Review: Super Mario 64 DS
Posted 21 Dec 2004 at 09:29 by James
Super Mario 64 was a revolutionary game. The Nintendo DS is, or at least claims to be, a revolutionary system. What could be a better launch title than a remake or the N64 classic? Well, an all new Mario platformer would have been nice, perhaps…but that's beside the point. Here's what you need to know – Super Mario 64 DS, a reworking of one of the best videogames ever, is a brilliant game. Certainly not as groundbreaking as the original though as, unfortunately, it will never have the same impact on the world as the original, but it's still brilliant nonetheless. Mario belongs on DS. And all his multicoloured friends do too.
The graphics are much better than the original game though. Remember how blocky everything was? Everything is now much crisper, much smoother and much more refined – but then again, we expect that after 8 years of progress, don't we? Though the visuals are sharper, when you first start your adventure the familiarity of the game will hit you instantly. You're standing in exactly the same spot as you stood back in 1996. The same hills, the same trees and the same castle lie ahead of you. However the controls are different, the visuals are sharper and there's an air of change about the place but, this is Super Mario 64, almost exactly as you left it all those years ago. And to be honest, it's very good to be back.
But as you will notice, this time it isn't Mario you're controlling – that loveable green dinosaur Yoshi is the one under your control at first. You see, this time round, Mario, Luigi and Wario all came to the Princess's castle, and now all four of them have gone missing, presumed kidnapped by fire breathing turtles. Therefore it's up to Yoshi to head in after them and find out what happened.
Apart from a few basic changes in the storyline, the game itself is more or less exactly the same. A new room here, a few extra levels there, but in all honesty you saw it all eight years ago. It's certainly not a bad thing to return to this wonderful playground-like world you left all that time ago, but it would be foolish to go into detail about a game that is nearly a decade old. Instead, let's talk about how Mario and friends have adapted to their new home on the DS.
Let's start with the two screens. The top screen shows the action, the bright, colourful, fully 3D world, Mario 64 with a new, glossy makeover and a lick of paint. The lower screen, the touch screen, shows a map allowing you fairly obviously to see where you are in the level and locate items like Stars and Red Coins. The touch screen also has two other uses – you can tap on-screen buttons to rotate the camera around your character, and you can also control the movement of your character by use of the stylus or thumb strap. This is where the first big change from the original steps in and slaps you in the face – there is no true analogue control. The stylus works fine, you can use the thumb strap if you want an almost-analogue feel, and you can stick to the standard D-Pad and buttons – but the lack of a true analogue stick irritates at first. Thankfully, you'll soon get used to your chosen method of control, and once you get stuck into the game the control method doesn't make a difference. The game does lose a little bit of its accessibility for it though– which is a shame, given how simple and then-revolutionary the analogue stick was at the time. It almost, almost, feels like a step back.
You'll soon become immersed in Mario's world once again, and all your fears and doubts will be forgotten. The game is as compelling as it ever was. You'll play through the adventure, paying little or no attention to the world around you, smiling to yourself as you remember how that blank wall is actually the entrance to a hidden level, or recollect the tactics you used to reach that star. You'll laugh with joy as you realise that yes, the Secret Slide is still there. You'll feel proud when you find stars and levels that weren't in the original, or reach a star that you weren't capable of earning eight years ago. You'll grin as you discover that spinning Bowser around by his tail is surprisingly easier than before using the stylus. This game, I'm proud to say, has lost none of the magic that drew you in the first time. With new levels, new characters, and thirty more stars than the previous version (now a grand total of 150), there's more than enough to get you hooked all over again, now with nearly an extra decade's worth of experience behind you. You might hate the first ten minutes of Super Mario 64 DS, but you will love the rest of it.
So, if you put the control issues aside, the main adventure mode of Super Mario 64 DS is as fantastically playable as ever. But Nintendo have gone a step further with extra modes for DS gamers to experience should they want a break from the main game. Let's start with the 'Rec Room' option – basically a wonderful treasure trove of addictive, Mario Party-esque minigames that make full use of both the two screens and the stylus. There are loads to unlock as you play through the single player mode, and each is more addictive than the last. From frantically sorting pink and black Bomb-ombs into different boxes using the stylus, drawing a trampoline to bounce Mario into the air, and using a catapult to destroy parachuting Bomb-ombs in the air above you to rolling a snowball down a slope and watching it build up; these minigames are fantastic, simple and very compelling. Not only are they superb fun, but they make excellent use of the DS features, plus there's enough of them to have warranted a separate game of their own. The minigames will breathe new life into the game once you have all 150 stars, and believe me – you will keep coming back for more. They're a magnificent addition to what is already a magnificent game.
And finally we have the multiplayer mode, a competitive free-for-all mad dash for stars involving up to four DS-owning gamers, even if they don't own the actual game. You have a choice of four courses to race and battle against each other for Stars within, and although each player starts with Yoshi at first, a selection of caps lying across the levels like in the main game allow you to take control of the character of your choice. The multiplayer may not be as addictive or inspiring as the minigames, but its still brilliant fun and well worth playing.
So, what do we have at the end of it all, then? A game that is going to be criticised by gamers and critics alike because we all wanted a new Mario platformer, and because thanks to the new controls it's not as accessible as before – that's what we have. Quite frankly, we can complain all we want, but at the end of the day Super Mario 64 DS is as much a joy to play now as the original ever was. What it now lacks in the single player adventure (but in all honesty, it's not lacking much at all) is more than made up for thanks to the competitive multiplayer whilst the minigames alone make this game a must-have. The first of the big DS titles may not amaze people at first like the original Super Mario 64 did – but it will grow on you. You'll be sucked into the world of Mario once again, and you'll never want to leave.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A welcome return for one of the greatest videogames ever. Not as revolutionary as the original, but still as playable as ever.
Initially awkward to control.
You've played this game already.