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JadeDragon's game reviews and playing tips: Nintendo DS games

Super Mario 64 DS

Review posted September 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: November, 2004
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: Action Adventure
Price: $29.99

Although terms like "innovative" and "revolutionary" are thrown around quite often when discussing Nintendo DS games, back when Super Mario 64 was released in '96, people meant it. A truly 3D platformer starring everyone's favorite plumber wasn't just a good idea, it was an amazing experience. Graphically, the game was all but unmatched. Though perhaps a little more cartoonishly shaded than Crash Bandicoot, it was amazingly rendered, varied, and detailed. Swim, jump, climb, crawl, flip, fall, or fly, you could do it all. You could go just about anywhere in the game, with virtually invisible walls or cheap visual tricks, and be sure that collecting the game's 120 stars would take you just about everywhere, while the non-linear gameplay allowed you to take challenges your way.

Aside from just the then stunning eye candy, there were many gameplay and control innovations that have been rarely duplicated. Mario, traditionally known for being rather slow but not lacking in neat tricks, was faster and more agile than ever. Now running, sliding, flying, back flipping, somersaulting, handstanding and even wall kicking were all there. In a truly 3D world, this was amazing. The hybrid auto/manual camera system alone was amazingly made, considering how poorly duplicated it's been over the years. The engine was very forgiving, encouraging creativity and exploration, rewarding on the fly combos of wall jumps and backflips rather than simply allowing them.

For many people, Mario 64 is a distant memory now. I quite enjoy playing my old titles from time to time however, so Mario 64 was only as far back in my mind as a good six months. This gave me quite mixed feelings when I heard about Mario 64 again being a flagship title for the Nintendo DS, and without the famous analog control. While many were happy to simply play a port of a favorite old title, I was wondering what's new. Turns out, there's plenty.

Gameplay

Mario 64 DS plays an awful lot like its classic counterpart, but with some vitally important differences. For one thing, you now have more than just Mario to play as. You could argue the game now stars Yoshi and is nearly mistitled. While I was expecting a dull character selection screen and maybe a superficial graphical change of character, what I got was a revamped storyline and brand new gameplay. As Yoshi, you'll have to find Mario, Luigi, and Wario along the way, allowing you to play as them via special caps.

Simply grabbing one of these special caps or selecting it at the start of the level gives all the abilities and characteristics of that person. Yoshi acts just as you'd expect. He can eat enemies, spit them, shoot flame with a powerup, and his trademark flutter jump really adds a lot to the gameplay mechanics. Luigi has the highest jump, floats downward, and can even skim over the top of water. Wario has his strength, while Mario has all his classic moves and a few surprises. Finally, if you really wanted to be Mario or any other character all the time, you can do that too once you unlock that character in the game.

The quest is even longer than it was before, as now rather than 120 stars to find you'll be searching for 150. A new star has been added to nearly every stage, and there are new small areas to explore. Furthermore, there are countless changes and tweaks throughout the game. Challenges that were pointlessly frustrating have been smoothed out, mechanics have been slightly reworked, subtle changes to level layouts add new quirks, and rough edges smoothed. A center behind player button was even added for the camera. And just for the icing on the cake, 36 unrelated but totally fun stylus based mini-games were thrown in to be unlocked to boot.

Taking advantage of the DS two screen hardware is the new map. The map not only gives you an overview of the level layout and where you are, but points the way to the current star goal and offers hints such as the location of the 8 red coins. While some may argue this spoils the challenge, I find it simply eliminates much, although not all, of the tedious guesswork that often went into finding out where you were suppose to be heading. It doesn't solve the puzzle for you, but merely gives you a much needed, and very welcomed, guide to follow.

Graphics

People sometimes have a hard time believing me when I say this, but I know for a fact it's true: Super Mario 64 DS has vastly improved graphics over the Nintendo 64 original. Time does funny things to one's memories, but having both versions to compare side by side, the difference is perfectly clear. Mario 64 DS features some new, completely reworked textures, more polygons, better mapping, and better looking characters. The difference is stunning, and alone makes the game worth replaying.

Compare, for example, the first area outside the castle. Mario 64 on the N64 has simple green grass textures running into simple yellow ground textures. Mario 64 on the DS however has much nicer grass and ground textures that blend together with a dirt texture where they meet. The water, shrubbery, and even the castle details like Peach's picture all look improved.

Obvious polygon enhancements have been made, like for example the two stone railings leading to the castle door. While Mario 64 has a simple flat surface leading to a short sharp slope, Mario 64 DS has fully textured and more detailed curved railings. You'll quickly notice other similar improvements throughout the game. Although small and subtle on their own, they add up for a big impact in the end.

Sound

Sound wise I personally don't hear a whole lot of difference, but all the new character sounds and mini-game sounds are all spot on to the original feel of the game. The effects and music are crystal clear, and although Mario never had what I'd call a stellar soundtrack, it's all here.

 

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Conclusion

Analog control was a big feature of Mario 64 when such things were still new, but it was never without its own drawbacks. While some may find the lack of analog control frustrating, I had no problems whatsoever with the D-Pad configuration. Pressing Y to run only brings back fond memories of the SNES era. Although touchscreen controls are available, overall I found them to be a bit harder to work with than the simple and effective D-Pad control scheme.

Even if, like me, you cringe when you hear "Nintendo" and "port" in the same sentence, you should still check this one out. Fans of the original absolutely must play this, as the new stars, characters, and vastly improved graphics give us the pseudo-sequel that never was. The 36 minigames alone give enough reason to pick this one up, and the single cart multiplayer battle mode is just another nice little freebie thrown in to sweeten the deal. Let's hope we see some other Nintendo 64 favorites get this kind of treatment in the future… Zelda: Ocarina of Time anyone?

Playing Hints and Tips

- Always keep an eye on the map. On most goals, it will point out the star location, giving you a good place to start. If you talk to a certain pink bomb-omb, you'll see the location of the 8 red coins. You can also find the location of a cap, for easy reference.

 

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

Mario 64 was exceptional in its day, and porting that to the DS would have been impressive alone. But the vastly improved textures, geometry, and characters make a world of difference and impressed me quite a bit. All of the mini-games look great, and fans couldn't really ask for more.

Sound

Mario's score never really knocked my socks off, but the team showed very impressive attention to detail in the port and new sounds, plus great separation of the channels. The game's never sounded so good.

Fun Meter

The semi non-linear goals and quest really, brilliant level design, and all the other things that made the classic so amazing port perfectly over to the DS. Even if you've played the heck out of the old one, Mario 64 DS's improvements and new content make it very much worth another trip. This one was a system seller for me, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Addictivity

150 stars to collect takes a fair amount of playtime, but the 4 player battle mode throw-in and 36 mini-games just put it over the top. You'll be playing this one for a good, long while.

Total Score= 4.875 Dragons, 97.5%



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