One recurring theme within the best-selling world of Mario is the free-spirited charm of going on vacation.
Both Mario and Luigi regularly take trips to escape from the hustle and bustle of the Mushroom Kingdom. Maybe it’s a frightful trip to a haunted mansion or a sunny tropical resort. These trips can be seen as standing in for the games themselves, vacations from the player’s daily lives. You’re not just playing a video game. You’re also going on vacation with Mario!
This tradition started in 1990’s Super Mario World, where a vacation introduced Mario to a lifelong friend that would go on to become an icon in their own right: Yoshi. And if you’re a paid Nintendo Switch online subscriber, you can experience Yoshi’s big debut in Super Mario World right now by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
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Shigeru Miyamoto, the producer of Super Mario World and father of the Mario games in general, had long envisioned his trusty plumber palling around with an animal friend. The idea went back years to a Pac-Man-style game Miyamoto had developed called Devil World which had a green dragon protagonist.
Nintendo loved the idea of giving Mario an animal, but the technical limits of the Nintendo Entertainment System proved to be a hindrance. The desire for Mario to hang out with animals was so strong that in the last Mario game on the NES, Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario actually becomes an animal with his raccoon and frog suits.
Yoshi is definitely more of a companion than a pet for Mario, which those close to the creation of Yoshi believe came from Miyamoto's love of horses. In an official Nintendo interview with longtime developer Takashi Tezuka on the history of the series, Tezuka noted that Miyamoto “is a huge fan of country and western music” and that “things like horse-riding hold a special attraction for him.”
Miyamoto had some experience in riding games before Super Mario World. There was his first game with Nintendo, Excitebike, which did its best to bring the excitement of motorcycle racing to the NES. The main problem that could happen to a bike in Excitebike is overheating, and Yoshi has the exact opposite condition: Getting fire out of the little dinosaur is exactly what is supposed to happen in Super Mario World.
It’s possible to play Super Mario World without a Yoshi, and certain levels don’t allow them. If the effect of this is to make Yoshis feel special in the game, it absolutely works. Each and every time a Yoshi egg hatches out of an egg, it feels like an event that will radically change your gameplay. And it does! Riding around on a Yoshi allows Mario to devour enemies, shoot large fireballs, jump farther, and so on (there are also a few special-colored Yoshis to be found throughout).
Yoshi also provides another level of defense when getting hit by an enemy, although he doesn’t die. Rather, he’ll just run around, and it’s easy for a player to spend a fair amount of time trying to jump right back onto Yoshi. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Yoshi’s ability to change how some levels are played for Mario offered a new complexity to the mechanics of the series.
Of course, Super Mario World is a Mario game, not a Yoshi game (those would come later). Some levels, particularly those that take place indoors, force Yoshi to stay parked outside. And Yoshis don’t come along all the time, so losing one forces Mario to work through worlds on his own. Mario can also get a cape, which allows him flying powers to the raccoon suit of SMB3.
Like any 2D Mario game, there are evil reptiles galore in Super Mario World, but there are few truly odd enemies. Most notably, the game is the debut of Chargin’ Chuck, a Koopa who has smartly decked himself out in a quarterback's padding and helmet, meaning he needs multiple hits to be taken down. There are several variants of Chucks in the game, including a Confused Chuck who wears football gear while throwing baseballs.
An enemy with distinctly American characteristics, Chagrin’ Chuck shows what a worldwide phenomena Mario had become by 1990. The game also features the debut of the iconic giant bullet Banzai Bill.
Super Mario World took full advantage of its new technical powers on the SNES. There are more atmospheric levels, like the Ghost Houses full of Boos and Big Bubbles, and the sprites all seem to be more detailed and colorful than ever before. And the possibilities with Yoshi were just beginning.