At long last, something worth playing on the Nintendo DS besides Super Mario 64 DS has arrived. Yoshi Touch & Go is essentially a re-telling of the classic Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island in that Kamek the Magikoopa has derailed the stork's plans to deliver Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to their parents. Baby Mario falls from the sky and lands atop a Yoshi who must travel across the land to reunite the brothers. This is no normal side-scrolling platformer, however. The control pad and buttons have no function here; instead players must use the stylus and microphone to effect the world around our heroes. Yoshi reaches back to a time when the object of a video game was to earn a high score. There are no traditional levels here and no standard progression. Basically, Nintendo has taken a little tech demo known as "Balloon Trip" and turned it into one of the most addictive games we'll see this quarter.
The action starts as Baby Mario falls from the sky. Three balloons are tied to his diaper to help slow his descent. On the way down he'll encounter coins (worth points) and enemies (they pop the balloons). If all three balloons pop, the game is over. The idea is to use the stylus to draw cloud paths to guide Mario safely to Earth. Circle enemies in clouds to turn them into coins. If the clouds get out of control, just blow into the microphone to blow them away. Once Mario safely reaches the ground he lands atop a Yoshi. Yoshi begins running to the right (or left, depending on which hand you're holding the stylus with) and you must keep him safe. Draw cloud paths to guide him around hazards, tap on the screen to fire an egg at enemies, tap on Yoshi himself to make him jump, and tap him while he's in the air to make him do his flutter-jump. If Yoshi takes even one hit the game ends.
There are five modes of play in Yoshi, but they're all pretty much the same. Only the objective changes. Score Attack challenges players to earn a high score, Marathon is a never-ending series of challenges where the goal is to simply advance as far as you can, Time Attack involves resucing Baby Luigi from Kamek's toadies, and Challenge adds a ticking clock element to the game. Multiplayer features one player racing the other across a randomly generated terrain.
Here's the interesting part: Yoshi looks like it should be a basic overpriced little tech demo. It's not. It's terribly addictive. I've had it for one day now and I can't put it down. This is the kind of innovation that Nintendo wants to push for the DS and now I understand why. The controls are simple to learn and while a novice can make some progress, it'll take the advanced reflexes of a gaming pro to rack up the high scores. Blowing on the microphone to clear away the clouds is an amazing idea, as one cannot just blow onto the mic but must almost make something of a wind noise. The clouds clear away while I'm still blowing, making it seem as if I am actually controlling them. How often does a game deliver an immersive experience like that?
Yoshi Touch & Go isn't for everyone, but it's certainly worth a look. The DS has some intriguing stuff coming later this year, but for right now Yoshi is a great way to spend late nights with a stylus in your hand.