Well golly gee, that Super Mario sure is a talented fellow. Princess-rescuing is obviously his main racket, but sometimes his adventures see him practising medicine, teaching typing, participating in every sport ever conceived by man and sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - grabbing a gun and embarking on a shooting spree across the Mushroom Kingdom and the surrounding lands. Hundreds of Bowser's troops will die at the barrel of the fat plumber's gun in Nintendo's 1993 shoot-em-up (yes, really) Yoshi's Safari!
The name might imply a peaceful journey spent looking at nature, but bear in mind that the original Japanese title is Yoshi's Road Hunting. Mario's out for blood, not cheerful holiday snaps, and he's going to get it while riding a gluttonous dinosaur.
Plot-wise, Yoshi's Safari sets out to smash the tired conventions of the Super Mario series, to shift the paradigm, to stun players with its bold storytelling decisions. Brace yourself, because here's the twist: Princess Peach does not get kidnapped in this game.
Nope, she's there the whole time. No abductions, no false imprisonments, not even a little light royal endangerment. I know she's a little more independent these days, but in 1993 all Peach was good for was decorating the inside of Bowser's dungeon and participating in the occasional go-kart race. Here, however, she's exercising her royal power to provide military aid to a neighbouring country.
There's trouble in nearby Jewellery Land, which isn't an Elizabeth Duke-style shop specialising in bargain gold chains but a sovereign nation. Its leaders, Prince Pine and King Fret, have been kidnapped and the royal jewels stolen. Look, if you called your country "Jewellery Land" then I'm sorry but you're just inviting people to come and pillage it. Princess Peach, knowing all too well the pain of royal kidnap, decides to help the poor Jewelerylandians and sends in a crack commando unit to put things right. That crack commando unit is Mario, riding Yoshi. Mario has a gun. Thus, the adventure of Yoshi's Safari begins!
Look, Mario, I know you really like the Princess and you want to cram your Super Mushroom into her Item Box and all that, but the time has come for you to get over it and realise that she's been using you. You've rescued her from multiple kidnappings, received nothing by way of reward, and now she wants to use you as some kind of mercenary as "a favour"? Lending someone a tenner is a favour. Feeding someone's goldfish while they're on holiday is a favour. Undertaking a one-man mission deep into enemy territory to overthrow an evil regime is somewhat more than a favour, and I think it's about time Mario took back some self-respect.
As for Yoshi, I suspect the roll-eyed expression of sarcastic impatience that he's wearing on the title screen sums up his feelings about Mario's poor, deluded heart.
Of course, he can't say no to Princess Peach and soon he and Yoshi are choosing which route to take through Jewellery Land.
I'd suggest starting at stage one, but I'm a boring old man. You're young and full of hopes and dreams; you can start at stage five if you like. Ah, the freedom of youth!
Yep, Yoshi's Safari is an honest-to-God lightgun shooting game for the SNES, starring Super Mario himself. Those amongst you familiar with the gaming peripherals of the early '90s probably just read "SNES" and "Lightgun" and realised that this is a Super Scope game. Ah, the Super Scope - I talked about it in the Battle Clash article, and once again I'll remind you that the Super Scope was Nintendo's lightgun for the SNES. Always wanting to be different, the Big N decided that their lightgun wasn't going to be shaped like anything as prosaic as, y'know, a gun; instead they released a two-foot long section of plastic tubing that you had to rest on your shoulder and squint through.
It was a bloody awful contraption, awkward and tiring to hold as well as being difficult to store when not in use, so Yoshi's Safari is going to have to be something special to redeem the Super Scope. I do wonder whether Nintendo found themselves in a bit of a bind with the Super Scope, because what's the first thing that generally appears on any new Nintendo item? A Super Mario game. The Super Scope is for shooting, though, and Mario is the cheerful bastion of family-friendliness (except that time he kidnapped and imprisoned Donkey Kong. It's a good job DK doesn't hold grudges). So they made Yoshi's Safari as cute as possible, but it's still Mario shooting at things - things like Koopa Troopas and Goombas that have been shown in other games to be sentient, feeling creatures - with a gun. It all just feels a bit weird.
The gameplay's obvious enough: point at the bad guys, press fire. Pop pop pop, watchin' Koopa Troopas drop. Yoshi walks along a set path as enemies appear from all sides, you've got to shoot the enemies, and after a while you'll reach the stage's boss. Sometimes you have to press the Cursor button to jump over a hole / some water / the electrified floors Bowser's had installed in his castle, but other than that it's just point and shoot, you bloodthirsty son of a bitch.
It's also got Mode 7. Lots of Mode 7. It's the goddamn Mona Lisa of Mode 7. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration: that title belongs to Super Castlevania IV. The Mode 7 effect is omnipresent, though, as the world rotates around you while the back of Yoshi's head stays firmly in the centre of the screen.
That leads me to the game's primary point of interest (for me, at least): you can shoot Yoshi in the head. This further perpetuates my theory that Yoshi and Mario have an abusive relationship where Yoshi is like a puppy stupid enough to return each time its master kicks it for drooling on his shoes. The worst / best thing about this, depending on how you feel about Yoshi, is that sending a bullet into the back of his skull is pretty much unavoidable. Due to a combination of Mario's rapid-fire weaponry and the fact that some enemies will position themselves right in the centre of the screen, at some point you're going to hit Yoshi.
Look at the hurt in his eyes. While you do lose some health for shooting Yoshi, it's the emotional pain that's really tearing him apart. "I... I thought we were friends. First you sacrifice me so you can jump over a pit and now this? What did I do wrong?"
Aside from the back of Yoshi's head, the list of things to shoot at is made up of Mario's usual rogue's gallery. Koopa Troopas, Goombas, Bullet Bills, Cheep-Cheeps and Spinys are the basic enemies, while most levels have a slightly tougher mid-boss such as a Hammer Brother.
The end-of-level bosses are the Koopalings, Bowser's children of indeterminate maternity who have upped their game by becoming the pilots of heavily-armed battle mechs.
Mario gets a gun, so Lemmy Koopa builds a bipedal battle-tank covered in plasma cannons. The arms race between the Mushroom Kingdom and the Koopa family has disturbing ramifications for the neighbouring countries, and their citizens being to fear that they will soon fall under the yoke of one of these technologically-advanced superpowers.
Most of the boss battles are against Koopalings in giant robots - here, for example, is Morton Koopa Jr. riding a mechanical frog.
The only comment I can offer to this is "why did you build your mechanical frog to look totally stoned?" Not all the Koopalings get a sweet robot ride, though.
Poor Wendy O. Koopa has to make do with the series' trademark pipes. The only way to beat her is to drop anvils on her head, which somehow seems more brutal than shooting her, and the anvil doesn't look like it's enjoying it much either.
Definitely, objectively, inarguably the best Koopaling boss is found in stage 6.
Iggy Koopa gets a robot squid, and the appearance of a robot squid signals to me that this is a game worth playing. All the other Mario games shine a little less brightly in comparison once you remember they don’t contain mechanical squid.
Once you've cleared the first seven stages, King Fret is rescued. Don't celebrate / throw your Super Scope out of the window just yet, though. The King reveals that there are some more stages waiting in the "Dark Realm".
And yes, the Dark Realm does contain a Ghost House. Hell yeah, Ghost Houses are always my favourite bit.
What is this bullshit!? Those Boos are clearly moving while I'm looking right at them, shamelessly contradicting the established Super Mario canon. This is a travesty! I'm gonna get all my friends from the Super Mario message boards to send angry letters to Nintendo. Have they no respect for the fans, trampling all over continuity like this? More like Nintendon't, heh.
The Ghost House boss is a Big Boo, and there's no possible way anyone could be angry at anything ever again after seeing him. Just look at his face! I think that's the most adorable thing I've ever seen in a videogame. Pikachu can fuck right off, he can't compete with this. This charming face of a ghost who's just been shot should be made the new flag of the UN, leading to an immediate cessation of all wars.
After clearing all the other stages, Bowser's Castle appears and Mario moves into the final phase of his mission to liberate the poor people of Jewellery Land. I almost feel a little sorry for Bowser, you know. Dealing with his leadership duties and managing his unruly family must be tough for him, and he's not getting any younger. This seems like a last-ditch effort to forge a legacy for himself, you know? "Fine, I'll give up on the Mushroom Kingdom. It's a stupid kingdom anyway. I'm an angry lizard monster, what do I want with a pastel-coloured land of cheerful mushroom people anyway? I'll take over Jewellery Land, then at least I'll be rich. I've got eight kids to put through university, after all."
"Oh for Christ's sake, it's that bloody plumber again. Just leave me alone, man!"
This time around, Bowser has an impressive-looking robot suit which is certainly more menacing than his usual flying clown-copter thing but not really much more effective. It shows Bowser is learning, at least: it's just a shame he developed his robot armour just as Mario got access to a fully-automatic laser cannon.
Eventually Bowser's armour falls off and he resorts to the not-especially-threatening tactics of throwing Koopa shells at you. Not much of the game is threatening at all, to be honest. The only time I came close to losing a life was during the battle with the Robot Squid, and that was only because I nearly ran out of time. Even Bowser is really no trouble (and this is true of all the bosses) because you've got such a large health bar and your health is usually topped up right before the boss fights start. This means that simply ignoring all their attacks, letting Yoshi soak up the damage from hit after hit after hit and concentrating your fire is a perfectly valid strategy. Kind of a dick move, but valid nonetheless.
Bowser can usually be defeated by grabbing his tail and throwing him around, so what chance does he have against searing laser death-bolts? None, that's what, and soon he has surrendered and is presumably locked away in the Mushroom Kingdom's equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. Given that everything from the clouds to bricks has eyes in the Mushroom Kingdom, it is a particularly effective prison.
Mario saves the world (yet again) and takes all the credit, while Yoshi is locked back in his cage until the next time Mario needs a patsy / mode of transport / sacrificial animal. Remember, Princess Peach sent Mario out as a favour, and you better bet that Princess Peach remembers all the favours she's done for people. One day, when they're least expecting it, when the memories of the time Bowser invaded have all but faded, she will ask the people of Jewellery Land to do her a favour. It will not be pleasant.
Yoshi's Safari is pretty pleasant overall, though. It's certainly the best Super Scope game I've played, but then again that's a compliment on the level of something like "your giant bat-like ears must mean your spectacles never fall off". Graphically it's exactly what you'd expect from a Super Mario title: colourful, bold sprites that are well animated and full of charm. I mean, just look at how happy Larry Koopa is to be piloting his brand-new submarine-onion-sun thing.
Maybe he knew he wouldn't be in another Super Mario game for ten years, so he's trying to make the most of it.
As for the gameplay, it's a basic lightgun game, so you probably already know if you'll enjoy it or not. It isn't particularly dynamic or innovative: the enemies mostly just bumble forward, hoping to collide with you (and by you I mean Yoshi) and cause some damage, or they fire slow-moving projectiles at you. The only real complication to the gameplay is that your gun can run out of power if you hold the trigger down for too long, so you do have keep in mind that you need to hold off now and then to let it recharge.
The lack of challenge would be a major downside to Yoshi's Safari, but this is alleviated somewhat by the fact the once you complete the game, you're given a code that lets you play a much more difficult version of the game with a different colour palette.
It's a nice touch, and the fact that you have a much smaller power bar means there's some actual challenge to be found. The text even changes so that as soon as Mario gets back to the Mushroom Kingdom, Peach informs him that the Jewellery Land royal family is so incredibly stupid (probably due to years of inbreeding) that they have instantly been re-kidnapped. Mario takes this development with better humour than I suspect most would and sets off once more, but then again it's not him who's going to get hurt, is it?
Even within the utterly baffling framework of a Super Mario shoot-em-up, I think the weirdest thing about Yoshi's Safari is the odd feeling of contempt for your green dinosaur pal. Being able to shoot him is bad enough – but you might have done that by accident. It gets worse during the between-stage scoreboard, though, because despite being safe from danger, Mario starts shooting at Yoshi for no other reason that I can see than to scare the shit out of him.
Mario, you absolute dick.
Yoshi's Safari is certainly worth playing, if for no other reason than its bizarre place in the Super Mario series. Next time someone complains about Shadow the Hedgehog and his arsenal of guns, remind them that Mario was there first. As a game in its own right it's okay. It's too easy and it's pretty bland, but the charm and sheer digital sunshine that Nintendo squeeze into all their games just about save it.
Also, the Ghost House is great.
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