October 1, 2005
I think it's fair to say at this point that I have more games for my Nintendo DS than I know what to do with. A more sensible person would have played through these games, one at a time, before running off to the store for the next fix. But, then, "sensible" would mean my saving my hard-earned money instead of playing videogames well into my thirties.
In any case, I've been killing my bus time with Yoshi Touch and Go. Perhaps you need to be old enough to remember the golden age of video arcades to really appreciate this game. You have to be a fan of that short-burst, improvisational arcade game. Younger reader probably won't remember, but videogames used to be designed to be played for less than five minutes at a stretch. True, the aim was usually to steal quarters from your pockets, but we learned the ropes, and pretty soon we were making those Aladdin's Castle tokens really stretch.
A lot of reviews in print and online have complained that Touch and Go is shallow and "gimmicky" - little more than a demonstration of the DS' innovative touch screen, something you use to show off your new handheld. Essentially, they want a modern platform adventure, not an arcade game. In today's jargon, videogames are judged by the length of time it takes to slog through from beginning to end, the number of cheesy Hollywood cut-scenes, or the amount of hidden, unlockable material.
Do these critics even remember what videogames were like? You know, games. Not $20 million movie previews.
Yoshi's best trait is its randomness. While the game consists of two modes - Baby Mario in a vertical drop, the Yoshis in a side-scrolling stroll - each game is structured differently. Coins and obstacles are always placed differently, enemies may be sporadic or swarm in droves, and passing breezes will blow away all your carefully drawn clouds. Whoever cooked up that last idea was bloody brilliant...and a bit of a psycho, too.
Has this happened to you? Baby Mario is sliding down a cloud path, towards some prized coins, and then that breeze kicks in, and drops Mario into a patch of spikes. D'oh! Yoshi Touch and Go's randomizing is really the best feature of the game (aside from the stylus, of course); the game possesses a rare balance between classic arcade reflexes and platforming know-how. It's more than simply a gimmicky way to repackage all the best moments from Yoshi's Island.
And this Yoshi can be pretty tough, too. It may be a little hard for the average person to connect at first, but I've also found that Meteos shares the same learning curve, and it's an absolutely smashing game. You just need to learn the ropes, master the game's sense of pacing and rhythm, and be prepared for anything.
Finally, the stylus is just wonderful. This is clearly a signature title for the DS touch screen, and you'll probably need to spend some time with the game before it really clicks with you. I remember some old lightgun games for the NES like Gumshoe, in which a character moved on rails while you shot at incoming obstacles, but Yoshi Touch and Go is far more involving. It's more intuitive, too, thanks to the interface, and demonstrates Nintendo's endless innovation these days. I really don't mind not being able to manually move Mario and Yoshi. Really, what would I do differently if I could?
I'd like to see more designers experiment with this style of gameplay. It's just different enough to open up a new world of possibilities in the right hands. That pretty much sums up a lot of DS games, but Yoshi's has that classic arcade feel - the right mix of speed, tension, strategy, and imagination, all in the quest for that high score. Perhaps you have to be old enough to have lived through Pac-Man Fever; perhaps you need enough real-world distractions to not allow for more than a quick game here and there. Life has a funny way of intruding without knocking.
Perhaps, simply, you need only posess a sense of patience and wonder at what a well-designed game can offer. Nintendo's DS handheld has quickly built a reputation for quirky, innovative games that never lose their sense of fun. Playing Yoshi Touch and Go is like opening a box of warm sunshine, where for ten or twenty minutes you can smile and laugh with your inner child.