The central problem here is game modes. It didn’t help that my copy came in Japanese, but I spent my first hour with Touch & Go convinced that I was missing something vital: the main single-player game. The first option, High Score mode, gives you just one vertical level with Baby Mario, then one horizontal level with Yoshi. That’s it. Score over 300 and you open up a bonus game mode – Time Attack, where Yoshi has to rescue Baby Mario from kidnap – but this isn’t going to keep you busy long term.
So, on to Marathon mode. At first, this feels more like the real deal. After Mario’s initial descent, it’s up to Yoshi to carry him as far as they can get over various forms of desert, cavern and forest landscape. Every 1000 meters, a new environment begins and a new Yoshi takes over. The odd thing is that the levels, in as much as the environments can be described as levels, are created seemingly at random, like building blocks of platform games shuffled into order as you go. With no beginning and no end, all you need to worry about is getting as far as you can and climbing the high-score chart. Once again, topping the chart brings you a new bonus mode, Challenge, adding an Out Run-style time limit to the general Marathon mix.
Before we go on, lets all be absolutely clear about one thing: Marathon mode is a lot of fun. The level variations work well, the game keeps throwing in new tricks to keep your interest, and the urge to get just another few metres next time is hugely addictive. Share your DS with a friend or loved one and it’ll keep you both busy trying to outdo one another for days. What it’s not, is a fully-fledged single-player game.
You see, despite the undoubted appeal of all this old-school arcade gameplay, Touch & Go leaves you crying out for the old basics of the 2D platformer: proper levels, with new skills to be learned, new environments to be explored, bosses to be beaten, and a sense of progress. It’s not that we really care about the narrative stuff, but part of the appeal of, say, Yoshi’s Island, was the way in which it added and extrapolated on the game mechanics as the levels went on. In the hands of a Shigeru Miyamoto, a classic platformer is like a Jazz group forming new riffs from old themes before they get a chance to get dull – you’re constantly surprised by brilliant, challenging bits of game design that add new twists to the basics. In comparison, Touch & Go seems a deliberate step backwards – a step leading all the way back to the original Super Mario Bros.