It's a safe bet that most Nintendo DS owners are probably too young to have ever played Midway's popular touch-screen games that are found atop bars across the country. But that hasn't stopped Midway from releasing Touchmaster, a nice compilation of 23 of its best touch-screen games. Most of the games are quite good, work well on the DS, and are simple yet fun enough to be enjoyed by players of all ages.
Since they were designed as touch-screen games from the get-go, each one of the 23 games works fine on the DS, even if the screen sometimes feels a bit cramped. Touchmaster won't wow you with its presentation, but the simple menu screens are easy to navigate with the stylus. The in-game visuals and sound effects are adequate, though hardly stunning. The games are organized into three categories: cards, skill, and puzzle. Most of the seven puzzle games are knockoffs or slight variations of well-known puzzle games, but at least they're all good knockoffs. Two of the better games are Crystal Balls, a Bejeweled-like game where you try to match three or more balls in a row by color or number, and Mahki, a puzzle game that tasks you with matching like-colored tiles as fast as possible, with the goal of erasing all of the tiles from the screen. There's also a fun Wheel of Fortune clone called Wordz, an addictive game called Times Square, and the classic Mah Jongg Pairs.
There are nine card games in all. One of the better games is Target 21, a sort of hybrid of blackjack and solitaire in which you're dealt five hands and the objective is to get 21 in each hand. Another fun game that's also similar to solitaire is 3 Peak Deluxe. Here the cards are arranged in three pyramids, and you erase those cards by playing cards that are one higher or lower than the deck card. Triple Elevens, Uplift, Solitaire Classic, Go Wild, Double Take, Phoenix 13, and Power Cell round out the list of card games.
Everything that doesn't quite fit into the card or puzzle genre is lumped together into the skill section. There's a little bit of everything here; a few of the games are good, but it's probably the weakest category. One of the more recognizable games is Hot Hoops, where you tap one of five basketball players lined up across the screen to shoot at a hoop that moves back and forth across the screen. Trivia is, shockingly, a trivia game that covers a wide variety of subjects including sports, music, television, history, and general knowledge. In Trivia you can play all categories at once or pick and choose the ones you want to play. There's even a "kids" category, which is nice. Kids will also enjoy using the stylus to circle words in Word Search and Pond King Checkers, where the checkers are replaced with frogs and the board is replaced with a pond and floating lily pads.
Each game can be enjoyed single-player, and most of them allow two people to play either by taking turns or wirelessly, if each person has a cartridge. If you don't have anyone to play against, you can still scratch the competitive itch by uploading high scores and entering tournaments. These are both great additions in theory, but they're poorly executed. Instead of automatically uploading your score after a game ends, you must go through the several screens to upload it manually. If you actually want to see how your score stacks up, you'll have to finish uploading, back out of that menu, and go through another series of menus. Entering a tournament is even more tedious. Midway decides when there will be a tournament and what game will be used. There's no option for creating your own tournament; nor is there an option to search all games for ones that have tournaments--you have to go to each individual game and search. Using a PC it's possible to go to Midway's Web site and check your high scores as well as see what tournaments are being run, but when the fastest way to find out if there's a Pond Kings tournament is to put down the DS and get on the computer, you know things aren't easy.
Touchmaster is strictly no-frills, but it's a great value, and nearly all of its games are challenging and fun enough to keep you coming back for more.