It’s possible we may never see a true successor to Yoshi’s Island. Not for lack of trying, Nintendo has certainly published attempts, most recently with Yoshi’s New Island. These efforts have been lacking, due to Nintendo’s adherence to replicating the original. This practice runs opposite of the change of pace Yoshi’s Island was, which doesn’t do these new installments any favour.
While the question of its belonging in the lineage is up for debate, Yoshi Touch & Go is no less creative in its use of the Yoshi’s Island mechanics, and is the worthiest successor the first game has ever had.
I’ll admit that I had my doubts, but as a DS early adopter, pickings were slim and I don’t think I could extend my Feel The Magic sessions any further. I needed a new game, and if nothing else Yoshi Touch & Go met those qualifications.
What made T&G so difficult to swallow was how arcade in nature it was. This wasn’t the sequel to Yoshi’s Island it appeared to be at first glance. Here was a game that wanted me to compete for a high score for nothing more than my own satisfaction. I wasn’t much of a Sega kid, nor were there any arcades to frequent where I grew up, so buying a game that seemed a better fit for a pizza parlour than my handheld was difficult to accept.
Thankfully I was merely an idiot, and Yoshi Touch & Go deserved better than some kid realizing beggars can’t be choosers. It’s simplicity masked its genius. It made touch controls important, creating an experience one wouldn’t dare claim to be a gimmick.
The game begins with Baby Mario falling down the top screen, his descent slowed by a trio of balloons. As some sort of god-like creature (unless the Yoshi species has always had this ability but failed to make it known), players draw a patch of clouds on the bottom screen, attempting to steer Baby Mario clear of the hazards. As the screens scroll downward, the clouds meet up with Mario, and slide him around as you’ve directed. The fall is littered with enemies and coins both, each susceptible to your cloud creating powers. By drawing a circle around them, a bubble is created, which can be tossed at Mario to collect the bounty inside, and even push him out of the way of incoming danger. These kinds of tactics matter, not only for Baby Mario’s safety (three hits and you’re out), but your score also determines what kind of Yoshi you earn for the subsequent vertical scrolling portion.
It’s here that you’re faced with a scene more familiar to Yoshi’s Island vets, albeit with an expected twist. Much like the previous portion, players do not have direct control over Yoshi. Instead, players affect the environment, drawing cloud bridges for Yoshi to cross, capturing enemies within bubbles, and directing his egg tosses with a tap of the screen. Your prior performance determines the amount of eggs your start off with, and the fruit laid about the stage replenishes your stock. You’ll need a steady stream of ammunition too, as the dangers lurk everywhere among the two screens.
What appeals to me most about Yoshi Touch & Go is how frantic it all is. Despite the DS’s interface, few developers were willing to have the player’s attention bounce around the top and bottom screen. It was always a worry that player’s would become fatigued, and most games used just one of the screens as primary viewing. T&G is never afraid to keep you on your toes, and while what you can do seems limiting, it strikes the perfect balance. As Yoshi is constantly marching to the right, there’s no time to breathe or collect your thoughts. I’m constantly scratching away at the screen,y eyes darting from top to bottom as manage my inventory, the enemies, and bevy of bonuses that fill the screens. It’s all so very alive, and is a nice change of pace from the DS norm, even now.
Rounding out the package is a very interesting collection of modes. While the gameplay stays the same, the rulesets manage to make each variation on the formula stand out on its own. My heart belongs to Marathon, where I attempt to survive as long as possible. Time Attack is another favourite. Here a group of Toadys carry Baby Luigi away, and as Yoshi the player is tasked with shooting these Toadys down as quickly as possible. Challenge mode is a treat too, and operates much like Marathon. Instead of just keeping Yoshi alive, you also have to collect as many coins as possible to increase a countdown timer.
While this may only pertain to me, one of my favourite memories of T&G is how strong a pull it had on my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time). While a gamer in her childhood, her interest faded after the SNES. But this game proved the concept of the DS to her, and when the Lite released we played plenty of the game’s multiplayer. No matter my efforts, she trumped me at every corner, and still owns 9 of the top 10 scores in nearly every mode.
While Kirby: Canvas Curse is often attributed as the DS’s first “must have” game, Yoshi Touch & Go isn’t one to forget. While it’s easy to dismiss for its arcade values, it’s none the less engaging than any other game you hold dear. While it may not be the sequel to Yoshi’s Island we had wanted, T&G is the only game to take the concepts introduced in that SNES classic and use them to create an experience that stands on its own.