Friday, August 3, 2012

Looking Back: Yoshi Touch & Go (DS) Review

You smell that? It's the sweet scent of a review freshly removed from the gaming oven. To begin my first review I thought I would lay out my reviewing criteria. I judge games based upon four main categories: graphics, sound, controls, and gameplay. I generally will lump gameplay and controls into the same category, as controls are usually a major part of gameplay, but I'll keep the other categories separate in most cases.

At the end of each review I'll have something I like to call "The Wrap," which will explain how I think the game wraps up the aforementioned elements together, it'll also contain most of my personal opinions about a game. Essentially, The Wrap is the conclusion, but why not have a fancy name to make me feel all special?

Got everything? Good. Onwards to my first review!

Yoshi Touch & Go


Around the time Yoshi Touch & Go (YTG) was released back in 2005, many referred to this game as nothing more than a glorified tech demo. This was mostly due to its extensive use of the Nintendo DS's unique features, but its lack of actual gameplay content. But does this game really deserve to be called a "glorified tech demo," or does it manage to break free from that negative label?



Once you boot this game you're greeted with four single-player modes, Score Attack, Marathon, Time Attack, and Challenge (the latter two have to be unlocked), and one multi-player mode titled Vs. Battle. I'll go into further detail about these modes below, but let me first detail the core gameplay and controls.

One thing you're guaranteed to notice about the controls is that they're strictly relegated to the touch screen, the buttons are always inactive. Even the menus can only be navigated using touch. But since this whole game is stylus-based, it's not a huge drawback. The main gameplay is separated into two parts: Baby Mario falling from the sky after being dropped from a stork (a word of warning to parents: don't let your children get kidnapped by storks), and Baby Mario traveling across ground upon Yoshi's back.

As Baby Mario falls, you have to guide his landing away from obstacles by drawing clouds with the stylus, while attempting to gain as many coins as you can. Blowing on the mic literally blows away the clouds, but beware, there's no way to only blow away some clouds, it's either all or nothing. It also causes Baby Mario to be blown slightly off course and possibly into enemies, so you risk injuring Baby Mario by blowing on the mic. And he only has three balloons attached to him, so if he bumps into the opposition three times, he falls to his demise and you lose. You can draw bubbles around non-spiky enemies and coins by encircling them with the stylus. This captures them and converts them into shiny monies. The more enemies you gather in a bubble, the more money you can receive IF you manage to fling the bubble safely towards Baby Mario. If the bubble doesn't reach Baby Mario before leaving the corners of the top screen, then you can wave bye-bye to that currency.

However, similar to the mic blowing, the harder you fling a bubble towards Baby Mario, the more off course he will be knocked. If you do manage to safely navigate Baby Mario to the bottom, a uniquely colored Yoshi will catch him, depending on how many coins you got. For example, collecting 60 coins will unleash a light blue Yoshi, 80 for bright pink, and 100 for a dark blue Yoshi for Baby Mario to ride upon, and so on. But these colors aren't there for just decoration, the Yoshi dinosaurs that correspond to the higher coin amounts also run faster and carry additional eggs during the ground section.

While on ground, you maneuver Yoshi by drawing clouds underneath his feet and tapping on him to jump. The more fruit he eats, the more eggs he produces. His eggs can be thrown at enemies and coins by simply tapping where you want them to go, but it takes a bit more strategy to reach enemies on the upper screen, both because they're further away, and because you can only direct eggs using the bottom screen since the upper one isn't touch-sensitive. Some enemies throw obstacles that can only be stopped by tapping on them, so even if the obstacles are thrown from the top screen, you have to follow their path until they reach the touch screen, where you can then destroy them with your mighty stylus. There is a bit of guessing involved regarding where on the lower screen that obstacle will appear, but as long as you don't have Yoshi riding at the very top of the touch screen with your cloud-drawing handiwork, it doesn't pose a big problem.

It's worth noting that while on ground, you still have the ability to encircle enemies and coins into bubbles. This is especially useful because you may be egg-less at some point and you need any defense you can muster to keep Yoshi alive, as he dies from a single hit, unlike Baby Mario, who strangely enough has tougher skin than a dinosaur. But speaking of Baby Mario, every 100 coins you collect will cause a bubble containing a Super Star to appear. If you drag this bubble to Baby Mario, he will temporarily turn into Super Baby and run at Sonic-like speeds while invincible. Plus, he'll be able to throw an infinite amount of stars, as if they were bullets escaping from his palms. Once you die in any mode or complete Score Attack or Time Attack, you're presented with an offline leaderboard called Rankings, which shows how you rank compared to yourself and any other people you've let play this game.

Now that I got the general gameplay out of the way, on to the more specific modes.



Marathon continues until Baby Mario or Yoshi kicks the bucket. After Baby Mario falls to the ground and gets caught by Yoshi, he is passed to another Yoshi every 1000 yards, usually a different colored one that can carry more eggs. Unsurprisingly, since this mode does have Yoshi running until he dies, there is some randomization going on. The elements within areas are not randomized, just the order in which you encounter areas. So during the first 2000 yards you may enter a cave and a jungle, but if you died and played the mode again, the first 2000 yards may take you by the seaside and the mountainside. This means that you'll get an unexpected experience every time, but also that you'll see a lot of the same areas after playing it for awhile.



One of the unique features of Challenge (and Time Attack) mode is having Super Stars available for use while Baby Mario is falling, the drawback is that they're no longer available when he's on Yoshi's back. If you can navigate Baby Mario to each one of them while he's falling, then he'll be speeding and invincible for the whole trip. This extra goal of getting all the Super Stars helps to reduce the fairly mundane task of falling. But once you're on Yoshi's back, you're in for a challenge. There is rarely a ground to stand on, which means you have to constantly use clouds, plus spiky enemies called Briers are scattered everywhere, and you have a timer ticking down, forcing you to eliminate enemies to gain a little more time. To keep things from being too difficult, Nintendo included a POW block in this mode, which if knocked out of the sky and stomped upon turns all enemies into coins, but even those are fairly rare.

Score Attack & Time Attack


As the names imply, Score Attack is all about getting a high score by encircling and throwing eggs at baddies and coins, and Time Attack is about getting the best time by using Super Stars and drawing brown clouds that speed up Yoshi (only available in Time Attack). These modes literally have the same layout every time you play them, so it wouldn't be a stretch to say each of these modes contain one level. Yet, because they always maintain the same layout, these modes are perhaps the most suited for the Rankings board, as how well you do depends on how skillful of a player you are, not on any random variables. Additionally, while the end of Score Attack simply involves reaching a certain point, the end of Time Attack tasks you with the job of freeing Baby Luigi from the grasp of a bunch of Toadies.

Vs. Battle


The multi-player mode, Vs. Battle, only needs two systems and a single game card thanks to DS Download Play. You only play on the ground in this mode, and the goal is to finish running 1000 yards before your rival. Whoever stays alive the longest or reaches the goal first is the winner. The level you and your opponent play is the same, aside from enemy placements. The top screen displays the actions of the opposing player, while the bottom screen is where you guide your Yoshi to victory. Striking three Briers in a row with an egg causes three even larger spiked enemies to appear in your opponent's view, giving you a temporary advantage, but your opponent can do the same to you, so you have to stay on your toes in order to survive.

Vs. Battle is a nice time-waster if you have a partner to play with, but the absence of options to modify the gameplay means you are going to be stuck playing the same level over and over until you or your friend gets bored (which could happen fairly quickly).



If you've played Yoshi's Island, this art style should be familiar to your eyes. The stages vary between morning and night as you play, which gives Nintendo the opportunity to use every single color they can before the end of your play session. This is a purely 2D sidescroller with no 3D elements to be found, which may turn off those interested in "2.5D" games like the New Super Mario Bros. series, but personally, I love the sprite art. The gameplay is fluid, no framerate problems, and the sprite animations aren't jerky.



The music is up-beat, happy music, and in certain modes (such as Marathon) the tunes adjust depending on the environment you're in. Classic Yoshi Island tunes have been remixed for this game, along with some original compositions. Personally, I believe this game contains some of the better music among the DS's library of titles.

The Wrap


I love this game for its delightfully cheery music and bright, colorful art style, but this game is flawed, largely due to its lack of content. Score Attack and Time Attack feel like single levels, and Marathon and Challenge are just run-until-you-drop modes with no real point, except for seeing if you can go further than you did the last time. It's a shame, because this game has plenty of potential, it's just never realized by the developers, so players are left with a game with decent gameplay, but not much to do. Make no mistake, this game is not bad, just severely over-priced. I bought this game for $30 in 2005, and in 2012 it's not much cheaper at the few places where it's still available, aside from independent sellers. I honestly think this game would make for a great $10 DSiWare title if re-released today, but it's difficult to recommend paying much more than that for what this game offers.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my newly formed blog! My name is Shaka-Ensonig Flowers, but I typically go by the name of Shaka, as my full name is a mouthful. You and I will see how this blog develops over the next few months, but at its current stage I'm planning on making it mostly focused on gaming with a sprinkle of tech news added to this healthy mix. I'll start off by writing reviews of games from my collection in no particular order, and proceed to throw in interesting articles related to gaming between each review. You'll be seeing articles relating to handhelds, consoles, and even mobile platforms.

Yet, as a college student, I can't promise super frequent blog postings, but I am going to attempt to update this blog at least a few times every week for your reading delight!

So come along on this joy ride through the world of gaming (and tech sprinkles), I left plenty of seats open!