Lore has it that Yoshi's Touch & Go began its life as a simple tech demo for the Nintendo DS--a proof of concept built to showcase the various unique functions of the Nintendo DS. The tech demo was so novel that Nintendo fleshed it out into a full game, and so here we are. The novelty of the gameplay is almost palpable, but so are the game's tech demo roots.
Based on the game's candy-and-crayon color palette, Touch & Go seems to take place somewhere not too far from Yoshi's Island, though the visuals in Touch & Go are decidedly not quite as stylized as those in Super Mario World 2. The sound design furthers the sense of whimsy, as there are plenty of trademark Yoshi pips and squeaks, and upbeat, tropically flavored music. It doesn't really push the technical envelope for the DS, but it's a pleasant package to look at nonetheless. This is definitely a case where gameplay takes precedence over presentation.
Drawing comparisons between Yoshi's Touch & Go and DMA Designs' classic PC puzzle/strategy game Lemmings is easy, though Yoshi's Touch & Go is a decidedly more tactile experience, putting greater stock in quick thinking rather than complex puzzle-solving. There are two basic level types, a vertical level where you have to keep a slowly descending Baby Mario out of harm's way, and a side-scrolling level where you have to keep Yoshi, who happens to be carrying Baby Mario, out of harm's way.
Your direct control over the characters is extremely limited, though you can manipulate the world around them, which you'll do exclusively using the stylus. By drawing lines on the lower screen, you'll create a string of small, fluffy clouds that will support your characters for a short time, allowing you to create alternate routes to avoid enemies and obstacles. If you find that you've drawn clouds that are impeding your progress or, heaven forbid, put your characters in harm's way, you can blow into the microphone port on the DS and all the clouds you've drawn so far will blow away, which is an elegant solution to a simple problem. Enemies can be dispatched by simply drawing a circle around them, and in the side-scrolling levels, a quick tap on the screen will cause Yoshi to launch an egg in that direction, which is good not only for taking out enemies, but also for collecting precious coins and delicious fruit. Additionally, you can tap on Yoshi himself to make him hop, and tapping him again while he's in midair will cause him to do a flutter-kick jump. This is, however, the extent of your direct control in the game.
Most of the underlying mechanics are shared between both types of levels, but the experiences provided are surprisingly divergent. As he floats down in the vertical levels, Baby Mario never leaves the upper screen. However, your influence on where he goes is limited to drawing on the lower screen, which means you have to draw your clouds based on where you think he will be a few seconds after you draw. Such a buffer doesn't exist as Yoshi trots along the side-scrolling levels, though the game compensates by throwing more enemies and obstacles at you while enforcing a stringent one-hit kill policy. We found the vertical levels to be more attractive because of the heavier strategic elements, though the urgency of the side-scrolling levels has a certain appeal, too. Either way, the game can become manic and challenging rather quickly.
A big part of Yoshi's Touch & Go is having to come up with solutions on the fly--at least, when you first start playing. Unfortunately, the game is structured in such a way that you'll find yourself going through the same few levels over and over again, and eventually rote memorization supplants actual skill. The game does wring quite a bit out of this simple concept, though, by including a bunch of different modes of play. The score attack mode puts you through a single vertical level and a single side-scrolling level, challenging you to score as many points as you can over the course of the two levels. In the marathon mode, your goal is simply to go for as long as you can without dying, with your performance measured in yards. Once you've secured the high score in these modes, you can unlock two additional modes, each of which introduces a timer in its own unique way.
Touch & Go also has wireless multiplayer support, and pleasantly, you only need one copy of the game to play. It's a basic two-man race where you can cause spiky obstacles to appear on your opponent's screen by clearing out enemies on your own screen. The limited scope of the multiplayer keeps it from being as compelling as the single-player game, but it stands as a nice addition to the package regardless.
Ultimately, Yoshi's Touch & Go is a clever, charming little game, but it doesn't really go anywhere. The gameplay concepts that are at work here are quite sound, but the game seems content to let the novelty of it all carry the weight. It's a great example of a game that you honestly couldn't pull off on any other system, but for all its innovation, Yoshi's Touch & Go simply lacks substance.