Inside Pulse 12

Review: Touchmaster 2 (Nintendo DS)


Touchmaster 2
Developer: Midway Games
Publisher: Midway Games
Genre: Puzzle/Parlor
Release Date: 10/21/08


The Touchmaster games originated as arcade machines in bars and restaurants, and they were fun little diversions while you waited around for your order and/or companions to arrive. The DS ports allow for enjoyment of these games at any time without having to sit in around in one place for hours or constantly feed a machine coins. Of course, you’d have to provide your own drinks and whatnot, but inebriation isn’t exactly conducive to gaming performance anyway.

There’s probably a trove of jokes that can derived from the combination of the title “Touchmaster” and the “Touching is good” slogan used to market the DS if you happen to be comedically resourceful. But considering this is an E rated game, it would probably be in my best interests to refrain from exploring that train of thought any further.

Anyway, let’s see how this collection stacks up to its predecessor.

Modes
Upon starting up the game, you are prompted to create a profile and select a mascot for yourself. You can change your name and mascot at any time in the options menu. Up to three profiles can be created. In the first game, anyone could just pick up the game and enter their name if they got a high score. In this game, they either have to create a profile or use someone else’s in order to play, which takes away from the pick up and play feel of the previous game.

There’s fewer games in this game than its predecessor – 20 in this one, 23 in the latter. To Midway’s credit, they did include a whole new batch of games instead of recycling the old ones. Not only that, the games are more varied and spread across five genres instead of 3 like the last game. Naturally, you can find card and puzzle games here, but in place of the skill category, you now have strategy, action, and picture games. The favorites category also did not carry over to this version.

In the cards section, there’s Combo 11 (tap 2 cards that total 11), Carpet (put cards in order from A to K), Poker Slide (slide cards around to form poker hands), Triples (put together 3 of a kinds or straight flushes), and Speed Solitaire (which is exactly what it sounds like). The action section consists of Bowling (I would hope you know what this is), Catwalk Caper (try to get as much loot as you can while evading cops), Billiards (see Bowling), Beaned! (hit targets with paintballs while avoiding hitting innocents), and Speed Demon (just drive as far as you can without crashing). The strategy offerings include Super Mahki, Dice King, and Prismatix, all of which just involve you the ever-addicting premise of eliminating things by matching up colors. The picture games consist of View Finder (find 5 differences between two similar pictures), Scavenger (find items hidden within the picture), What Is It? (identify an object in a gradually appearing picture), and Picture Slide (rearrange jumbled pieces into a complete picture). Finally, the puzzle portion offers Rampage Empire (unscramble words), Spellwinder (find words in a mass of letters, but the letters don’t have to be in a straight line), and Catacombs (navigate mazes and try to escape after gathering as much treasure as possible).

All in all, it’s a pretty decent lineup, and you’ll probably find something you like in here. I personally wasn’t a fan of Catwalk Caper, and I was only lukewarm with the picture games. On the other hand, I enjoyed Catacombs, Bowling, and most of the other games in here. But your tastes may be be different.

Modes: Good

Graphics
The graphics aren’t exactly dazzling, but they are functional. The mascots are all wacky in their own ways and pretty much squares with eyes, limbs, and costumes. While you’re browsing the menus, the one you pick will stand around on the top screen staring out at you. They each have their own unique movements they periodically engage in if you linger in the menus – for example, the ninja draws his sword or flips, the mohawk donning punk rocker dude plays a short riff of his guitar, and the dog jumps up and down barking at you – which is a nice touch.

Everything looks pretty much how you’d expect them to look like, and the general color scheme leans on the bright side. The cards in the card games are easy to tell apart. The pictures used in the picture games are of generic scenery, which look alright but are a bit blurry. I was amused by the vaguely Donkey Kong-esque spiky haired gorilla in Rampage Empire that would jump up and smash the word you just unscrambled. The graphics of Speed Demon resembles Spy Hunter (except no one attacks you), and your car even starts smoking if it’s sustained damage. And there’s even traces of blood on some of the moving spike blocks in Catacombs, which I suppose explains the “mild cartoon violence” description in the ESRB rating (OK, besides the giant word bashing Donkey Ko- I mean, gorilla, if you want to count that).

Graphics: Decent

Sound
The background music that plays while you’re playing a game is fairly subdued and quiet. It’s actually relaxing listening to it. This is in contrast to the music in the original, which was more upbeat and made me feel like I was in a casino (don’t ask). The shift in , but then I don’t really focus on the music while playing. The music you’re treated to while browsing the menus is pretty bland.

For the most part, the sound effects aren’t anything noteworthy, but they fit. The cars in Speed Demon sounded like, well, cars. The collision of balls into other balls (or pins) in Billiards and Bowling sound realistic enough. In Catacombs, there would be random creaking and crackling whenever fire was nearby, which added a bit of atmosphere to that game. A different chime plays depending on the color trophy you each after each round.

Sound: Decent

Control and Gameplay
As you might imagine, the controls are entirely via stylus, and none of the buttons come into play at any time. The games are pretty much pick up and play, so there’s little, if any, learning curve involved. The controls mostly involve tapping and/or dragging things in some form, depending on the game, and they’re rather simple to use.

Naturally, the more action-oriented games implement somewhat more involved controls. The controls for Billiards are passable, if somewhat clunky at frist. I sometimes ended up tapping on the hit button when trying to adjust the power meter and angle of my shot. I was expecting something along the lines of positioning the cue, then sliding it forward to hit to ball, though I suppose that might’ve been more awkward for some. A dotted line shows up to tell you where the ball would go after you hit it, which helps. Bowling involved positioning the ball, then throwing it when the meter is at the angle you want to throw the ball at. The ball crawls up the lane slowly when you first throw it no matter how hard you fling it, which is a bit strange. But the angle of the throw during the closeup is pretty accurate with the positioning of said throw. Of course, Wii Sports comes the closest in emulating actual bowling by nature of its controls, so if you’re looking for a realistic virtual reenactment bowling without heading to an alley, there you go (and I do wish getting strikes was as easy in real life – alas). In Catwalk Caper, Speed Demon, and Catacombs, you move by holding down the stylus in a spot ahead of your character in the direction you want them to move in; the farther away, the faster they’ll move. I can understand why it was done this way, given that the entire game is controlled via touchscreen, but it was kind of annoying having to hold the stylus in one place for long periods of time, and movement felt a bit slow at times, especially in Catacombs.

You can now earn trophies, “wizard points”, and a rank for each game. In each game, you have 3 trophy paths, usually Top Score, Bonus Rounds, and Time Attack (though they can vary depending on the game). They come in bronze, silver, and gold, and the color you get correlates with your performance. At the end of each game, a four sectioned bar for each trophy path is displayed, and each section gets filled depending on how well you did. Wizard points are also tallied. Neither the instruction manual nor the game contains no information as to what precisely these “wizard points” are, but you can earn up to 40 of them for each time you play a game. Earning all 40 of them also means you’ve mastered all the trophy paths for that round (or batch of rounds). Any wizard points you earn each game do accumulate, and as you earn more points and trophies, your rank rises.

One big change in this iteration, besides the game lineup, is the removal of the timer that was present in the previous game. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it can be jarring to get into a game and suddenly have it end. On the other hand, this compilation of games was made for short bursts, so having the timer was fitting. Sometimes the games felt like they dragged on too long – I found myself going, “Just how many rounds does this thing have?” several times. Although I suppose the game throwing bonus round after bonus round at me was a good sign, since doing poorly would end the game after the round was done. Still, it’s not quite as quick paced as the original.

Control and Gameplay: Above Average

Replayability
In the first Touchmaster, there were no unlockables; what you saw was what you got. In this one, while every game is accessible from the get-go, you now have unlocking trophies, accumulating wizard points, and raising your rank in every game as incentives to keep playing. Naturally, there is no real ending for a minigame compilation such as this. In addition, if you’re someone who constantly strives to break records over and over, this game would have unlimited replay value.

Replayability: Above Average

Balance
The games in this collections lean on the easy side, so if you’re looking for a major challenge, you might want to try elsewhere. Even if you do stumble on a game you lack any particular acumen with, practice will remedy said nonproficiency. I do wonder if all the bonus rounds were thrown in to make the game feel longer. Of course, if the games were to be punishingly hard, most people would probably exact final retribution upon their copies and cast them into the nearest body of water. So in that regard, the difficulty is where it should be.

Balance: Mediocre

Originality
Considering this game’s a port of a collection of games that were previously proliferated in arcade machines…yeah, not too much originality there. You might also get a sense of deja vu as you play some of the games in here (everyone’s at least played solitaire before, I wager), as they’re essentially reiterations of games that have been around for a while.

Originality: Poor

Addictiveness
The beauty of a collection like this is that you could either play in short bursts or longer periods of time if you so desire. It’s well suited for commuting, as the rounds are usually short (depending, of course, on your skill with the game) and you can quit anytime if you needed to. But the lack of a timer and seemingly endless slew of rounds drags down the quick play a bit.

Addictiveness: Above Average

Appeal Factor
Lots of people like card games, lots of people like matching colored things together to make them vanish, so a collection of such games should be a winner, right? This game’s really targeted at the casual gamer, so it will definitely move some copies, though the likelihood of this becoming a chart topper is modest at best. Those who have played the first Touchmaster will probably enjoy this as well, though some may be disappointed by the removal of the Wi-Fi leaderboard (which I’ll be expounding more in the next section).

Appeal Factor: Above Average

Miscellaneous
In the first Touchmaster game, you could upload your high scores to the online leaderboard and check on the site to see how it stacks up. In Touchmaster 2? Nope, no can do. High scores are also isolated to individual profiles, so you can’t see any overall high scores. Unlike the original, you cannot input any names other than the profile, which sort of defeats the purpose of a game like this. Yes, the Wi-Fi in the original was slow, but Midway would’ve done better to improve on the Wi-Fi features (like, say, adding in the ability to play against others over Wi-Fi) rather than remove them altogether. Ironically enough, a thick Wi-Fi connection instruction booklet (in English and French) was included with the game. This indicates that they either decided to cut out Wi-Fi support last minute, or it’s so deeply entrenched somewhere in the game’s code that it’s utterly inaccessible. Oh Midway, why must you taunt us so?

On the positive side, this game does support single card download play, so you can play against someone locally even if there’s only one copy of the game between the two of you. So if you’re sitting around bored and you’ve got someone who has a DS with you, then by all means. That does not, however, make up for the lack of Wi-Fi.

Miscellaneous: Poor

The Scores
Modes: Good
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Touchmaster 2 is a mixed bag. Although there’s fewer games this time around, a wider variety of games increases the chances that you’ll find a game (or games) you enjoy. Taking out Wi-Fi support was a major omission, and Midway should’ve added to it instead of eradicating it. In this case, second time is not quite the charm. But it’s still a fun little time waster/boredom buster.