Review by Malorkus

Reviewed: 03/31/14 | Updated: 05/05/16

A slightly faded star.

The Nintendo DS is now officially the most successful video game system of all time, so it’s hard to believe that the beginning of its life was actually really crappy. It had a bare-bones launch window, with 6 months full of titles that were touch screen tech demos selling for a full $30 retail price, and the only decent first-party offering was a port of Super Mario 64. Though technically speaking, calling Super Mario 64 DS a mere port would be an injustice. There is no denying that Super Mario 64 is a classic title that shaped how 3D adventure and platform games play today. Yet some parts of it feel a little dated today, and Nintendo tweaked the entire game to suit more characters and add more content. At the same time, however, this DS version feels like a case of “more is less”, with the new additions not being quite as inspired as their original inspiration.

In the Nintendo 64 version, the set-up was standard - Peach invites Mario to the castle for a cake, Peach has been kidnapped, and Mario must save her. This time, however, Luigi and Wario have also been invited. The problem? All four of them are kidnapped by Bowser, in a highly improved plan for the Koopa King. The only one nearby happens to be Yoshi, who is enjoying a nap on the castle lawn and must save them one by one. Right off the bat, the experience feels completely different even if you have played Super Mario 64 dozens of times. Much of the world is the same, but you are learning it as if you have never played it before. Once Yoshi enters the castle, many doors are locked, requiring a certain number of Power Stars to progress. Yoshi, and eventually the other characters, must leap into the various paintings in the castle to reach different parts of the Mushroom Kingdom. The ability to play as four different characters is awesome, especially since certain missions require certain characters.

Some of Mario’s abilities from the original version have been split among his friends, mainly the cap powers. Everyone can bop on enemies’ heads, somersault, and long jump. But only Mario has access to the Wing Cap, which lets him fly around the stage. Luigi has an extra-high propeller jump, and is also the only one who can use the Vanish Cap to pass through walls. Wario can punch bricks and use the Metal Cap to walk through substances, while Yoshi can consume enemies with his giant tongue and execute his trademark flutter jump. You can select your character before entering each stage, and various caps within stages will also allow you to change to other characters. Several stages also include boss battles, with the new ones being some of the better upgrades to the game. Other new features hardly feel like improvements, though, and several are even downgrades.

For instance, the new control scheme is a nightmare. Having a D-pad instead of a joystick makes 3D movement more imprecise, with your character being locked into 8-way movement as the game tries to compensate. While little could be done about this given the DS’s control scheme, a run button has now been added, as merely moving with the D-pad will cause your character to walk very slowly. While the D-pad may not be pressure-sensitive to control speed, putting the default speed at such a crawl was a mistake. The run button should have been mapped differently, and the game’s controls in general take a long time to get used to. Even then, it suffers from precision issues. Camera control is now done entirely by icons on the touch screen, which again is more awkward to handle than it needs to be. Super Mario 64’s camera was always terrible, but that was largely due to it creating the camera in the first place. Sadly, this version does little to fix it.

The original Super Mario 64 contained 120 Power Stars, and the DS version increases that number to 150. These star objectives can range from defeating a boss to collecting red coins to simply reaching the top of the area. Some of the stars from the original game have been tweaked to require specific characters. Unfortunately, while having 30 more stars seems like a lot, most of these new missions are simple and lame as hell, like activating a switch to quickly reach a star in plain sight, or collecting five silver stars, which makes an already collection-heavy game worse, considering they are not much different from the existing red coin missions. The only new stages are short obstacle courses where your friends are being held captive. The game is still fun even with the upgrades hardly feeling like upgrades, though. Each floor of the castle ends in a Bowser stage, where the platform elements of the game shine most. While many stages are more about exploration than classic jumping, the Bowser stages put precision timing at the forefront. Concluding in a fight against Bowser, these stages are the highlights of the game.

The castle is still a great hub area where you can learn the ropes, the platform moments still shine, and the game strikes the perfect level of difficulty for newcomers and veterans alike. Some of the flaws of the original remain too, though. The power-up caps are not used enough, and while the original version went a bit overboard with collecting, this DS retooling crosses the line even more often. Probably 80% of your deaths in the game will come from the camera fighting you when you try to adjust it, particular in the later stages of the game. Super Mario 64 DS makes up for some of those shortcomings with an assortment of touch-based mini-games, which can be earned by chasing color-coded rabbits in the castle. While these mini-games are not better than any party games on the system, being mostly simple games like tapping character faces or flinging Spiny enemies, and mostly acted as touch screen tech demos when the system first released, they can be a fun way to kill a few minutes.

Super Mario 64 DS might be the most effort Nintendo has ever put into handheld port, and yet for every upgrade made, there is an equal amount of features that feel like a downgrade. Having four different characters to experience an already-great adventure in feels awesome, as it gives even players who are sick of Super Mario 64 a reason to dive back in. Yet there are quite a few issues, including unreliable controls, questionable button mapping, minimal camera improvements, and the matter of most of the new star objectives being mind-numbingly simple or repetitive. On top of that, the game has become too collection-heavy. Still, it remains a good game, and like the Nintendo 64 version before it, this DS rendition helped keep the DS afloat during a rocky first half-year. Those who have never played Super Mario 64 are urged to check out the Virtual Console version beforehand, but if you cannot get enough of this adventure, the DS game puts on just enough of a new spin to be worth checking out.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Super Mario 64 DS (US, 11/20/04)

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