Publisher: Midway Games
Developer: Midway Games
Release Date: June 25, 2007
Ah, the noble bar. Always a person's favorite place to enjoy alcohol or cigar smoke, the traditional adult "watering hole" is also one of the last bastions of hope for the greatest form of compensation that existed in the 1980s: the arcade game high score board. Most bars have TouchMaster touch-screen games on their countertops; they're proven quarter-munchers for folks who are too drunk to see straight or for their bored spouses or dates. While TouchMaster machines may vary in appearance, all of them have a variety of quirky, odd or eclectic games inside, ranging from the old favorites of Solitaire and Minesweeper to trivia games and more modern-styled puzzle games such as Tetris and Othello knockoffs. Midway, in what should have been an obvious move even at the beginning of the Nintendo DS' life, has released a series of 23 of the most popular games from their TouchMaster series, placing them together in one convenient package for the DS.
The worst part about reviewing a game such as this is that it cannot be held to the traditional benchmarks of gaming; the graphics, sound and at times premise of these games are all sacrificed for a single thing — addictive playability. If you're looking at TouchMaster with the hope of finding a beautiful piece of art you can show all of your friends, move on. The graphics bear little more complexity than the standard web-based Flash game, and the sound is limited to a few typical sound effects and the occasional five-second ditty at the beginning or end of a game. In addition, all of the games (save for the almost cryptic and often frustrating "Artifact" and "Times Square") can be condensed into a single DS screen's worth of text, or at times, a single sentence. You have cards, and put them with other cards. You have multicolored trinkets? Match them with other trinkets of the same color.
As previously stated, TouchMaster has an almost unheard-of 23 separate games, though perhaps this is the slightest bit of a misnomer because quite a few games share similar gameplay. "Crystal Balls" is similar to Columns, "Gem Swap" is a Bejeweled clone, and there are umpteen different variations on Solitaire, whereas others are practically identical. "Pick Up 6" and "5 Star Generals" are both clones of Yahtzee and have identical gameplay, with the only distinction being whether or not your dice look like Lucky Charms marshmallows.
Aside from that slight slip-up on the roster, most of the games feel unique in one way or another, and all of them have their own addictive flair. The compilation is split predominantly into three sets: card games, which include Solitaire, Tripeaks, Aces High and other popular solo card activities; puzzle games such as Columns and Bejeweled (or reasonable facsimiles thereof); and skill games, which focus more on timing or other skills. Among these are an almost carnival-styled basketball game called Hot Hoops, a trivia game which boasts an astounding number of questions (roughly 20,000 unique questions are advertised), a word search and a Hangman-style game.
Controls are easy to pick up and quite responsive, and the game never misinterprets a touch in one spot as a touch elsewhere for a different purpose. The game obviously doesn't stand up to the typical sound or graphics benchmarks, but then again, it doesn't aim to. Much like Nintendo's Touch Generations series, TouchMaster seeks to have graphics exactly as good as they need to be in order to retain their simple utility, with very few additional bells and whistles along the way. There's very little sound in the game, though muting the title is almost recommended, as otherwise the little victory fanfare that plays whenever you set a new high score will drive you to camp in the top of a bell tower.
Multiplayer is sadly lacking for a title such as this, but due to the nature of the original TouchMaster games, that's not really unexpected. Don't let that Nintendo WiFi symbol in the corner of the box fool you; the WiFi is for worldwide score tracking so you can compare your highest scores with everyone else. There are a few games that allow two-player alternating play, which requires the players to swap the DS between turns, and a handful of others allow multi-cart play. Beyond that, however, most of these games are for a single player, though that's hardly a bad thing, as it doesn't really ruin the playability of the title.
TouchMaster is given proof that a game — particularly a compilation of games — is more than just a sum total of its parts. Most of its facets are somewhat sub-par, but the sheer addictive gameplay available in the title makes it perfect for the pick-up-and-play casual crowd. Even more devout gamers will have no problems finding a spot in their game collections for TouchMaster, if for no other reason than to kill time on long, boring road trips. Many games are too similar for their own good, and other games loved by the original bar crowd have been left out due to technical shortcomings or executive decisions. While it's not a perfect title, you can't find a much better compilation of games on the Nintendo DS.