Review: Super Mario 64 DS (Nintendo DS)

In this review, we triple jump up to play the adventure game Super Mario 64 DS. We find out how this Nintendo DS port played.

This game was released in 2004. As you can no doubt tell, it is a remake of the original Super Mario 64 from 8 years earlier and is a launch title for the handheld.

As this is a remake, this review will simply focus on the differences between the two versions.

The most obvious difference is, of course, the characters. This may have partly stemmed from the hoaxes that it was possible to play Luigi in the original N64 title. Of course, this game took things further by including Yoshi and Wario along with Mario and Luigi. As an added bonus, you even start the game with Yoshi. The plot difference is that Mario, Luigi, and Wario haven’t come back and have gone missing. It is up to Yoshi to rescue them (the plot gradually shifts back to the original one after).

A lot of what was found in the castle is also found in this version as well. However, there are a few tweaks. First of all, the second floor 1 star door in the first area now contains additional rooms. In the first room, there are 4 locked doors. Three of them represent the missing characters while the fourth one is supposed to be for when you capture 8 glowing rabbits. The room also now leads into a second room which is the in-game rec-room. It is possible to access the rec-room from the start, but you can also access it via checking the large cupboards.

The rec-room is entirely new to this game. All four characters start off with 2 mini-games each, but you can unlock a bunch of them by capturing the bunnies that roam the castle. If you capture one as Yoshi (with the exception to the first bunny of the game of course), then you’ll unlock mini-games behind Yoshi. If you capture a few as Mario, then you unlock those games as Mario (and so on). Each bunny shares a color code that associates with that character. The mini-games are little more than a distraction, but they do enhance the life-span of the game.

The game also features a few other minor tweaks to the layout of the castle, but what you saw in the previous game is what you get in this game.

While the star system within a level is identical to the previous game, there are some changes to how you collect the stars. One of the things introduced in this game are silver stars. If you get a quest to collect silver stars, you will be needing to collect 5 of these. If you get hit while collecting the 5 stars, you’ll drop one and have to go chasing after it as it bounces randomly on the level. Once you collect the 5th and final silver star, a star will appear in the clear crystal ball located somewhere in the level. All you have to do is run over and collect it. The idea is not too dissimilar to the broken Jiggy pieces concept found in Banjo Tooie.

Another new concept is the star switch. If you find a star switch somewhere in the level, it will cause a star to appear in the crystal ball located elsewhere in the level. Your task is to go over and collect it. the caveat is the fact that you only have a limited amount of time to get it. If you fail to collect the star in time, then you have to start over again. This idea is very similar to the timed Jiggy piece buttons of Banjo Kazooie.

As you’ll no doubt notice, some of the star locations and clues have been modified to suit this games new concepts.

Also found in levels are generally level tweaks. This can be as minor as lowering a ledge for characters with shorter jumping abilities (i.e. Hazy Maze Cave) to completely adding a whole new section of a level (i.e. Whomps Fortress).

As you play, you’ll no doubt notice the fact that there is the transparent red boxes just like in the previous game. In fact, you’ll even have Mario fly around trying to hit the “!” switch in one of the bonus levels. This may lead you to believe that you’ll have to go after a green and blue “!” switch as well. You’d be wrong. The red “!” switch is the only switch in the entire game. There are no blue and green Mario caps that will give your characters special abilities. Instead, you can find a red block and, as Mario, either find a feather to permit you to fly, or, as Mario, find a flower power petal instead. If you collect it, Mario will inflate and fly through the air for a limited period of time. If you collect this as Yoshi, you’ll temporarily be able to breathe fire. If you collect the flower as Luigi, you’ll become transparent. Yes, Wario gets the metal Mario ability.

The only other feature of note is the fact that you can get a mushroom in this game. If you collect one, then you grow to a super size and can just mow down enemies. Defeat enough enemies or objects before the time runs out, and you get free lives. An interesting feature.

Of course, the differences in characters go beyond just what you get with the flowers. Luigi is able to jump the highest. Wario can punch through boulders and black bricks. Yoshi can slurp up enemies. Mario, gets the wall jumping abilities. Wario has the lowest jumping ability. Yoshi can’t punch. Luigi can’t wall jump. Mario gets probably the worst flower ability. Also note that Mario is the only one who can challenge Bowser and unlock the big star doors. This concept was similarly found in Donkey Kong 64.

Another obvious change is the use of the Stylus. You can move through menu options, play minigames, and twirl Bowser around with this new system. The stylus can also be used for camera tweaking and movement.

With all of these changes, the developers were clearly taking a risk – especially when it came to modifying the formula of an already great game. While the Mario franchise has a long track record of being successful with adding to their formula, the changes ultimately did not serve this game well. By modifying the ability system, the characters abilities become partially neutered. Instead of perfecting your skill with these abilities, now you have to take into account which character you want to enter a level in. While there are hats that help a lot by allowing you to change your character on the fly within the level, one hit and you lose the characters abilities, reverting to your previous character. This can cause you to make a long hike back through the level just to get the required ability. What’s worse is the fact that there is only one character changing location in the entire game. This is found right at the very beginning of the castle. So, if you want to change your base character, you may have to hike all the way through the castle just to swap out the character. Even though it is possible to select a cap at the beginning of the level, this feature only appears some of the time. I have no idea what triggers the additional cap option and, to my knowledge, you can only be Yoshi if you enter the level as Yoshi.

What’s more is that the Stylus was used for some moves that were previously exclusively for the controller. Some of the criticism for this game revolved around how it was much more comfortable to play this game with the analogue stick rather than the stylus. I agree with that assessment as some things were just harder to do with this new system.

I think that the developers should have just made a brand new Super Mario game that makes the DS seem more natural. Incorporate the stylus into a whole new game instead of just trying to fit it within a preexisting game. This move would have probably better served both the developers and the gamers in then.

So, generally speaking, I can appreciate the small things that added to the overall game (like whole new bonus levels), the whole game had the feeling of a bad retrofit. It just felt like a bad fit for the hardware. To make matters worse, the tweaking just didn’t serve the game well with the multi-character system. While it may have worked for Donkey Kong 64, I don’t think it worked that well with this game. Some of the new concepts are quite similar to ones found in the Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie games. I can appreciate the want to change things up for gamers who have already played the N64 original version, but I don’t think it was all that great of a change. Probably the only changes that worked decently well were the new bonus levels and whole new areas. What really worked for the game was the new mini-games. That I can see myself getting absorbed into for several hours as these games were a mixture of puzzles, lucky chance, and skill. Of course, these games were largely designed with the stylus in mind from the beginning. Not a huge surprise that they actually work. As a result, that last feature was what really saved this game.

Graphically, there are definitely differences between this game and the N64 game. On the plus side, a large portion of the characters seem more naturally animated. I don’t know if the bones limit was raised, but the movement of a lot of characters was greatly improved. There are exceptions to this, though. If you defeat Bowser in the original game, Bowser just has that sense of giving up. In this version, he flails around. I think I preferred the original version over this version. Also, a lot of the animations and movement just seem faster and more hastily done. For instance, the unlocking of a door. All of the movements worked really well (though “the door opens slowly” before Mario blasts through it was always, well, off). In this version, it was like the animator had a checklist: Have character raise hand, have star animate and disappear, display message, then open door. It just didn’t seem as crisp as the original for some reason. Another downside is the texture quality was reduced. The textures were much more blocky than the N64 version. In a lot of levels, the textures just seemed to be badly faded and less lively. For instance, Bomb Omb Battlefield in the N64 version had a vibrant green grass, trees, and dirt. In this version, it looks like all the life was just sucked right out of the environment. The only positive to the textures was that it was sometimes better detailed (specifically the growing cracks on some of the enemies in Whomps Fortress as they take damage from you). Ending this on a more positive note, the polygon count of everything was much better than the original game. This really gave a nice quality finish to the whole game. So, I think that one takeaway in this is the fact that this game is on a handheld device. There’s going to be hardware limitations and this is, after all, a launch title. So, I will be giving this area a great score because it shows how much promise this device has for the future of handheld gaming. Still, if I had a choice between the N64 version and the DS version of this game, I’d take the N64 version.

A lot of the audio is largely the same. There are a few new tracks to go with at least one of the new bonus areas. For sound effects, I wished the game would have been much closer to the original. The red coin sound in the N64 version, I say, was way better. Beyond that, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about the audio other than the voice acting is a bit give and take.

Overall, this game ha a lot of strengths and weaknesses. A bunch of the weaknesses can be attributed to the fact that all of this was crammed into a handheld device. Other changes, such as the new character swapping system and changes to the abilities, just didn’t fly with me very well. The stylus system in-game just felt like a bad fit more than a natural progression. A lot of what saves this game was the mini-games that you can unlock. All of these distractions can cause a gamer to be absorbed into them for hours. If I had a choice between this version and the N64 version, the N64 version wins out by quite a lot. Still, this game does show how promising gaming is in handheld technology – especially with the DS system. A pretty solid game overall, but not as good as I was expecting.

Overall

Obtained 13 keys. Got 80 stars and beat the game.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 76%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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