Every stage of Yoshi’s Island asks the player to find all of its five flowers and 20 red coins in order to earn a perfect score. The player must also maintain a collection of 30 stars, but many levels contain more than that.
All of these items must be collected on one pass through the stage; the player cannot collect four flowers, clear the stage, then play the stage again just to collect the last flower. No, the player must collect all 5 flowers when replaying the stage.
What’s the reason for this?
Understand that this is only in order to earn a perfect score for the stage. Yoshi’s Island is perfectly content to let the player go through the game ignoring score. Extra stages are the only benefit to earning perfect scores; for every world the player perfects, the game reveals an extra stage.
The need to collect every item in one playthrough of the stage suggests that the items are related in some spacial sense. In other words, it suggests that collecting one item after the next is difficult. One way to understand this concept is by looking at Super Mario Galaxy’s purple coin stars. Many of them present a single path, outlined by purple coins, which is difficult to follow. The game tests how well the player can stick to a strict path, even if elements of the stage try to force the player off the path. Another way to see it is as a succession of unrelated platforming challenges: can the player perform a number of unrelated difficult jumps so regularly as to do them all without a break between? Super Mario 64′s red coins take this approach.
The items in Yoshi’s Island present neither challenge. They do not present a difficult obstacle course, nor do they present a series of difficult platforming challenges. The items, then, only serve to challenge the player’s treasure hunting skills: can the player uncover all the corners of a stage? However, if the challenge is to discover the hidden ends of each stage, why force the player to find everything in one pass through the stage? The player found this flower before, so the challenge is gone—why make the the player find it again? Rediscovering everything for every attempt at perfecting a stage seems pointless; there is no challenge to it, it seems like a mindless retreading of old ground.
All of this might work if Yoshi’s Island had an enjoyable method to the placement of its flowers and red coins. However, deception is one of the trends running through the game’s item placement. The player can never truly grasp any proper way to approach collecting in stages; instead, the player is forced to cover the stage from top to bottom with a fine-toothed comb. Given the many directions in which a stage may stretch, this eliminates any sense of direction the stages may have. Considering the level of deception, on the other hand, one might say that there is a great deal of misdirection in Yoshi’s Island.
Perhaps the best example of misdirectionality and adirectionality (if you’ll allow me to make up words) is in stage 2-2. One portion of the stage is a maze within a cave. In some instances, it seems that collecting red coins is a matter of straying slightly off the main path. Consider the image below.
The red arrows point the player forward to the exit of the cave. Finding the red coin on the right side of this screen shot is a matter of following the top red arrow even after the bottom arrow tells the player to go a different way. The ? cloud at the bottom right of the screen only holds a 1up, as well.
There is no arrow that places the player on the path towards the 1up. This separates it from the red coin because there is no arrow pointing towards it; in fact, the arrows direct the player away from it. While the red coin is necessary for earning 100 points, the 1up is not. Perhaps, then, red coins and flowers are only slightly off the main path, while unnecessary items are far off the main path.
However, this is contradicted within the same maze.
There is no arrow pointing to this portion of the cave shown in the image above. Regardless, there is an arrow—shown in the top right of the image—which directs the player back to the main path. However, this arrow points away from the red coin at the top left. This red coin is only so striking because the magnifying glass has been used; most of the time, this red coin—like most red coins—looks very similar to a yellow coin. This arrow, then, directs the player away from a red coin. Unlike the previous red coin, this one is as divorced from the main path as the 1up in the previous image. There seems to be no logic to the placement of red coins within this maze, then. Any logic which might be found is quickly contradicted.
This shows misdirectionality in that the player must deviate from the path the stage suggests, and it shows adirectionality in that the player must check every corner of the maze, even though those corners are not directionally related. After collecting the red coin on the right in the first screen shot, the player must go directly to the left in order to collect the red coin in the next screen shot. After that, the player can go downward to get back to the main path of the stage. The player travels in three distinct and unrelated directions: right to collect one item, left to collect another, and finally downward to get on with the stage.
Deception remains a common theme throughout the game. Here is one portion found in stage 2-7.
Wooden posts sometimes contain red coins at the bottom, but wood posts are often much shorter. Working along the main path of the stage, the player will approach this from the right. Naturally, then, the player pounds down the wooden post on the right first.
However, this only uncovers an extra life. The player might abstract a lesson from this: such absurdly tall posts probably hold nothing crucial, like red coins or flowers. The post may have only been there to keep the player out of the center of the structure, which holds two red coins.
However, pounding down the wooden post on the left will reveal a red coin. The player has even less reason to pound this post down—there is no need to open a path into the structure. The opening revealed by pounding this post down is lower, so if the player decides to get into the structure by the left path, the player is more likely to pound the post all the way down. But, when the player approaches this structure from the right, why would the player start on the left post?
The only lesson to be abstracted is that the player must leave no stone unturned. Excepting memorization, the player must uncover the 1up every time the he/she attempts to earn 100 points in 2-7, since the decision to place a red coin under one post and not another is arbitrary. If the player will pound down that post anyway, why not make it required? Why place red coins under some posts, but not all?
While the logic within stages is absent, logic across a series of stages is somewhat present. Yoshi’s Island has a sense of progression with its item placement.
In the first world, if the player leaves the main path of the stage, often he/she will find no red coins or flowers.
1-4, Burt the Bashful’s Fort, is a great example of this. The cracked brick above the yoshi in this screen shot leads to a passage above the stage, but this passage contains only yellow coins. On the main path, however, are red coins and flowers.
4-8, Hookbill the Koopa’s Castle, defies this. There’s a cracked brick revealing a hidden passage above the ceiling. The player takes an arrow lift to enter the hidden passage, but the main purpose of the arrow lift is to carry the yoshi over blue thorns—it does not serve as a hint to search the wall above.
The hidden passage through the cracked brick leads to a separate room. In this room, the player must kill two enemies in order to earn one red coin. The sense of progression becomes evident: what was unnecessary in world 1 is now necessary late in world 4.
In addition, note that this secret room only yields one red coin. Red coins often come in groups; as a result, if the player is missing one red coin, the player is likely to assume that the he/she missed one red coin amongst a crowd. In other words, one red coin is not a clear indicator that the player has missed an entire room. Late in the game, it becomes imperative that the player cover every room.
Many of the stages between these, such as 2-2 and 2-7, are part of a transition period, where searching will reveal items irrelevant to score just as often as it will reveal items necessary for 100 points. Consider stage 3-2.
This screen contains a hidden ? cloud (not the ? cloud pictured above), which opens up a hidden passage. However, the hidden passage contains only yellow coins. After the passage, the player is returned to the stage’s main path, but not where he/she left off—instead, the player is now quite a ways further along the main path. If the player continues moving along the main path and does not take the hidden passage, he/she finds a flower—a flower that would have been skipped had the player taken the hidden passage. The stage design is lenient, however; after the hidden passage, the player can go backwards in the stage to collect the flower.
Below is a screenshot from later in the stage. Another hidden room is accessible from here, obstructed by this tree in the foreground. The player can access the hidden room by jumping towards the top center of the room pictured below.
For those who wish to earn 100 points, though, this hidden room cannot be skipped, since it contains four red coins. Some hidden rooms are required, and some are not, showing that the game is caught between the design mentalities of world 1 and world 4. In addition, it is important to note that this particular hidden room contains four red coins. Recall the one red coin hidden in 4-8; by comparison, four red coins is a good indicator that the player has missed an entire room. 3-2, then, is part of Yoshi’s Island’s effort to make the player a better searcher. However, instead of building a better searcher, this breeds futile suspicion in the player. The player will soon learn that it is necessary to search every corner of stages in order to be sure that nothing is missed; however, in the process, the player will find just as many useless items as useful ones.
Yoshi’s Island, then, seems to have a trend in which it becomes more important to search carefully in stages as the game progresses. However, this trend is not established absolutely. Without establishing some solid criteria by which to study these stages, the process of measuring such a trend will provide only vague results at best. The examples in this article are cherry-picked to convey the sensation I had when playing the game, and they leave room for a great deal of error. If we are to come to an understanding of Yoshi’s Island, we will need to find or create a reasoning behind the placement of not only red coins and flowers, but all collectibles, such as lives, yellow coins, and stars. As it is, the potential remains to find no justification for item placement in Yoshi’s Island; perhaps we will always see the game’s item placement as random and chaotic.
Reflecting on this, I’d like to note something. The original Super Mario Bros. 2—For Super Players or Lost Levels—teaches by deception as well. It takes notions established in Super Mario Bros. and turns them on their heads. The Poison Mushroom is the perfect example of this; the player hits a ? block, expecting a coin or helpful powerup, and out comes a harmful substance disguised as a powerup. Other deceptions teach the player that some jumps need to be bridged by jumping on enemies and that a level may contain more than one Bowser.