Review: Super Mario 64 DS (DS)

Super Mario 64 DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Action
System: Nintendo DS

Finally, the Nintendo DS is upon us. We’ve been waiting for months and months to get our hands on this system, and it’s finally here. With its two screens and unique features, it shows the most promise out of any new system I’ve ever laid eyes on.

But of course, Nintendo releasing a new system without it releasing a game with a wildly recognizable mascot is nothing short of blasphemy, so along with the launch, we get Super Mario 64 DS. Now a lot of people are labeling this game as simply a port of the Nintendo 64 game of the same name. But is it really? And how does it play on the small screen(s)? I’m here to find out…


STORY

Just like the Nintendo 64 game, SM64DS starts out with the letter to Mario from Princess Peach with the promise of a cake. The camera pans around the castle, just as you’d expect, although we see Yoshi sleeping on the roof of the castle for some reason. At the end of the sequence, Mario pops out of his warp pipe once more.

But that’s where the similarity ends to its big console brother. Two MORE warp pipes appear, bearing freeloaders Luigi and Wario who goof around and follow Mario to the castle. But as they enter…nothing happens. Yoshi is woken up by the Lakitu camera operator, and told that he has to find out what happened to everyone. And the castle door is LOCKED. So, that leaves Yoshi to hunt the grounds for a rabbit holding the castle key. Capturing the rabbit and unlocking the door will reveal that Bowser obtained the power of the stars and locked everyone away in paintings. This includes not only Peach, but everyone else as well. It’s here that you can FINALLY begin your adventure.

Despite essentially being the same story as the N64 version, it is presented in an entirely new way. The focus is HEAVILY taken off of Mario, giving the other three selectable characters a chance to shine. It definitely helps the story move along, but there are items that I don’t particularly care for. For example, you have four perfectly good characters handy, but only ONE can fight Bowser. You have to begin as Yoshi, and travel to eight different worlds before finally being able to find Mario. And it won’t spoil anything to say that throughout the entire ending sequence, Mario is never mentioned by name. So the story is kind of a double-edged sword in this regard.

Story: 6/10


GRAPHICS

This is our first Nintendo DS review, so there are going to be a great many things that are being looked at for the first time. A game’s graphics, the sound, the controls…all these categories are being experienced for the very first time. So its going to be interesting to see how the following scores will stack up.

To put it bluntly, the graphics are as good, if not better, than the N64 game. Everything is represented very well on the small screen(s), and much of it looks very cleaned up as well. The characters are good examples of this. Mario looks to be slightly taller than normal, and his body is in more proportion to his head. The other characters look just as good, and surprisingly decent in their first DS outing.

The various worlds and stages are incredibly similar to their N64 counterparts as well. I say incredibly similar and not “exactly the same” only because little changes were made here and there to accommodate the new characters, features, and power-ups. Even so, the worlds are big, extensive, and lovely to walk through. Places like caves need a bit more work, as they really don’t “feel” like caves. And the level with the pyramid feels kinds “weird” as you traverse through it. I can’t describe it that well. Maybe it’s because of the pyramid bricks and the limited number of pixels the system can display at once. In any case, these are only a few areas out of the many, with the many being great.

Of course being a DS launch game, SM64DS takes advantage of both screens for visual goodness. The top screen contains all the action, and the bottom is home to an overhead map of whatever stage you’re currently in. It’s actually pretty helpful as you’re going along, as it gives you clues to where stars, character caps, and even red coins might be. This is a far cry from the N64 version, where you usually find yourself wandering the level for clues if you have no idea where to go.

One of the biggest concerns I had was if the camera was going to function correctly. After all, its the first real 3D action platformer a handheld. I want to SEE what the hell I’m doing. And 90% of the time, I can. The camera operates pretty well on its own, and rarely gets stuck behind obstacles. When the camera DOES get stuck, it can easily be fixed by centering the camera (L Button) or by adjusting the angle with the arrows at the bottom of the touch-screen map. (Not only does this help with the camera, but it also proves that future games can have as many touch-screen exclusive buttons as it wants to get the job done.) Excellent conversion of the C-buttons, and a practically perfect port of the original title.

Graphics: 8/10


SOUNDS

The music from the N64 game is preserved completely in this title. There’s not even a loss of quality in the translation as there was when the SNES Mario games were ported to the GBA. From the main castle theme, to the grass and snowy worlds, to the incredible boss music, it’s all here. Plus, there’s plenty of NEW music added to the game, including remixes of the power-up music, and even a couple of tunes from Super Mario Sunshine. I nearly squealed with delight when I heard the SMS bonus stage music in several of the mini-games. And even THAT music is ported completely.

The sounds in the game seem to pack less of a punch than before, especially the voices. Whereas the music takes advantage of all speakers and surrounds the senses, the voices seem to sound Mono no matter WHAT setting you set the sound to. Way back on he N64, the voices and sound effects sounded much more vibrant. It is a bit disappointing, but the music more than makes up for this.

Sound: 8/10


CONTROLS/GAMEPLAY

Things have changed a bit since the original version, especially considering the addition of three brand new characters. So, lets break things down one by one.

Each character has their own set of special moves and abilities. Mario is the “average” one of the bunch, as he controls just as he did before. He has access to the Wing Cap just like before, and can also inflate like a balloon for a limited time when he collects a Power Flower. Luigi can jump higher, and even keeps his “flutter jump” from previous 2D games by holding the jump button. He also has the ability to run on water for a limited time. (I’ve yet to figure out a decent use for it, but it’s still KINDA COOL!) He’s also the only character who can turn transparent by obtaining the Power Flower, thereby removing the “blue blocks” from the game. Wario is the slowest of the bunch, but makes up for it by being the most powerful. He can knock enemies long distances with his punches, as well as break the giant black blocks found in various stages. When he grabs the Power Flower, he turns into Metal Wario, and that’s why we see no “green blocks” in the game. Now the interesting thing between the three cap-wearing players is that they are able to transform into each other at any time by finding their caps within the level. So you don’t necessarily have to change into other characters outside of each level.

Yoshi is what we would call the “wild card” in the game. He’s definitely the weakest, as he can’t break any blocks on his own. But he does have the ability to carry enemies in his mouth, or swallow them and crap out eggs to throw. He also keeps his long jumps found in previous titles. When he grabs the Power Flower, he’s able to breathe fire and melt ice. But perhaps the main thing that makes him the most broken is the fact that you can start any level with any of the other “character caps” mentioned above. This means that after all the characters are unlocked, you never really have to select them again. Yoshi can take on the abilities of everyone else anyway, so why even bother?

The game now has 150 stars to collect. Each of the 15 levels contain most of the missions found in the original game, with a select few altered a bit thanks to the changes made. Levels also contain one extra mission a piece that will either have you collecting 5 silver stars, or activating a switch to make a star appear for a limited time. And if you know where to look, levels also contain the Red Mushroom power-up. And while you’re huge, you can kill eight enemies for extra lives. (I LOVE this feature, by the way.) Additional bonus levels have been added containing more stars, and they’re pretty well designed to boot.

The controls were perhaps the biggest challenge for SM64DS, as it had to overcome the fact that there was no analogue stick. The D-Pad works pretty well when you’re running in open spaces, but getting around narrow and tight spaces is incredibly tricky. You’ll be facing one way, wanting to go another direction, but STILL end up going in the same direction when trying to turn. You can also choose the option of using the “thumb strap” included with the DS unit and use the touch screen as an analogue stick replacement, but that’s more of a pain than it’s worth. You’d be better off working with the D-Pad set-up.

Controls for the touch screen mini-games, however, are SPOT ON. This was my first experience using the DS touch screen, and didn’t know how well I’d do on them. Luckily, the touch screen interface is very responsive, as it registers press with incredible accuracy. I felt more in control of the mini-games than I have ever felt with…well, any control scheme before it. I can do almost anything with the touch screen interface.

Controls: 6.5/10


REPLAY VALUE

With 150 total stars to collect in this game, you’ll be playing this game for quite a while. And to add to that value, Nintendo has included a LARGE set of touch-screen mini-games for you to play. There are 36 in all, and you can unlock the majority of them by capturing rabbits around the main game. Plenty of these mini-games are very addicting, and will probably keep you outside of the main game for a bit. If you know friends who have DS units as well, you can also engage in a 2-4 player “Battle Mode” pitting Yoshi against Yoshi in an attempt to collect stars around the castle.

But once the day is done, and 150 stars are under your belt, the game will lose a bit of its luster. Outside of flying around the castle grounds, and starting a new game in a different save slot, there’s not much else to do outside of playing the mini-games.

Replay Value: 7.5/10


BALANCE

Now with four characters for you to choose from, you’re going to assume that each character has an equal number of missions to perform by his or herself, right? That you’ll be spending equal time with each one, right?

Wrong.

The characters in this game are FAR from being represented as equal. The first clue should come in the form of the various character caps lying around in the stages. You can go through the entire game as Yoshi, just pick up the caps at random, and complete all of their objectives. Hell, out of the four characters, it’s YOSHI who gets the most friggin’ attention here. Mario’s been all but stripped of everything, except for this name in the title. It’s Yoshi you start with. It’s Yoshi who has the most unique abilities. It’s Yoshi who can transform into anyone he wishes before beginning a stage. It’s Yoshi whom EVERYONE starts with when playing the multiplayer mode. And it’s Yoshi who gets the most credit at the end of the game after Mario does all of the dirty work. In between Yoshi and Mario, Luigi and Wario almost get lost in the shuffle. You’ll hardly ever select them willingly, outside of completing their specific objectives within the castle itself.

Balance: 6/10


ORIGINALITY

Most everyone thought that this game would be “just another port” of a classic Mario game to go with Nintendo’s brand new handheld system. But the fact is, it ISN’T just a port. This game adds scores of new material to an already excellent game, and even shifts items and missions around in order to increase the differences between versions. Plus the mini-games are as original as they come, especially since they are the first of their kind. A year from now, we’ll be used to this sort of touch-screen interactivity, but now, this is a new concept, and Nintendo uses it to its fullest. The only downside to this category is that while it may not be “just another port”, its still SM64 at its core.

Originality: 7/10


ADDICTIVENESS

I’ll admit that the review of this game is a bit late. I’ll admit I should have finished this sooner. I’ll also admit that while I was supposed to be doing a review for this game, I was PLAYING it instead.

I really forgot how much SM64 sucked you in, and the DS game is no exception. Running through the 3D worlds on your quest for the stars is a real engrossing task, especially if you want to complete the whole game. And if the star missions don’t keep you occupied, the mini-games will. Both aspects of the game are incredibly fun, and more time will pass than you’ll know when you finally take a break.

Addictiveness: 9/10


APPEAL FACTOR

For the launch of the DS, Nintendo needed a heavy hitter to show off just exactly what this new unit is capable of. They needed to take a classic title from the N64 days, clean it up a bit, add a bunch of new characters and features, resample the audio, throw in a ton of optional touch-screen mini-games, and cram it into a cartridge no bigger than a gum wrapper. Super Mario 64 was that choice, and people are going to flock towards this game simply because of name alone. It was arguably one of the best games on the N64, and aims to be in the same league on the DS.

Appeal Factor: 9/10


MISCELLANEOUS

As said in the last category, Nintendo needed a heavy hitter for this DS launch in order to impress consumers. And Nintendo delivered. But not only is it a good game in its own right. It’s a game that will show off exactly what the unit can do. It can hold a gigantic adventure into a teeny, tiny cartridge. It can also hold fun, addictive mini-games as well. Think of this game as a “preview” of what Nintendo has in store for us down the road. It’s going to be a pretty long road, considering the release dates of certain titles, but this game presents a very “hopeful” road nonetheless.

Miscellaneous: 8/10