Super Mario 64 DS (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
It's fair to say that there was a little criticism at the launch of the GameCube due to the lack of a Mario game in the initial line-up. Yes, Luigi was cleaning up his Mansion from the very begining but it was some months before gamers could enjoy the excellent Mario Sunshine. Obviousley Nintendo took this on board and from day one every DS owner could pick up their very own Italian Plumber and judging by the sales of this enhanced N64 port most of you already have. That's why, in part, we've left this review so late but if you do happen to be one of the few who've yet to delight in this wonderful platformer read on to see why it should be added to your collection immediately.
If you've played the original you'll no doubt be a little confused initially as you don't start out as Mario but Yoshi. The objectives are still the same but now in addition to rescuing the Princess (and collecting the all important stars) you also have to free Mario, Wario and Luigi. These other characters are all important to success as they all posses very different skills and while Wario can pull off a kind of Super Punch enabling him to destroy larger blocks, Luigi can become invisible. The game itself have a very open ended feel and you can attack the initial tasks in any order you wish with other areas becoming available when you've collected enough stars of found one of the elusive keys. This slow opening up of the game never overwhelms the player presenting new concepts or even characters as and when they are needed. There are 150 of these stars in total but it's not essential to collect all of them to complete the game. You will however be so emerged in this magical world it's difficult to come up for air never mind the thought of finishing the game without uncovering every star and mini-game for that matter.
Discovering one of the many rabbits, which pop up randomly, will give you access to a mini-game. These are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the whole package allowing you to fully utilise your stylus in a variety of different ways. There are over two dozen of these and while some are very similar there are some true gems, which will keep you returning to this game for some time to come. Our's included the terribly addictive 'wanted' game which simply challenges you to locate an images, displayed in the top screen, in the ever more congested bottom screen. Another is sorting red and blue bombs into their correct areas which diffuse them. As with most of these games things start out very slowly but quickly tax the mind and stylus to get it just right which eventually fail. Each one of these is then saved to a high score chart meaning that you could be attempting to beat a personal best for some time to come. Then again you may meet someone else on PictoChat and then... well anything could happen...
Even once you've completed the main game there's still a few multiplayer modes to enjoy and like most first party titles these only require one copy of the game to enjoy. All of these are merely 'lifted' sections from the main game such as racing downhill or stealing stars from each other but there's no doubting their 'quick fix' enjoyment. If nothing else these do help demonstrate just what can be done and hopefully this feature will be fully exploited in future products and given that, unlike the GBA, there's no extra hardware required, it's highly likely.
There's been a fair bit of controversy regarding the control system and the original N64 version was praised for it's analogue control system which was not only quite new at the time but also helped make a good game a great one. Obviously this feature simply isn't available on the DS and while the developers have attempted to emulate it on the tough screen the lack of physical feedback makes the whole thing incredibly frustrating to use. The outcome of this is gamers new to the world of Super Mario 64 ditching this in favour of the more traditional 'D-Pad' but anyone who encountered the original may be left pining for their analogue option.
As with most aspects of this game it's clear that the developers had intended to highlight just what the DS was capable of and visually Mario 64 is impressive in almost every department. For starters it's even better looking than it's N64 original with an improved polygon count and improved textures bringing everything on-screen to life despite the absence of any texture filtering option. All this trundles along at an impressive 30 fps regardless of what's going on with only the odd scenery 'pop-up' denting an otherwise flawless visual performance. In addition to all this there's also the 'there was no room for this but we thought we'd include it anyway' features which give some indication of just what may be in store for the next generation of DS software. Liquid menu screens which ripple on contact look wonderful but the ability to stretch a line drawing of Mario, Yoshi or even your own creation kept us amused for some time.
The stereo sound pumped out by this title is truly outstanding and there's no doubt you are witnessing far superior audio that anything the GBA had to offer. You'll notice this almost instantly as you walk around the first garden with the mellow outdoor sounds mixed with the chirping birds providing the type of atmosphere that's replicated across the various environments you'll encounter later in the game. It really is just worth stopping and listening just to absorb it all but this quality of audio is also an essential gaming tool, as you'll occasionally use it to discover where intended targets are hiding even when they are creeping around. This is all topped off with some excellent voice samples many of which have been especially recorded for this new DS version which seem more plentiful then you'd assume the tiny game cart would allow.
Outside of the rather questionable analogue controller the developers have seemingly touched on every area of use for the stylus thanks to a generous amount of mini-games. There are over two dozen of these and it's fair to say that very few of them could appear on a traditional games system and even if they did they wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable as they are here.
These range from simple sorting tasks to using the stylus to pull back and aim a catapult and, best of all, actually drawing lines on-screen to change the path of a fast approaching Mario head. The bottom screen is also used as a map and while this is redundant for most of the game, mostly due to the small design, it does become essential when indicating the location of an elusive star and especially during the silver star levels.
Had Nintendo produced a straight conversion on the N64 classic there's a good chance there would of been a fair bit of criticism regardless of the fact that this is actually on a handheld system which would of been unthinkable at the time of it's original release. Thankfully there's more than enough to warrant a purchase of this DS version even if you played the N64 version to death not only because it's a great game in it's own right but also the variety of ways it highlights the new handheld's obvious strengths. The main game itself is still a wonderful demonstration of solid gaming design which not only taxes you at every step but also never beats you over the head because of impossible situations or unrealistically steep learning curves. The mini-games, on the other hand, do a fine job of illustrating just why you bought the system in the first place, which will have on lookers in awe as you change the dynamics of a game by simply drawing on screen. Overall this is a must have game for all DS users but judging by it's place in the all formats chart months after the original release of the system most of you already know that.
Pro: A DS Essential Title.
Con: Not Terribly Original (if you've played the N64 version).
Final score: 9.1