The year was 1990, and after nearly a decade of market dominance with their first home console the Famicom, Nintendo’s vice grip on the wallets of the gaming populous was starting to slip. The Sega Mega Drive and TurboGrafx-16 had been out for a few years, both far more powerful systems than Nintendo’s little plastic phenomenon, and while Nintendo had been able to keep ahead of the competition despite its graphical inferiority, sales were starting to pick up for the two contenders. And so it was that Nintendo released the Super Famicom, and Super Mario World with it.
After the incredibly successful Super Mario Brothers 3, Nintendo had a lot to live up to; as it turned out, Super Mario World not only lived up to and even surpassed its predecessor in some ways, it revolutionized the entire genre. Shigeru Miyamato and Nintendo EAD created worlds and levels with far more complicated structure, they added new abilities and powers to engage players, and they introduced one little lost dinosaur that would become one of the biggest characters in gaming.
Much like its predecessors, Super Mario World was an extremely polished experience from beginning to end, but the most important moment in the whole game happens within mere minutes of pressing start. On only the second level of the game (or first depending on which path you chose to take), there is a floating question mark box; nothing out of the ordinary there, by this time in your gaming life you have no doubt seen hundreds of them. What comes out of the box though is not the expected coin or even a fire-flower, what comes out is an egg, and from that egg bursts a little green dinosaur that grows rapidly before your very eyes. He hops in place with excitement, calling out impatiently for you to take him along on your adventure.
Nintendo didn’t exactly keep Yoshi’s presence in the game secret, Mario is pictured riding the little green dinosaur on the front of the cartridge, but the feeling of seeing him for the first time is unforgettable; a sense of nervous excitement, a fervent curiosity for what is to come and a giddy joy at his adorably animated entrance. Those strength of those feelings are rivaled only by the ones felt when you take a hit and Yoshi runs off in fear; the panic at his flight, the relief at his rescue or the distress at his demise. No connection is more tangible in a game of its time than the one that the player feels with Yoshi. Unlike later entries in the series, Yoshi can be taken to nearly every level throughout the game. That means that the player spends most of the game trying to keep their new best friend alive (and a little bit of it sacrificing him to a pit of lava in order to nab that just-out-of-reach secret).
Hopping onto Yoshi one thing becomes instantly obvious, this game is going to be different than anything you’ve ever played before. Every song in the game has a backing drum track that is only added when you are with Yoshi, and parts of the background that you thought of as decoration are hastily snatched byhis frog-like tongue. He also changes the way you look at enemies, suddenly those flying Koopa Paratroopas don’t look so tough. Yoshi is incredibly empowering, giving you the added strength of a Kuribo Shoe with the comfort and emotional connection of a family dog.
In many ways Super Mario World paralleled the system it was played on; it was bigger, brighter and completely subverted expectations. When the system was released in America and Europe as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 and 1992 respectively, Mario fever returned to the public. Frazzled parents were hard-pressed to find a copy of the game, while fanatic children had their excitement reinforced by toys, cartoons and breakfast cereal. Yoshi instantly become a favorite character of the series, appearing in the short lived Super Mario World cartoon series and the critically despised Mario Brothers movie, finding his way onto toy shelves and starring in two puzzle games of his own. In 1995 Yoshi starred in the next entry in the Super Mario Brothers series Yoshi’s Island, a prequel to Super Mario World that saw him acting as guardian to an infant Mario. In the 20+ plus years since his debut in Super Mario World, Yoshi has appeared in 58 games and counting, and it all started when he first hatched back in world 1, level 2.