Review by DarthMarth
A cheap and frustrating, yet still fairly good platformer for the DS.
I've never been a fan of Mario games (except Paper Mario), but because of all the hype and good reviews of Super Mario 64 DS, I decided to give the launch title a buy despite knowing nothing about the game. Boy, have I learned my lesson. While SM64 is a decent game, it's frustrating and downright annoying a little too often to be highly recommended.
Absolutely no problems here. Super Mario 64 DS showcases the potential of the DS with amazing, 3-D graphics that surpass the N64 version's. There are detailed polygons and textures, with great water effects and awesome characters. With the help of the DS's backlit screen, the levels look amazing; each is extremely unique with vibrant color. I never thought I'd see the day portable graphics became this good.
Once again, the DS's technology helps the game get an excellent rating here. The DS's stereo speakers give SM64 sound quality almost equal to that of a console game; long gone are the blips and beeps handheld gamers may be used to. Each character delivers his signature "voice" perfectly, from Mario to Yoshi to the enemies, like Goombas or Boos. The game's music is also good; virtually every level has unique music and most of it is quite enjoyable. Other than the voices and music, there aren't many sounds, but the existing ones are good enough to give this category a solid 9.
Storyline never has been the strong suit of Mario games. As usual, SM64 follows the standard formula of rescuing Princess Peach from the claws of Bowser while exploring many levels and collecting things. It's a severely overworn formula, but as usual Nintendo manages to somehow make it work. A few new touches have also been added to the DS version.
SM64's gameplay has both excellent and terrible points to it. Basically, the game is a port (and portable) of the original Super Mario 64, which, although I haven't played it, is supposedly quite good. It's not just a port, however; the DS version sports many added features and improved graphics.
For those of you who are unaware of the original game (like me), SM64 is a faithful transition to 3 dimensions of Mario's standard platforming action. Mario runs, jumps, and punches through 3-D levels while collecting coins and Stars. Besides the obvious extra dimension, there are a few other changes from old-school games like the introduction of a health meter, although dying is still far too easy. (More on that later) It's a solid formula, and I can see why the original game was popular.
On the DS, many new features have been added. Instead of being restricted to simply playing as Mario, you can now have your pick of the big man, Luigi, Wario, or Yoshi. Each one has unique abilities; Mario is well-balanced, the fastest runner, and can jump off walls to scale to new heights. His brother Luigi is fairly agile and the best jumper. Wario is the strongest and heaviest, able to squash and smash things with ease. However, he's also slow, especially in water. (Which, by the way, is excellently rendered) Finally, Yoshi is good in the air with his signature flutter jump, and has the ability to swallow enemies and fire them in powerful, homing eggs. Each character also temporarily gains a new ability when they touch a Power Flower, which is found in block all over the place. Mario inflates like a balloon and can float high into the air, Luigi becomes incorporeal, Wario turns to metal, and Yoshi gains the ability to breathe fire. These abilities are quite interesting, but could have been used a bit more to solve puzzles.
To account for the addition of 3 new characters, the opening was slightly changed; Mario, Luigi, and Wario all show up to visit Peach, and when they never come out of the castle, Yoshi wakes up to save them. You start the game playing as the dinosaur, and the cap-wearing, mustachioed heroes (and anti-hero) must be unlocked by completing levels and boss fights.
On the surface, this sounds like the formula for a great game, and it is. However, the game can get extremely frustrating at times, dropping the score. Most of the levels are floating in the sky, meaning that with a single wrong move, you'll have to start the level over again, minus one life. The life system, a staple of Mario games (except the truly great Paper Mario games), is merely a fifth wheel in SM64. As usual, 1-Up Mushrooms are scattered around the levels to provide you with more continues. However, it's so easy to die in many levels from a simple misstep or misalignment that you'll often be running low on lives. However, while these two sides of the coin would normally balance each other out, they're both broken by the fact that your lives are reset to 4 every time you turn the game off; collecting extra lives is completely futile unless you never turn the game off, and if you're in danger of running out you can just reset to get them back. The whole life system is so unbalanced by this it would have been better off not being in the game at all. Meanwhile, it can get incredibly maddening wasting a good 20 minutes because of a single misstep and having to start what you were doing completely over again. Many times, it becomes so easy to fall to your death, you'll spend hours or even days stuck on the same thing, endlessly trying to correct a single mistake. It's very hard to resist simply giving up and playing something else at times like this.
The frustrating levels are made even more difficult by the game's controls. They are good most of the time, with 3 different control modes. The standard one makes use of all the buttons, with the touch screen only used to rotate the camera or perform delicate movement. The second mode has you using the thumb strap with your left hand to move, and the X, Y, A, and B buttons to perform actions, but the thumb strap isn't long enough to do this very well and the mode is only usable if you're left-handed. The third mode is decent and lets you use the touch screen with either hand, but it's still a little too hard to use. You'll probably find yourself using standard mode all the time, but this can make falling to your death much too easy oftentimes, mainly because of the 8-directional movement you're restricted to. The touch screen offers more precise movement, but is still hard to get used to.
SM64 has other redeeming features to offset the annoying single-player mode. Unfortunately, its multiplayer mode isn't one of them. As usual, it takes full advantage of the DS technology, allowing for wireless download play, but manages to spectacularly fail anyway. There is virtually no customization; the only thing you can change is the level, and there are only 5 choices. Each time you pick a level, the game plays out exactly the same: you are given a tiny 30 seconds to run around collecting Stars in preset locations. Things quickly degenerate into a footrace, since there is no time to attack other players for their Stars. Since everyone starts out as Yoshi, they all have the same running speed and a player with even a tiny lead is almost assured of winning. Because of the lack of any standard multiplayer features, such as an adjustable time limit, a Star limit, or a basic deathmatch mode, SM64's multiplayer is less than enjoyable. Much, much less.
Luckily, Super Mario 64 DS has a third mode that offers lots of fun. It offers a total of 36 all-new minigames that make excellent use of the touch screen to perform a variety of goals. They involve things like finding a specific character's face in a huge crowd, several different matching games, 2 games where you must create trampolines under Mario by "drawing" them on the touch screen, and one where you pull back a fire a slingshot by dragging it. The minigames are a blast for anyone who likes the touch screen and one of the best parts of the game. The only problem is that most of the games are unlocked in single-player mode, meaning you must suffer through the frustrating and often confusing levels to unlock them. Finally, a fun minigame on the title screen lets you draw pictures, then drag and stretch them around, which can be a great way to spend a few minutes. The extras in SM64 are quite possibly its best feature.
Super Mario 64 Ds isn't really one of those games you want to play again after beating, but considering how hard many parts are, it's possible (and even likely) that you'll never beat it. The game has unlimited replay value, if you consider endlessly dying and retrying the same level over and over again. Luckily, the minigames add to the game's fun replay value; it can be compelling to try for high scores.
Rent or Buy: Rent!
While SM64 can be a decently fun game, it isn't for everyone. Definitely rent it first and play it for a while to see if you can go for a while without getting fed up and turning your DS off. If you manage to avoid the game's numerous frustrations, it can be a satisfying and fun buy indeed.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
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