Genre: Mini Games
Publisher: Midway Games
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Ever since we first pioneered travel, people have sought a means to pass the time while getting from one place to another. Whether you were listening to stories your mother told or simply sleeping away the hours on a transatlantic flight, everyone wants the ability to while away those otherwise-wasted hours when you're confined to a comparatively small space without your usual amenities. From this, travel games were born. Granted, some of them were less than ideal — if you've ever tried to play a portable version of Scrabble, you know how those tiles will miraculously fly everywhere — but it was a step in the right direction. Portable video game systems are the zenith of this endeavor, requiring only the player and the system (and a healthy battery charge) to keep you entertained for hours on end. Sometimes it's good to remember where it all started and pass on to the younger generation some of the classics that might otherwise go the way of the dodo. That's how games like Touchmaster 2 are born.
The idea behind Touchmaster 2 is simple enough. Midway has brought together 20 fairly simple, small games, each one bite-sized enough that you can play them during your coffee break at work but with enough replay value to see you through a three-hour flight. The DS stylus is really put to work here, so button mashers can give their thumbs a rest. The entire process of starting up the game, choosing a blocky-headed avatar, and giving your new profile a name takes about one minute, perhaps two if you're terribly persnickety about which avatar you choose or inept with the representation of the keyboard given to you by the game. The goal is to cut down on the startup time and get you playing, and Touchmaster 2 does that quite capably.
Games are divided into sub-categories so that players can choose which kind of game they'd like to play and then select which title they want from that list. Action, card, picture, puzzle and strategy games are all available, and each one is well-represented by the offerings available. Some games you'll surely have heard of before; there are classics like Billiards, Bowling and View Finder (look at two pictures and circle the differences) if you're in the mood for old favorites, and there are also titles that you've almost certainly never heard of before in your life. Maybe you've played Super Mahki, Poker Slide or Prismatix before, but a quick survey revealed that no one I knew had any idea what these games were. Even trying out the games proved to be a new experience for several friends, which was a bit of a mixed blessing; some seemed perplexed by the new experiences, but there was also a noticeable optimism at the opportunity to try out new and interesting games.
In terms of audio-visual finesse, Touchmaster 2 doesn't do much, but it's capably represented. Pictures are clear enough to readily be distinguishable from one another, with even the smallest details in View Finder coming through with surprising clarity on the diminutive DS screen. For the most part, most of these games simply don't demand fancy bells and whistles to make them visually appealing; Solitaire is Solitaire, and there's nothing wrong with it being simplistic, especially if this means that effort can be put elsewhere. The music, while nothing that will impress anyone who's played video games after 1995, is unobtrusive and pleasant enough that it doesn't detract from the experience. This may not be a ringing endorsement, but remember that most of these titles require quick reflexes or sharp thinking, and a belligerent soundtrack can really ruin the experience.
Seeking to infuse this title with replay value, Midway elected to employ the often-overused trophy system in Touchmaster 2. Mercifully, it seems that some research was done into trophy collecting fun, and they've pulled off this lure with surprising skill. Each game has three different varieties of trophy; some will ask you to score as many points as possible within a certain time frame, others will demand that you play through and survive as many bonus rounds as possible, and still others will be more specific to the games in question. Each trophy has five different levels — none, bronze, silver, gold and platinum — and while most gamers should be able to reach bronze trophies with ease, even seasoned players will likely find themselves falling short of platinum. There's also an option where the game grades your trophy collection, both on completion and trophy types, to tell players just how well they're doing with the title.
Regrettably, this game has one flaw that saps some of the enjoyment right out of it, and it's a doozy: At no point during the course of gameplay does Touchmaster 2 actually tell you how to play the games! It's true that many of them are fairly self-explanatory, especially if you play through once or twice and figure things out. Unfortunately, some of the offerings are much less clear in purpose and gameplay. If you buy a new copy of Touchmaster 2 in the store or find a used copy with an instruction manual, you should be golden because instructions for each game are included. Beware of purchasing a used copy without a booklet, as games like Catwalk Caper and Dice King are completely inscrutable if you don't know what you're doing. These are minor complaints, and the title stands on its own despite this comparatively subtle design flaw.
Overall, it's safe to say that Touchmaster 2 is a fine compilation of time-wasting games, with a diverse and distinctive assortment of titles to please almost any palate. Accurate controls, entertaining game choices, and a pleasing presentation all combine to render the game's one real flaw comparatively minor. If you've got time to kill, Touchmaster 2 may just be your weapon of choice.
More articles about TouchMaster 2