game reviews and playing tips: Nintendo DS games
Super Mario 64 DS
Review posted September 2005 by Tony Peak
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: November, 2004
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: Action Adventure
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
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
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.
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
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.