9.2

Super Mario 64 DS review
Fun 64 Remade

The good:

Four different characters
Great level design
Loads of minigames
Fun multiplayer

The bad:

Controls are awkward
Soundwise could be better

Summary:

The original Super Mario 64 is often cited as one of video games defining moments. It set a standard for 3D platformers that were to follow, with its ideas on analogue control, camera movement and item collecting. Nintendo have deemed it appropriate to launch their DS handheld with a revamped version of that classic game. Can ths update do just as well as the original?

Visuals

The graphics of this game have certainly been done well. Each character has been modelled wonderfully in 3D, with bright and bold looks like definitely match the fantasy theme present throughout the game. It's not just the playable character models either. Enemies and NPCs have suitable detail as well, making for a nice looking cast of characters.

There is also a strong variety of character animations in the game, although this really only extends to the playable characters. You can see them run, jump, dive, flip and perform all sorts of acrobatic and combat moves. All of it looks so natural (well, as natural as a bicycle kicking dinosaur can look) and so fluid. Other characters animation lists are much more basic but still look natural and fluid.

The environments have also had a lot of work done on them as well. There are cracks in the blocks and the fluffiness of the clouds. Lava and water look like lava and water. The game applies a curious style that's best described as semi-realistic; mixing the styles of realism and exaggerated fantasy. The result is a treat to look at.

All this extends to the various special effects as well. Fireballs and sparking electricity are some of the effects applied in the game, and they work well to turn the gaming worlds into immersive environments.

My only major gripe is the vanish cap effect. It looks much more like some pixelly graphical glitch rather than Luigi "vanishing", so it's pretty ugly.

Gamer's lucky enough to have experienced the original game will be pleased by the significant advancements made. The bland textures and basic shapes of the original game have no place here.

Audio

I wish I could give such praise to the game's audio as I have done to the game's visuals, but alas that is not the case.

There is a fairly big collection of music in the game, and from a technical standpoint they're all pretty high quality. The problem is that they tend to range from forgettable to annoying. There's not really anything you'll be inclined to hum along to here, so it gets to the point where you stop paying attention.

Sound effects are fairly functional. You have the usual collection of thuds, bangs and clangs one would expect from the game. Again, they're high quality and well timed too.

The game has a few voice clips for the main characters, and it is nice to actually hear them say some things (even if most of them are simply cries of varying sorts). A bit more variety would be nice though, as it does get a bit old.

Plot

This plotline is pretty similar to the original game, but has been changed up slightly to accommodate the new gameplay mechanic.

Mario is invited to the castle by Peach for some cake, but Luigi and Wario tag along as well. However, things seem amiss when none of them return. Yoshi goes in to investigate and finds no sign of them in the castle. The plumbers and the princess have been kidnapped, and the attendants are all locked in the walls!

It's up to Yoshi to recover the power stars of the castle and rescue his friends from the evil Bowser.

Yeah, it's a pretty weak story. If you're looking for some awesome plot twists and amazing set pieces or even anything resembling character development then you're looking in the wrong place. The plot in place here is nothing more than to give a reason for the events to take place.

Gameplay

SM64DS is a platforming adventure, with the goal being to reclaim the power stars from the various worlds and rooms within the castle.

There are 150 power stars to find in all (30 more than the original game). 30 of these stars are classed as secret stars, gained either in the castle itself or in mini-worlds that aren't quite big enough to be called main worlds.

The rest of the stars are spread through fifteen main worlds. Seven stars are earned through completing stated objectives specific to each world, while an eighth star on each world is awarded for collecting 100 coins in a single runthrough.

Princess Peach's castle acts like a hub area, although it's big and complex enough to be classed as a world of its own. It is here that you begin the adventure and it is here that you'll return to after exiting any other world. The castle itself is constructed well, with passageways, rooms and stairwells laid out in a sensible fashion. You really get the impression of a royal residence from it.

Mush of the castle is locked off at first though, and gradually opens up as stars and keys are collected. At first this is a strong system, but you can't help but feel they gave up halfway through, as very few doors actually require power stars to access later on.

There are fifteen main worlds accessed via the castle - most often by jumping into large wall paintings in castle rooms. There are a variety of worlds to explore covering various themes, such as snow, fire and grass. The game does repeat themes a little (like there are two snow stages, for example) but the design of these stages are very impressive.

Almost all of the abilities available to the player are tested at some point as some star requires it. Wall jumping will be called upon to reach one star, while even crawling is needed for another.

One of the best traits is how open the worlds are. The game doesn't think about locking off much in each world, allowing the player to find their own way to the stars. In some cases, this can even lead to getting some stars early. A good example is Bob-Omb Battlefield. One star involves beating a Chain Chomp. This star can be obtained anytime, meaning it can be the first star you get even though it's technically supposed to be one of the last of this course.

There's more than enough reason to go exploring as well. The worlds themselves are beautiful to behold, and there's no set path to a star. Such non-linearality makes sure the gameplay doesn't become boring. You're not guided to the goal but allowed to find your own way, yet the worlds are made in such a way that you don't get lost here.

There is a variety of moves each character can perform to help you through. Some of these are common abilities between all characters (like jump and crawl) but some are unique to a certain character. Only Luigi can perform a spiral descent from a backflip and only Yoshi can swallow objects.

That said, the three plumbers are fairly similar to share many moves. They can all punch, dive, triple jump and pound the ground. Yoshi handles very differently though. He can't punch or dive like they can, but instead does get to swallow enemies and throw eggs about.

The differences do carry on to the special abilities as well though. Throughout the game are red exclamation boxes. However, they start off semi-transparent and can't be hit. After finding a certain mini-world and hitting a switch they all become solid and can be broken open. The powerup gained depends on who collects it.

Wario becomes metal, allowing him to walk underwater and not take damage from attacks. The weight also prevents him from being blown about. Luigi vanishes, becoming somewhat like a ghost. Luigi can pass through enemies and certain walls and barriers like this. There's nothing new about these powers save for who gets to use them, and their use is pretty straightforward.

Yoshi gets the power to breathe fire, but I feel this is severely underused. There are very few times this power is needed, and it's hardly useful any other time. Mario is an odd one, as he can get one of two powers depending on the location. Wing Cap is the same as in the N64 game. Mario can take to the skies with either a triple jump or a cannon blast, where he can glide around. Balloon Mario is from Super Mario World, where Mario can gain height by tapping jump, but has sluggish sideways movement.

This leads us nicely onto the matter of the game's controls, and this is something SM64DS struggles with. The original game excelled in its 3D control thanks to the analogue stick system, but the DS lacks an analogue stick.

The digital solution (D Pad) is functional but it's also pretty clumsy. After all, you can't expect eight way movement to be precise in a 3D environment. Characters respond accurately to the input, but the method of input itself is just flawed.

However, the alternative method involving the touchscreen manages to be worse. The concept seems simple enough – the touchscreen is meant to act as a substitute for the analogue stick. The problem though is where neutral is. Neutral is set as where pressure is initially put upon each press. The problem is that it is far too easy to lift off the screen for a moment. This means that the neutral position has a habit of jumping around all over the place, and your onscreen character starts running in all directions.

Stick with the D Pad. It's clumsy but it's functional, which is more than what can be said for the touchscreen method.

At first only Yoshi is playable, but by beating certain mini-worlds the others slowly become usable. The change can be made in a certain room in the castle, which means that quickly switching on the fly isn't an option. However, unlocking plumbers also unlocks a corresponding hat as well. These hats appear in the various worlds and stages, often guarded by enemies (even being worn by some of them). Grabbing a hat transforms that character into the character that hat belongs to (grab a M cap and turn into Mario). This change lasts either until you exit the stage or get hit. If hit the hat pops off and you have so long to grab it again before it disappears. This is an excellent way of managing the character system.

The main game has a pretty lengthy lifespan too. With 150 stars to collect you'll be kept busy for a long time. However, Nintendo have also decided to add in a whole bunch of mini-games into the mix.

You start off with 8 mini-games, but can end up with 36 games in total. More than just a mere distraction, I feel that these games could be compiled into a game all of their own.

There is a lot of variety in here too, so there are bound to be a game or two you'll like. Generally, all of the games use the touchscreen and, unlike the main game, the controls here work. Everything is very responsive and accurate. Here are a few of the games to give you an idea of what is involved.

One game involves pink and black bob-ombs walking into an arena. There are two bays of the same colour as well. The player must drag the bob-ombs onto the same colour bay to defuse them. However, wait to grab a bob-omb for too long or drag one onto the wrong bay and it's game over. Early on things are simple but the speed and number continues to increase until you're frantically dashing all over the screen grabbing bob-ombs, hoping you haven't missed any that are about to blow.

Another game has you dragging a slingshot down and releasing to fire at descending parachuting bob-ombs. Chain combos can be scored by firing through several at once, while hitting a zooming Lakitu destroys all bob-ombs on the screen. Early on is slow, but later on you'll be facing speedy armies of explosives that will have you firing off rapidly hoping to knock them down.

Most of them are great fun. That said, there are some duds in the game that aren't that interesting. One "game" involves picking petals of a flower in the sense of "loves me, loves me not". This is not a game.

SM64DS also includes a multiplayer game as well. The goal is to collect the most stars. However, attacking a player causes them to drop stars, so it is essentially a melee brawl where players clamour to grab loose stars and beats on players with any.

The control aspect carries over from the main game. Generally it's fairly awkward, which does impact a bit more here as you will want better control when facing intelligent opponents. That said, it doesn't become unplayable as such, but it does need work.

The stage designs are fairly good. Generally based on stages in the game (though not literally the same stages) there tends to be the same non-linearality and platforming goodness found in those stages.

However, it is a bit limiting, so while it's good for a quick fun play you'll find it grow old sooner than expected, so don't expect it to cover your DS multiplayer needs at any time.

Overall

It's not as ground breaking as the original was when it launched, but it is still a solid game to start the DS off. Some flaws do hurt its value but it is still a game any DS owner should own, even if you've played the original already.

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