Review by Arkrex
One thing I admire about Nintendo is their dedication to quality. "Advanced" ports aside, they have consistently put in as much work into creating great games as we do with our own lives. Benevolent pedantry. It's what separates the giants from the gods.
However, no matter how much additional content they managed to jam into Super Mario 64 DS, a portable port of the seminal Super Mario 64, Nintendo just couldn't make it work as brilliantly as it did in 1996. Age was one problem: the past decade has seen the fruition of many superb 3D platformers - all of which were no doubt built upon the solid foundations laid by Super Mario 64. Analog controls was the other. Or lack thereof.
Ten years ago I laid my hands on a Nintendo 64 controller. It was a funky peripheral, almost extraterrestrial in design, but it made Mario's movements in the 3rd dimension a breeze, and barring a few camera issues his revolutionary game was a dream to play. But I'm not here to lavish praise upon what is already known to most gamers (head over to my Super Mario 64 review if you would nevertheless like to be told once more). Super Mario 64 DS has a few new tricks up its sleeve and I'm here to rustle them up for you.
As with most magic tricks, we start off with a rabbit. Super Mario 64 DS makes it clear from the outset that it's simply not an "advanced" port. Peach has baked a cake for Mario, as usual, but this time Wario and Luigi tag along. Bowser ensnares them all. Didn't see that one coming, huh? Remember how Yoshi was waiting on the rooftops, accessible once obtaining all 120 stars, in the original Super Mario 64? Well, he's seen dozing off right at the start and because of his laziness, he eludes Bowser's grasp. Guess what? Yep, he's the hero who starts the ball rolling this time 'round. And this time, your first task is to catch one of what will be several rabbits strewn throughout the entire castle, starting with the one frolicking about the castle gardens.
Now this is what I like to see in ports: creativity and new content.
Once you enter the castle, though, things are familiar once again. The same worlds are open up to you, each one with the same point of entry (castle portraits) and each one with the same star challenges. But you're not just aiming for 120 of the shiny ones now; the new 100% goal is 150! The additional stars are evenly distributed between each portrait world (1 additional task in each of them) and found lurking in the deepest depths of the castle - with a couple of all-new miniature worlds exclusive to this redesign! And this time, you will be able to play as Mario, Luigi, Wario and Yoshi, each with their own unique attributes (for example, Luigi can jump the highest) and special powers (Yoshi has his tongue attack, and the ability caps are now shared amongst the the trio of plumbers). It isn't quite how I envisioned Mario and co. coming together - they still play all too similar - but the multiple character usage subtlely manages to make the game even more epic than before.
Alas, perfection it was not to be. The DS is a fantastic piece of hardware, but it lacks perhaps the most important Next-gen feature of them all - an analog stick. Without it, Mario and co. are relegated to stiff d-pad controls, or else faux analog control via the touch screen - which is as cumbersome as it sounds. I prefer the d-pad because it is the most comfortable, but compared to the two other schemes, it also is the least versatile; having only 8 fixed directions to move in (with a camera that still isn't very helpful) is not something I like in my 3D games; neither is having to constantly hold Y to run. But the d-pad is the lesser of two evils so I had to go with it. Making sacrifices for Mario? It's practically unheard of!
At least he offers me some new minigames that make good use of touch screen functionality as well as a multiplayer mode. Problem is, they both aren't anywhere near the quality of the main solo outing. The minigames are fun for a brief while, but they have since been superseded by New Super Mario Bros. updated take (which still aren't all that good), and the multiplayer mode - star hunting in small, boring arenas - is only fun for those few minutes before you realise that virtually every other DS Wi-Fi enabled game offers an experience more in-depth and consequently, more exciting.
Super Mario 64 DS is very bittersweet for me. I love the original to bits, and I appreciate all the upgrades they have introduced in this remix (which was in fact ported from scratch - graphics engine and all), but the bonus minigames/multiplayer are tacky and the loss of true analog control makes moving Mario less involving and his game less fun to play. I would have liked to see some camera fixes, too, but it would seem that that's just asking too much. As it is, though, newcomers will find much to like so long as they can forgive the not-so-intuitive-anymore controls, and veterans are sure to be delighted in the challenge presented by the extra 30 stars. After all, Super Mario 64 is still the meat and potatoes of this port and it's as hearty as ever.
VERDICT - 8.5/10 Happy New Year 2008! My final "A-style" review. Cheers everyone! Peace out
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Super Mario 64 DS (AU, 02/24/05)
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