Yoshi's New Island is the gateway drug to Nintendo's world of primary-colored, fluffy clouds-and-pipework platform games.
Ostensibly, it's a game for children; gentle, whimsical and kindly. Not that small people particularly need an experience that is more welcoming than the likes of Super Mario 3D Land. Such is the genius of Nintendo's much-copied design that anyone can play these games, and be charmed, within minutes.
But Nintendo, much in need of revenues, has pursued a strategy of offering a steady stream of Mario games on 3DS, like Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, and so it seeks ever-more fans from the lower end of the age range.
Yoshi's New Island, which launches on 3DS on March 14, is entirely familiar to anyone who has played a Yoshi game before, right back to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island on SNES. An adorable Baby Mario is in need of help finding Baby Luigi and the Yoshis (a tribe of dinosaurs) are happy to stick him on their backs and venture forth into perilous platforms featuring clouds, jungles, lava, water ... you get the picture.
The last full Yoshi game, Yoshi's Island DS, added the quirk of multiple baby characters from the Nintendo pantheon. This game sticks to the main man, although there are plenty of Yoshis, distinguishable only by color, to lend a hand. They all do the same thing, which is to jump across platforms, sometimes using an especially forgiving double-jump trick that is the character's trademark. Yoshi can also stomp on enemies and eat them using its tongue. It can then lay an egg which is useful as a weapon.
One enemy type gives the game its first new mechanic, which is very large eggs, called Mega Eggdozers. These can be launched in a variety of strategic directions laying waste to huge swathes of landscape, and picking up all those stars, flowers and other useful goodies that are strewn about the world. Directing the large egg correctly is important.
This being a Nintendo 3DS game, 3D backgrounds are also thrown in, many of which are painterly and delightful. Wrapped up with the upbeat soundtrack, Yoshi's New Island is aiming to be the sort of feel-good experience that can brighten up a gray day for even the bleakest soul.
The second innovation, if that is not too strong a word, is to have Yoshi transform into a variety of vehicles, like a mine-cart or a helicopter, and go off on little time challenges making use of tilt controls. Getting through these inside the clock is not difficult, but doing so while picking up the entire feast of bonuses and goodies is another matter.
It is often said that Nintendo is in the toy business. But, unlike most toy companies, it must make products that appeal to kids and to older, hardened players of Nintendo games. These are both demanding groups, and their desires are not always the same.
The standard Nintendo solution is to salt its games with challenges for completionists, and to ramp up the difficulty level in later stages. Certainly, a late level we played took the sort of persistence and practice that, while not beyond the average five-year-old, would take them — like me — a while to perfect.