Is The Perfect Video Game
This is what I decided when I was four years old, and I have not yet seen reason to doubt my four-year-old self's wisdom.
It has the perfect controls and gameplay, the most fitting soundtrack, the best graphical style, a fine-tuned difficulty curve, and -- perhaps most importantly of all -- it stars Yoshi, who is the best. In fact, I think every video game should star Yoshi. (Hey, Nintendo, how many $5 bills do I have to slip you before you make me a full game of just the Yoshi segments from Odyssey?)
Back in the olden years when we used to rent video game cartridges from brick-and-mortar stores, I remember clearly that Yoshi's Island was the first game that I ever chose to get myself. My older brother had rented it, and I wanted a chance to play it myself, so I asked to extend our rental. I wanted to play the skiing level, which I had just seen my brother complete.
(Still the best level, by the way.)
On The Gameplay
Yoshi's Island, I think, hits the perfect sweet spot of being fairly easy to beat, but quite difficult to complete, thanks to its requirements to full-clear levels. I was able to more or less play most levels with some effort as a small child, but even now as a grown man there are some parts that are a right pain in the ass (and a few tricky flowers and red coins that I always seem to forget, no matter how many times I tell myself I'm absolutely going to remember them this time). Don't quote me on this, but I feel like it was one of the first games to really embrace the perfectionist instinct-- certainly, the first I remember.
And, of course, Yoshi's signature abilities -- the flutter-jump, egg throw, and ground pound -- all have just the right weight and speed to make it feel really good when you pull off a trick egg shot or a long flutter-jump chain that you definitely should not have. (Have you ever seen the top-level speedrun strategy for the long autoscroller in 5-4? It's the most ass-clenching thing you'll ever see.)
It all comes together when you know what you're doing; literally nothing feels better than a successful single shot run of Bonus-5.
(Also: don't see people recognize enough that Mario's oh-so-iconic ground pound wasn't his until Super Mario 64! That's all Yoshi, bay bee.)
On The Graphics (And Art Style)
By now, we all know the story of how its graphical style was kind of a subtweet at Donkey Kong Country's prerendered graphics, but I think this story kind of undermines something really, really important:
Yoshi's Island is a stunningly gorgeous game. There's a reason I've chosen to deck out my entire little site here with its graphics. Go play it and take a look at its backgrounds -- like, really focus on them.
It's not just the crayon-drawn art style that makes them good! There's also just an immaculate sense of color and atmosphere, and very few levels are actually 100% the same. There are times when I've been replaying it recently where I kind of have to just stop and admire the aesthetic.
On The Soundtrack
If you didn't immediately click on the player to start playing the title theme, I don't know what to tell you, man. The title screen music just does something to me. (Yes, I was thrilled beyond words when it reappeared in Paper Mario 64.)
The entire soundtrack is a masterpiece overall, of course. But man. That title screen music. It's something else, man.
Yoshi was my first favorite character, and that love has basically abated not at all in the intervening almost 30 years. I loved Yoshi's Island entirely on the basis of it being Yoshi. Look at him. He's perfect. No notes.
On Yoshi Games
I find it a little sad that in the intervening years nothing has quite hit the same as Yoshi's Island-- not the sequels, not the other Yoshi games, and certainly no other franchise.
They're still often very good, the awkwardness of some aspects (read: the soundtrack) of Yoshi's New Island notwithstanding; but, and I realize this is just nostalgia talking, there is still an eminently replayable magic to the original that even the GBA port doesn't quite hit on for me. Maybe it's because the original game has some margin for error; oftentimes, it feels like the newer games require pinpoint precision and scouring for invisible items that have almost no visual indication for where they are. It's a delicate balance.
Yoshi's Crafted World is probably the one that's come closest for me, personally; but the good thing is that Yoshi's Island is a joy to play over and over and over and over again.
While there are games that have had a more emotional impact on me, I do think Yoshi's Island is probably my favorite game in a purely mechanical sense.
Good job picking the best game ever the first time you ever rented a video game of your own accord, tiny baby Jakkal.