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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Yoshi's Touch & Go

Doesn't dragon enough. But let's not cloud the issue with puns.

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Sometimes the simplest game concepts are the most beautiful. Down the years some of the true classics have been almost embarrassingly simple to the point of being able to sum the gameplay mechanics in a sentence. Think of the true benchmark innovations: Pong, Space Invaders, Pac Man, Marble Madness, Tetris, Street Fighter, Wolfenstein, Dune II. All games with a purity of vision and a design influence that lingers one well past their sell by date.

And yet something as simple and well conceived as the Nintendo DS touch-screen has given game designers a new lease of life to try new things. Simple things. Things that non-gamers can pick up and play without having to be told the rules; just like games used to be before it became fashionable to layer games with intimidating complexity that hinders gaming from ever reaching the levels of true mass marketability.

The first hints of the things to come came with the genius mini-games hidden within Super Mario 64 DS (some of which are among the most compelling games we've played all year, if truth be told), while Wario Ware Touched! was similarly rammed with flourishes of head smacking genius that left a mile-wide smile on the face of anyone who played it. Throw in the likes of Meteos and EG favourite Zoo Keeper, and it's like the games industry has rediscovered fun again.

Touched by the hand of genius

And if you're familiar with any of the Super Mario 64 DS mini games, Yoshi's Touch & Go follows on from many of the basic ideas within, expanding it to a full game that - in basic terms - involves guiding Baby Mario to safety while falling from the sky, and then having landed on Yoshi's back, guiding Yoshi through an obstacle-laden scrolling 2D environment to a goal. And that's about it. Told you it was simple.

Of course, there's much more to it that that. The premise is little more than to rack up the biggest score you can during these two predetermined sections. But scoring isn't as easy as you might think. There are various game modes available to you, but the same basic gameplay principles apply whether you're playing the initially available Score Attack, Marathon or Versus modes, or the unlockable Time Attack or Challenge modes.

Unlike some of the other DS games currently available, Yoshi's Touch & Go is designed specifically for the system and is controlled entirely by the touch screen - there's simply no other way you could play the game any other way even if you wanted to. Loosely connected to the Super Mario 64 DS mini-game that tasks the players with keeping workmen from falling to their doom, a similar principle applies in the first section of Yoshi's Touch & Go in that you must draw clouds on the lower portion of the screen to usher Baby Mario to safety. In this instance however, the clouds you draw serve as a means to gently guide Baby away from spiky traps and the proliferation of enemies floating around while simultaneously attempting to gather up as much booty as possible - coins, unsurprisingly.


Drawing clouds is one thing, though, but they will only get you so far and you must take into account Baby's position in the top screen at all times; there's a certain amount of forward-thinking to be done. If you do happen to fail to protect Baby, it's not the end of the world. Baby clings onto three balloons, which effectively act as lives for the purpose of the game. Lose all three and it's Game Over.

Mastery of this section of the game is all about how well you fare in working out how to scoop up the booty, and there are a few methods other than merely guiding Baby into its path. Drawing cloud circles around enemies turns them into a coin in a bubble which can then be guided manually into Baby's path, while circling coins also has the same effect, allowing you to double up coins and use the bubble to push coins into Baby's downward path. Amusingly, if you're unhappy with the clouds you've drawn you can literally blow them away by blowing into the DS' thus far underused microphone. On other modes, should you manage to scoop up a star, Baby will morph briefly into Super Baby Mario and become temporarily invincible while also falling faster.

Assuming you manage to make the (roughly two-minute) journey to the bottom of the screen safely you then start the second part of your journey. At this stage Yoshi appears in time to cushion Baby Mario's fall and sets off on another danger strewn journey, hopping over chasms, dodging and firing eggs at a selection of familiar Nintendo baddies while scooping up as many coins as possible along the way. As before, clouds are your friend, and drawing them creates temporary platforms for Yoshi to cross otherwise impassable gaps, while drawing cloud circles around enemies again turns them into bubbles with coins inside which can be dragged straight over to Yoshi.

Bubble Bobble

Where possible, bubbling trapping is the best tactic, as it helps save your much-needed stock of eggs (which can be replenished by, oddly, eating fruit), which allows you to shoot coins and enemies with a tap anywhere on the touch screen. As many of the eggs and enemies are on the upper screen, aiming is crucial, and getting the trajectory right is all part of the learning curve. On top of this, Yoshi also has the curious ability to jump repeatedly in mid-air if you tap him - often getting you out of a tight scrape if you've not managed to bubble-trap an enemy in time, or missed while attempting to shoot them.

Although the whole thing is almost alarmingly short-lived and simple, there are a number of different modes to hone your skills. The initially most attractive option is the basic Score Attack, which is all about how many coins you can gather. It's simply a case of practising a lot, memorising the layout and getting good enough to top the high score table to unlock Time Attack. This mode adds bumpers to the sky to hinder your downward progress, with the ground portion less a case of worrying about enemies and more about keeping Yoshi running on clouds.

Marathon mode, meanwhile, is just that. An endless - and randomly generated - mode where scoring is based on how far you get; first with Baby Mario, and from there on riding Yoshi. Every few hundred yards you enter a bonus mode, while 1000 yards you get to ride a better version of Yoshi with a higher egg capacity.

Marathons was a better name than Snickers

Beating the top score on Marathon unlocks Challenge, which after the initial sky section becomes a timed mode with the general idea to kill enemies to gain more time, and to eventually reach 3000 yards before the clock times out.

Happily, the versus mode is a single-pak multiplayer game, with the goal being to reach 1000 yards first while hitting obstacles with your eggs in order to send them over to your opponent's screen - great, if rather short-lived and limited fun.

In a sense, you could level that last sentence at the whole game; it's admittedly great fun, but feels rather too much of an extended mini-game to warrant rushing out to purchase. We say this having arguably had more fun playing SM 64 DS mini games; games which offered way more in terms of variety while merely being bonus mini games. It also must be noted that while we don't rate DS games on how good they look, this is a cute but functional game - nothing more.

Endearing, cute, fun, but not worth the money

While it's fair to say Yoshi's Touch & Go is an endearingly simple and addictive concept that is fun while it lasts, you really do expect more variety than is on offer. If the game had featured more sections then it would be irresistible, but with just two short portions of gameplay repeated over largely similar modes it's the kind of repetition that can't hope to tempt money out of your wallet. Whereas we could happily keep playing repetitive DS games like Zoo Keeper, Meteos, Polarium and the SM 64 DS mini-games until the cows come home, Yoshi's Touch & Go is a short, sharp burst of immediate fun that reminds you of the genius of the DS' control interface, but after a few hours evidently doesn't have the kind of unlimited replay value that it so badly needs to justify shelling out hard cash for.

Order yours now from Simply Games.