’s just forget the labels — Yoshi’s a Yoshi.
Looks like Yoshi finally sprung for a rock. You’ve got my blessing you crazy kids.
6) The creators of Pokemon made Yoshi’s first spin-off. Yoshi’s first solo game, the NES match-three puzzle game Yoshi, was made by Game Freak, who would go onto create Pokemon five years later.
7) Yoshi’s new Yoshi’s Island look actually debuted in Yoshi’s Cookie. The original Yoshi seen in Super Mario World was more explicitly dino-like than later versions of the character — his arms were small and t-rex-like and generally he wasn’t quite as cute. Yoshi’s Island debuted a new take on the character, with larger hands and arms and an overall more rounded, cuddly appearance. Interestingly, this new Yoshi sprite actually debuted, briefly, in Yoshi’s Cookie, two years before the release of Yoshi’s Island.
I suppose it’s appropriate Yoshi got more rounded after his cookie-themed game.
8) There’s a super rare, super expensive version of Yoshi’s Cookie. Honestly Yoshi’s Cookie isn’t a terribly exciting game, that is unless you manage to get your hands on the special Japanese version of the game that was given away with a certain brand of Panasonic ovens. This version of the game features an extra adventure mode in which Yoshi wanders around collecting cookie ingredients and was only printed in very limited numbers (around 500 copies). This sweet game regularly goes for 2000 – 3000 dollars.
9) The makers of Yoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country traded jabs. As mentioned in the Donkey Kong Country Fascinating Facts article, the Crayola-colored visual style of Yoshi’s Island was a direct result of Miyamoto rebelling against demands that the game be done in Rare’s patented pre-rendered style.
Interestingly both Yoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country 2 contain references to this internal Nintendo spat. Yoshi’s Island features an unused gorilla enemy that looks very much like Rare’s version of Donkey Kong done up in the visual style of Yoshi’s Island, and DK Country 2 featured a pre-rendered Yoshi.
Of course Rare rates Yoshi below classic character Diddy Kong.
10) Yoshi had some odd unused transformations in Yoshi’s Island. One of Yoshi’s stranger powers in Yoshi’s Island was the ability to transform into various things like a helicopter, car and submarine. ROM hackers have found several other cut transformations, such as the ability to turn into a plane, a mushroom and…a tree? Gee, wonder why that thrilling transformation was cut.
11) Yoshi won’t eat dolphins (in America at least). In the American version of Super Mario World Yoshi can’t eat the dolphin enemies, but he has no problem gobbling them up in the Japanese version. This of course mirrors Japan’s own somewhat horrifying treatment of marine mammals.
12) Yoshi will eat Baby Mario. Tired of Baby Mario’s cursed bawling? Well, there is a glitch in Yoshi’s Island that allows you to eat Baby Mario. Granted in only works in one specific area in one stage, but still, getting to swallow and digest that squalling pest is pretty therapeutic.
13) Yoshi is voiced by K.K. Slider. Yes, Yoshi’s weird squawks and yelps are provided by a real person, and that person is Kazumi Totaka, the very prolific Nintendo composer who is also the voice and inspiration for K.K. Slider, the rad guitar-strumming dog of Animal Crossing fame.
14) An unnecessary amount of work went into the movie version of Yoshi. One of the most memorable moments from the amazing 90s live-action Super Mario Bros. movie was the appearance of Yoshi, who was made to resemble a velociraptor in an obvious nod to/rip-off of Jurassic Park. Yoshi was by far the most complicated effect in the film — the model was capable of 64 different movements (clearly the makers of the movie knew about the N64 before any of us) and required a whopping nine puppeteers to operate.
Is it just me, or is this way too sexily lit?
15) Yoshi’s Island has never been re-released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console. For some reason, Nintendo has never given Nintendo fans a legal way to re-acquire the original Yoshi’s Island. The closest they’ve come is the Mario Advance GBA port of the game, but that version stripped out many of the original game’s effects and was beset with a terrible frame rate. Nintendo continues to pump out Yoshi’s Island sequels, but the original game unfortunately remains for collectors and pirates only.
So there you have it — the sordid history of Mario’s hungry green buddy. What are your favorite Yoshi games? Why is he so much better than everyone else in Mario Kart, but so lame in Smash Bros? Discuss.
Thanks as always to Joel Stice for originating the Fascinating Facts format.