Title: Mario and Yoshi (Europe), Yoshi (America), Yoshi no Tamago / Yoshi's Egg (Japan)
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1991
Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Game Boy
Genre: Puzzle game (of the falling block variety in particular)
Players: One or two players

At first, I couldn't get into Mario and Yoshi. Compared to Nintendo's other puzzle game branded with their cartoon dinosaur, Yoshi's Cookie, I thought it was so simple that it was barely worth playing. It seemed almost childish. After leaving it for a while before coming back to it, however, I've changed my mind. I still think it's about as simple as a game can possibly be, but I no longer consider this a design flaw. As is the case with Tetris and Boxxle, a game that is simple to learn but has a good learning curve (or a slowly increasing speed) is well designed.

The gameplay is of the falling block variety that is already well-known to Tetris fans. There are four main creatures that can fall into the play area: Goomba (a mushroom with a face and feet), Piranha Plant (sort of like Audrey Two from Little Shop of Horrors), Boo (a ghost), and Blooper (a squid). All you have to do is line them up one on top of the other. When any creature lands on top of a matching one, they both disappear.

Unlike most falling block based games, though, you can't actually move the falling creatures. Instead, you can move the ones already piled on the floor by swapping around any two adjacent stacks. This is done with only three buttons: left and right to move Mario at the bottom of the screen (Nintendo even managed to sneak the well-known plumber into a Breakout clone, so it's no surprise to see him in an original puzzle game of theirs), and either fire button to swap the two stacks that he's directly beneath. As there are only four stacks to play with, you're never too far from one, so the game feels pretty instinctive and quick. You get to think about what to move and where to move it to, not how to actually do it.

As there are four types of creature and four stacks, this in itself would be too easy. One thing that makes it more difficult is that the creatures (nearly) always fall in pairs, and sometimes you get two creatures of the same type falling at the same time, so you have to put one on top of a different creature.

The other thing that makes this game more difficult - and that makes it interesting - is the inclusion of special egg blocks. These eggs consist of two distinct parts: a lower half and an upper half. The lower half disappears if it is placed directly on another lower egg half. Otherwise, it just sits on the pile, not doing anything. The upper half disappears if there is no lower half below it. If there is a lower half of an egg in a stack, however, and an upper half falls onto the top of the pile, a Yoshi dinosaur is hatched and all the blocks (if there are any) in between the two egg halves disappear. This egg is roughly analogous to the famous four-by-one Tetris block, in that it encourages "religious" gameplay - building stacks dangerously high on the offchance that all the blocks can be turned into points in one fell swoop.

It looks like this game is an attempt to make something that slightly resembles the gameplay of Tetris (it even has similar A and B modes), only using the recognisable characters of the Mario franchise. While it's nowhere near as popular as either of the classic games it tries to combine, it's still a fun way to kill time in its own right. No one would suggest you buy this instead of Tetris or even Puyo Puyo, but if you like puzzle games, it's certainly worth adding to your collection once you've already got the more popular titles.

Incidently, in my opinion this is one of the few games (Qix is the only other one that springs to mind) that is easier on the eye when played on the Game Boy's monochromatic screen than when played on a TV set using the colour scheme intended by the game's designers. Considering the measly current second hand value of the Game Boy, it's arguably an underrated console for retrogamers.