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Wei Man takes a look at what Nintendo's first- & second-parties have to offer

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Super Mario 64 DS
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Number of Players: 1-4
Memory: 3 slots
Touch Controls: Yes
Wi-fi Compatible: No
Release Date: 11/21/04
[ objective ]
Subjective (you are here)
[ subjective ]

This game is not at all about story. The only reason the story is even present is to allow for some sort of goal that gamers will want to achieve, and that's saving the Princess and her castle by collecting the Power Stars. During the game, there's barely any emphasis on the plot. In fact, the only time that you're reminded of the story is when you interact with the numerous Toad characters within the castle...and they don't always have anything of much importance to mention.

It has been said that Miyamoto purposely leaves out detail in the stories for his Mario games in order to allow for the gamer to be creative and think up their own. Whether or not that's a good excuse, the story in Mario 64 is pretty weak. Granted, I never expect a good story in Mario games, and so I'm not bothered by this.


Main Adventure
We practically never see any pure platformers nowadays, but Super Mario 64 DS is definitely one in this now-rare breed of games. Considering it's one of the first DS software titles, Nintendo certainly wanted to bring out a game that would introduce the system's features. The most important feature that Nintendo wanted us gamers to get used to is the touch screen, and the gameplay for this game utilizes this for two of the three control setups provided. I personally tried out all three of them to see which one I preferred, and I ended up choosing the Dual-Hand mode, in which a stylus is used to control the direction of a character while, with my right hand busy holding the stylus, the control pad on the left is used for actions. You may prefer a different control scheme, but in all fairness, as I mostly spent time using Dual-Hand mode rather than the other two, I'll only be reviewing that which I liked best.

If there's one thing that needs to be stressed, it's that the touch-controls with the stylus do need some getting used to. This new type of control is certainly not something you can pick up and play well right way, and not something that can be shown to friends that will love it the first time they try it. It will be tough to control at first, there is a steep learning curve to get over. However, once I did get used to it, playing it felt just as natural as if I was using the control stick on an N64 controller.

However, despite the fact that I did get used to the controls just fine, another problem had arisen: the camera. With the setup I was using, controlling the camera was pretty much an annoyance that cost me numerous in-game lives. The problem with the setup I used is that you can't move your character and rotate the camera at the same time like you could on a regular console controller. Instead, you'd need to stop the character, lift your stylus and press one of the on-screen buttons that rotate the view either left or right. The only way you could manually manipulate the view while continuing your movement is to press a button that centers the camera behind your character. That feature is as good as useless, however, as it isn't as stable as one would hope it to be.

Controls aside, the variety in challenges in the game isn't bad. A lot of different activities need to be accomplished in order to collect power stars, some of which are fun while others only frustrate due to either the camera, the level design, or both. That's not to say that the level design in the game is bad, however. Although some areas might be a little awkward to play through, others are just fun. At times you'll even need to turn the camera view to the side to perform certain tasks with ease, essentially turning the game into a 2D platformer for just that bit. Despite its rare occurrence, this does add a certain nostalgic dimension to this fully 3D game.

Switching between the characters to get different stars wasn't as frustrating as you'd think it would be. After all the characters are unlocked, entering a level as Yoshi gives you the choice to be any of the four characters. Also, within each level are characters caps which allow you to change into each cap's respective character until you get hit by an enemy. That's very helpful, considering that if that feature wasn't available, you'd need to exit the level and go back to a room on the castle's first floor only to switch characters.

More importantly, the new characters add a new dimension to the game. The four characters actually depict different levels of difficulty for the game. Playing as Mario is like playing the game on normal difficulty. Playing as Luigi makes the game easier, what with a certain move of his (crouch + jump). Playing as Wario makes the game hard, as he can't jump high and is slower than the rest. Playing as Yoshi is barely ever efficient to get most Power Stars, rendering him nearly useless for the most part, so I can't be sure what that makes him.

Being my most favoured part of Super Mario 64 DS, the unlockable mini-games are a blast to play. Some of them neatly use the touch screen. One mini-game makes you pull back a slingshot's elastic with your stylus to launch canonballs onto parachuting Bob-ombs in order to stop them from breaching your ground territory. Another mini-game consists of a bunch of Mario characters dropping from the sky while you draw lines that turn into trampolines which in turn make Mario hop back up into the air where coloured rings are afloat. The idea here is to have your characters jump through as many hoops before three Mario's fall to their doom. These types of games are indubitably fun to play.

Here's a pachinko-type mini-game that makes use of both screens. The balls are launched with your stylus or finger

Some of the minigames are duplicated with but slight changes and are labeled as whole other mini-games, which is a sign that the developers either ran out of ideas, time or got a bit lazy. While that was kind of a downer, the good outweighs the bad. Also worth mentioning is that some games are about luck rather than skill, yet even those are still good enough to have some fun with.

The most disappointing feature of the game comes in the form of the multiplayer mode. It's basically just a race to collect the most stars in the amount of time given, in one of four available arenas. It would've been nice to have a co-op adventure mode, but alas, this is all we get. It's extremely limited. It's nice that it uses only one game cart for all players, but that may very well be the reason for its limiting gameplay.

Multiplayer Mario
Shown here are four players hunting for stars. Looks like Yoshi is going to lose pretty badly...

I'm not a big fan of the style used in the game, at least not the one used within a number of the courses. I do enjoy the style that makes up the central hub (the castle indoors and outskirts), but the levels feel different. First of all, nearly all the levels are set in some sort of sky. The ground you're standing on isn't exactly as much ground as it is a floating platform. Secondly, nearly all the environments look like toys, almost comparable to a miniature city set made with Legos.

I also don't like how most textures don't clash together seemlessly. The effect emitted is, again, similar to a set of a miniature city made with Legos, where objects look like they're seperate yet connected. In other words, it doesn't seem like everything was naturally connected together, but rather that they were forcefully placed in specific spots in order to simulate the feeling of a naturally-carved world. Was that confusing enough for you?

That said, I did enjoy the fact that some textures were rather detailed. It irked me that they were so pixelated from up-close, but that isn't such a big deal. The draw distance also impressed me, though it's not perfect either.

The visuals in the mini-games aren't as crucial. They're not mindblowing, but there is a nice use of colour and overall they do get the job done. Some 3D is fruitfully blended with 2D for most of the mini-games, which for me is always nice to see.

If there's one technical department that stood out the most in this game, it's the sound. The Nintendo DS's stereo sound feature is used efficiently, and the result of that is great. The simulated surround sound was impressive, considering it's the first Nintendo handheld to have stereo sound (excluding the use of headphones). I very much enjoyed the use of the two speakers. At one point in the game, you are given a choice of going through four doors, while an eerie laughter is coming out of the correct one. Following the laughter thanks to the help of the two speakers will set you home free.

The music soundtrack featured in Super Mario 64 DS isn't very memorable, save for a few certain tunes. I didn't find myself whistling or humming the tunes when the game was off, which is normally a sign that the music didn't have a big impact on me. My favourite ones actually turned out to be some of the few remixes of classic Mario music, although that may very well be the nostalgia talking. In addition, the music that rolls during the credits is a favourite. Not an outstanding soundtrack, but it again gets the job done.

In Comparison
So you want to know how it compares to the game that revolutionized 3D gaming back in 1996, do you? Read on.

Most of the adventure in this DS port is, unfortunately, the same as the one found in its ancestral N64 counterpart. I was expecting a lot more new content in the game, what with 30 additional stars, a few new levels, a multiplayer mode, new playable characters, and mini-games. As it turns out, a good number of the new stars are acquired in the same way in each level: a switch is pressed in order to activate a star, and players need to race through and collect it before it disappears. Though not bad missions, I was prepared for all-new ones that resemble the old tasks...the ones that took more than just pressing a button and fetching a star, anyway.

It also turns out that the new levels aren't all they're cracked out to be. They aren't main levels, meaning that they only contain, at most, two stars each. Most of the new levels are also small, which is another disappointment. Some missions and areas in the courses that appeared in the original game have been changed around. The game was actually made easier, perhaps due to the fact that getting used to the touch controls is a long and tough task. The added multiplayer mode isn't anything to write home about either.

The addition of extra characters was enjoyable. As mentioned in the subjective Gameplay portion of this review, the different hidden difficulty levels are only present thanks to the characters, which I find clever.

The best part addition to this new DS version, though, has to be the mini-game mode. With it come the bunnies found throughout the adventure mode, of which there was only one in the original (the one in the original was called MIPS).

Visually, the game overall looks better than the original, except for the fact that the textures look pixelated instead of blurry when looked at up-close. The colours are a lot easier on the eyes, though. Having popped in the original game recently, I was surprised to find that the colours are a lot brighter compared to this DS version.

Super Mario 64 DS as a game itself is great. Gamers who never had the chance to experience the original back on the N64 would be pleased with this version. However, as a former N64 gamer, I've had the console version since 1996. That said, I was not planning to pick it up when it was first announced at E32004. However, in came the news that there would be 30 extra stars, 30+ mini-games specific to the DS features, and most excitingly, new levels. I was expecting a whole lot of content that would make an old game feel very different.

It didn't deliver. The main adventure was as I remembered it, save for a few changes... ones that just weren't worth my money. Going through the same adventure again was almost painful to me. The game was groundbreaking back in 1996 and it had that going for it, but today it does not. Save for a small number of events, I simply didn't enjoy the adventure mode this time around.

With the adventure mode out of the way, the positivity starts pouring in. The mini-games were and still are a blast to play. I've had a lot of fun playing them, and even got individuals who had never played video games before to try them out and enjoy their time. While for most people the mini-game mode is a bonus to the adventure mode, I see it the other way around: the adventure mode is the icing on the valuable mini-game cake.

In the end, my DS launch experience with this game was bittersweet. While I wasn't satisfied with the adventure mode, it was good practice for getting used to using a stylus to control a three-dimensional game. I'm hoping for more 3D games that I can apply my newly-founded skill to. Considering there isn't much quality DS software to choose from right now, this may be your best choice at the moment. However, if you've played the game before and heard about the new content, don't get excited by expecting too much change to the adventure mode. But again, for you people who have never played the original, this game is definitely a good investment.

If I've anything to close this review with, it's with the thought that I certainly hope that Super Mario 64 does not mark the beginning of N64 ports for the DS. This handheld is a machine that allows for new gameplay experiences, and wasting prospectively innovative ideas on ports is simply not the answer.

Disappointing adventure mode, but the mini-games make up for it.
Very limiting. It can be fun for a few play-throughs, but that's as far as it goes.
Nice, but not my sort of style. Textures are detailed from afar, but pixelated from up-close.
Technically very sound (no pun intended). However, the music soundtrack isn't some of my favourite music in gaming.
Overall [not an average] 7.2

Pachinko mini-game
Drawing a picture
Yoshi running towards a painting
Yoshi in a desert level
Fat(ter) Mario floats
Luigi meets the king of something
Wario showing what he's made of
Three men, two pipes
Yoshi running towards...a killer enemy!?
Another Pachinko-type minigame
Multiplayer action...action meaning "standing still"

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[ objective ]
Subjective (you are here)
[ subjective ]

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