Review by BigCj34

Reviewed: 12/02/08

Are four heads better than one?

What a surprise. With another portable console by Nintendo come more excuses for them to remake Mario games released on their home consoles with similar hardware specs. With the DS effectively being the portable equivalent of the N64, it’s inevitable we’d see a DS remake of Super Mario 64. But the challenge here was how to grind out some use from that second screen.

Inevitable, yes, but perfectly understandable. Super Mario 64 was the title that finally set some direction into the platform genre that was struggling to make the jump to 3D. Mario 64 introduced the open-world platform jumping with a home hub level structure that grants access to other levels, frequently used in many platformers since. Rather than the traditional on-rails start to finish method of progressing through levels, there are objective based goals such as collecting items like stars, to progress through the game. At least here you get to see what you missed first time round but without the notoriously blurry N64 graphics, each level having been resurfaced with higher-resolution textures and looks far sharper on the small DS screen.

If you never got to grips with Mario 64 because you opted for a PlayStation when younger, Mario 64 revolves around Princess Peach carelessly getting herself kidnapped by that mad-stalker Bowser, locking her up in castle. Again. With the help of Luigi, Bowser and Yoshi, Mario must collect as enough stars from the 15 courses to unlock the sealed doors throughout the castle and eventually beat Bowser. For now at least. Each course comprises of eight collectable stars, earned by achieving various objectives such as earned by collecting 8 red coins, hitting a switch and reaching one quick enough or even finding ones hidden away. Some of the goals are more discrete like retrieving a star from a flying crow or finding a snowman’s body. And that’s without mentioning the amount of secret stars on offer. With 30 more stars to put the total at 150, an extra star for each course plus 15 more secret stars, completion of this title is no quick skim.

Many signature traits from the classic series make the 3D transposition with enemies, the underhead “?” blocks and the pipes all returning. On the other hand, a lot of the course designs share little in common with the 2D series and take Mario into some very peculiar worlds. Snow worlds make an entrance, underwater swimming floods the party, and the skies above have a dedicated world as well. Some worlds are darn-right ridiculous, one taking Mario inside a clock, the time shown outside of it determining the attributes of it’s platforms, to even an island that interchanges between a gigantic version and a microscopic version via a pipe. The physics implemented to Mario have really been juiced up, as he can hold onto platforms and doesn’t just stop running when you let go. However, this also means Mario can fall a painful death if he drops too high, so watch out!

This remake’s most significant change is the addition of Wario, Luigi and Yoshi as playable characters. Starting of with Yoshi, (not Mario! ), the other three characters are progressively unlocked. Luigi accelerates quickly and can jump high, Wario is neither of those but has enough bulk to smash heavy blocks, whereas Yoshi can flutter in the air temporarily and his tongue is great for swallowing enemies and fire. Furthermore, power blocks affect characters differently. Mario transforms into a floating helium balloon while Luigi becomes intangible and can run through cages, Wario transforms into metal and can destroy anything. Although characters can be switched in the castle, finding another characters cap allows the present character to transform into it. Although the aforementioned additions could’ve easily been a token gimmick, their roles have been slipstreamed in as if they were always meant to be there in the first place. Level objectives have been reworked to take advantage of each character’s abilities and cap-switching is necessary to complete some of the levels. At least we can now finally put the playable Luigi rumour to rest.

Another addition to this remake is the inclusion of dozens of touch-screen orientated unlockable mini-games. For instance, Mario has to jump through hoops by deflecting him off bouncers, positioned by drawing a line. Another mini-game involves using the stylus to divert a snowboard that gradually builds-up through an obstacle-riden track, or using the stylus to propel parachuting Mario’s back in the air before one hits the ground. Some of the more puzzle based mini-games involve memory-matching cards or finding the odd-one-out in a map full of similar faces. The mini-games are mildly fun for passing time; none of them are exactly addictive in the long-term nor necessary to fully complete the game. As this was a launch title, this clearly was a mere attempt to showcase what the touch-screen can do.

Unfortunately, this remakes key problem lies within the controls and can be the root of some very frustrating moments. The games nature is the main fault, as a title originally intended to exhibit the N64’s analogue stick is replaced here with imprecise D-pad controls. The touchscreen hardly works as a viable alternative, it’s too fiddly to run straight and makes Mario run too fast, nullifying any advantages of precise analogue control. With too much emphasis on encouraging use of the touch-screen, little has been done to work-around the digital controls limitations. Mario accelerates gradually rather than walking steadily, this is fine for a joystick as it can be slowly tapped precisely in a given direction but not so with the D-pad. It can really make for some aggravating moments when Mario can’t be stopped from tumbling off a platform. The way the camera always needs readjusting ritualistically just to ensure Mario walks straight certainly doesn’t help; but the D-pad is the lesser of two evils and relegates the lower screen to a level map with admittedly conveniently placed camera controls. The laboured touch movement is again Nintendo trying too hard to demonstrate the consoles touch capabilities as a launch title.

Considering this title is widely accepted as the original 3D platformer, it could’ve easily been surpassed and only been regarded as awesome from a purely nostalgic look-back. But fortunately Mario 64 hasn’t fallen into that trap. It may not be quite as blisteringly exciting anymore, can feel like mere star-collecting at times as opposed to genuinely entertaining and often gives very little guidance for finding some of the stars. But barring that and the annoying controls, this is an accomplished remake with much better graphics and seamlessly adds new features to the formula. It’s not going to eliminate the inevitable deja vu for returning players but does improve the game for newcomers. Technically the best Mario 64 version, it’s still worth playing after all these years. The game that redefined the platform genre may not quite be a talisman anymore, but is still far from obsolete.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Super Mario 64 DS (EU, 03/11/05)

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