Yoshi Touch & Go
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2005
A new gameplay mechanic is certainly key in drawing in the player, but where does one draw the line between a mechanic and a gimmick? And for that matter, the mechanic itself isn't what matters, its how it affects the player and how the player will in turn react to it that really counts: its eccentricity alone is not enough to make a difference. Solely using the DS' touch screen and stylus, Yoshi Touch & Go does just this. The idea is interesting, but severely lacking in both substance and execution. It ultimately does nothing to back this gimmick up nor does it provide enough substance to be even remotely entertaining for more than 10 minutes. It’s a classic case of a great but ultimately half-assed idea breeding a shallow and uninteresting game, believing that the arbitrary gameplay mechanic alone is enough to carry it.
Making full use of the features offered by the DS, Yoshi Touch & Go is played entirely with the stylus. The game itself essentially contains two stages: in the first stage, baby Mario floats endlessly towards the ground, his fall being slowed by three balloons that are attached to him. If he loses a balloon, he will fall faster towards the ground, and if hit three times the game ends. In lieu of controlling him directly, the player’s task is to instead keep him out of danger using the stylus. Mario stays on the top screen, while the bottom screen shows the lower half of the stage (i.e., what’s coming up next). It is on the bottom screen, the touch screen, that the actual gameplay takes place. The stylus is used to draw lines of clouds which baby Mario can walk on. If the path is drawn incorrectly, it can be erased by blowing into the microphone, which “blows” the clouds away. Typically though, you will use the stylus to change Mario’s current direction and thus stop him from running into spikes or enemies.
The goal is not only to protect baby Mario but also to score as many points as possible, done via collecting coins, during this time period. To this end, the player must not only use the stylus to draw paths which guide baby Mario towards coins, but it serves another purpose. Drawing a small circle (must be very precise, the game is picky about this) creates a bubble. The idea is to draw bubbles around enemies, which turns them into coins encased within bubbles. By touching these bubbles with the stylus and moving it trackball-style in the desired direction, it is possible to “send” these items to baby Mario on the top screen. For example, say there was a coin coming up on the bottom screen, and you could clearly see that you would be unable to guide Mario to it in time. You draw a circle around it and encase it in a bubble, then try to “hit” Mario with it on the top screen. Depending on the enemy you encase, coins can be worth up to 4 points. Red coins are worth 4 points, blue coins are worth 2, and yellow coins are worth one. Additionally, if enemies get close together, it is possible to encase them all in a single bubble which awards the player extra bonus points. Coins may also be grouped together for the same purpose, and both enemies and coins can be grouped together as well.
Yoshi catches Mario once he reaches the ground, and the second stage in which baby Mario rides on Yoshi begins. But before that, it is noteworthy to mention that collecting coins in the previous stage serves another purpose: it determines the kind of Yoshi you get to ride in this stage. Again, the player does not control Yoshi directly: he moves across the ground at a fixed speed. To defeat enemies, Yoshi can fire eggs. There is a limit to the number of eggs he can carry. Both the speed Yoshi moves at and the amount of eggs he can carry are dependent on how many points the player scored in the previous stage.
The point of the second stage is to escort baby Mario safely to the end while again trying to score as many points as possible. Tapping Yoshi with the stylus makes him jump, tap him again to do a double jump. If a large pit is coming up, the player can use the stylus to draw a cloud bridge over it. Yoshi can shoot eggs at enemies by pressing the stylus where the player intends to aim. Defeat enemies, which appear in the upper screen and on the lower screen, to earn points. Bonus points are awarded if the player hits multiple enemies with just one egg, thus the goal is to take out as many enemies at once with a single shot. To replenish your egg supply, Yoshi can eat fruit, which is scattered around the level and occasionally carried by enemies. Both items and coins can be bought over to Yoshi by drawing circles around them and sending them his way, same as with baby Mario. At the end of the stage, Yoshi reunites baby Mario with Baby Luigi, and the game ends.
That’s right, you heard me: the game ends. After two brief levels. That’s it. The game consists entirely of the first stage in which baby Mario falls, and the second stage riding on Yoshi. Over and done with in about 10 minutes. And this wouldn’t be a bad thing if the game had some sort of hook to it: some residual emotional pull, a certain feel to it that makes you keep playing it again and again despite its short length. In short, it just has to be "fun," on a fundamental level. Sadly, the “thrill” wears off pretty much immediately after the game is finished.
In an attempt to squeeze more life out of a game that is already redundant after 10 minutes, you can unlock other modes of play. For example, there’s Marathon mode, where the second stage in which baby Mario rides Yoshi never ends. Instead of getting as many points as possible, the object here is to go as long as possible without dying. There is also time attack mode, which is unlocked after beating the default high score in the normal game mode. In this mode, you give starmen to baby Mario as he falls which makes him fall super fast and gives him invincibility, the point here is to get to the end as fast as possible. After beating the default high score in Marathon mode, you unlock Survival Mode. There is a timer slowly counting down and Instead of points, defeating enemies gives you more seconds. If time runs out, Kamek abducts baby Mario.
Do any of these new modes sound that much different from the basic game structure? No? Well, that’s because they aren’t. I was expecting an actual game, here. Something reminiscent of past entries in the series, but played with a stylus. I expected levels, bosses, an actual adventure. (And not that I put much stock in these things, but the back of the box boasts that this is Yoshi’s “latest and greatest adventure.” Only the former is true.) Yoshi Touch & Go tries to be interesting but ultimately accomplishes nothing: what you're getting is four variations of a two-stage minigame, packed into a DS cart and priced at $30. Substance, sadly, is MIA.
“Now hold on a minute!” you may be saying to yourself right now. “Did the game promise anything more than a two stage minigame with extra modes of play? Did it say anything about worlds and levels and bosses like the old games had? It sounds to me like you came into this with extravagant expectations that the game never promised in the first place. They weren’t met, and now you’re branding it with a bad review? That’s not fair!”
You wouldn’t be wrong, in all honestly. I did come into this expecting what was essentially Yoshi’s Island with a stylus. Instead, I got a two-stage minigame, and was naturally disappointed. But in my defense, I did try to be fair, I assure you. I wanted to give the game a fair chance. I’d even say that I wanted to like it despite my expectations. I cleared my judgement, attempted to see the game for as it is instead of how I wanted it to be. Maybe then it would grow on me, I thought, and I could appreciate it for something in its own right, even if it wasn’t what I initially expected.
But sadly, this didn’t happen. Yoshi Touch and Go has much bigger problems than its lack of substance. Even if taken as a series of related minigames instead of a substantial endeavor, Yoshi Touch and Go just plain isn’t fun.
While Yoshi Touch & Go has potential, it sadly goes to waste. Even within the context of a minigame, there is very little for the player to do. Moreover, the use of the stylus in the game is both gimmicky and feels contrived, and I daresay reeks of “tech demo.” The game makes use of the touch screen, but doesn’t really do anything interesting with it: it seems to assume that the fact it makes use of the stylus and touch screen alone will be interesting enough to sate the player. It’s not, and as such comes off as a gimmick. While seemingly interesting at a first glance, these features: drawing lines and circles, gets old fast, and the player feels quickly disconnected and disenchanted with the events taking place on the screen. If these short games actually felt like games, Yoshi Touch and Go could have still been reasonably enjoyable. But sadly, it doesn’t really feel like an actual game as much as a means to kill time.
Yoshi Touch & Go is more of a diversion than an actual game. You know that “snake” game that’s on pretty much all cell phones, the one you play only when you need to kill time but would never take it at all seriously beyond that? Yoshi Touch & Go feels the same way. It’s a brief waste of time that makes decent use of the Nintendo DS’s features, but even these are dull and uninteresting. One would suppose that this is all the game was intended to be, but bear in mind the thrill isn’t going to last very long.
Again, I’ll admit my expectations going into this game had a lot to do with my subsequent disappointment. You see, even if it wasn’t what I expected, somewhere in this tiny cartridge, I was expecting an actual game to show up. It never did. And all I’m left with is a game that believes its own eccentricity is merit in of itself. It’s not.
The Game: Takes an interesting idea and charges it with the task of carrying the gameplay all on its own, stumbles and falls somewhere along the way. The thrill does not last long, making it more of a diversion than an actual game, and a drastic lack of substance doesn't really help in this regard.
The Experience: Does little to encompass the player or give him/her a sense of accomplishment, or even a plain sense of "enjoyment." Becomes redundant almost as soon as it starts. Not fun. Not nearly as innovative as it tries to be. Not good.