What's a new Nintendo system without Mario?
Mon, 7 March 2005
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It is hard to for me to believe it is nearly a decade since Super Mario 64 first appeared as a launch title for the N64. My, how time does fly. It was a revolutionary and ground breaking game, with brilliant level design. Now it is back, in portable form for the launch of the Nintendo DS.
Mario 64 DS is like a "director's cut" version of the game. It has many added features, such as new levels and challenges and new controllable characters. Also newly added are a heap of bonus mini games; they take great advantage of the touch screen and (as has been rightly said elsewhere) are entertaining enough to almost be considered as a whole separate game in their own right. The mini games are a trip; playing using the stylus on the touch screen is just so much fun, because it is unlike anything else I've played before.
When you go back to games you remember fondly, while some of them still live up to your memories, many of them make you realise just how far games have come and fail to live up your nostalgic recollections. Well, in this case, if anything my memory didn't give the game as must praise as it deserves! What surprised me most about Mario 64 DS, with all its added bells and whistles, was not only how quickly and thoroughly it had me hooked all over again, but also just how "current" the main game itself still feels. Even without the brilliant extras, Mario 64 holds up amazingly well. And with the extras...I'm in love all over again! It just goes to show that true classics really can be ageless.
There's a superb storyline to this game. The deep plot is advanced through multi-layered characters and will have you playing until the wee hours of the morning, just to discover what might happen next. You'll be immersed in this timeless tale, eagerly anticipating what promises to be a powerful climatic finale as you reach the game's end. Of course, none of that is true. Mario games nearly always have very basic and silly stories that are seemingly tacked on as an afterthought. This one is no exception. Playing a Mario game for the story is akin to reading the dictionary because you like how the cover looks. There is some definite charm to it though; it is so silly and so recycled and in keeping with previous Mario games that the preposterous nature of it all just feels right. Check it out:
Princess Peach decides to throw a party at her castle. Who knows what kind of lame party she had in mind, since apparently she only invited Mario. Peach also promises to bake another one of her infamous cakes. I dunno exactly what she puts in those bad boys (the mind boggles), but whatever it is it must be awesome. I mean Mario has been collecting gold coins for so long now that he could easily buy a whole friggin' cake factory if he wanted to. Mario just can't resist the chance for some more of that amazing cake action and he heads off to the castle to indulge in a slice or two. Luigi follows, because following Mario is what he does best. Wario decides to go to the castle too, despite disliking the aforementioned trio; I guess he just figured it'd be a good opportunity to steal some shit. Yoshi, apparently not upset by his acquaintances all wishing to have a good time without him, gets concerned when none of them return. So he goes to the castle himself (rather than filing a missing persons report & getting the cops involved. Must be something to do with those mysterious cake ingredients), only to discover that Bowser has trapped them all within the castle's magic paintings. Yoshi then has to set Mario, Luigi and Wario free. Then all of them can use their individual skills to rescue Princess "victim complex" Peach. To do that they'll need to defeat the evil "keep doing the exact same thing in the exact same way even though it has never worked before" Bowser. Or something like that.
Graphically Mario 64 looks great on the DS screen(s). The game really was ahead of its time in the looks department and it hasn't aged too badly. The new version has improved character models and a few other nips and tucks. The mini games look very nice as well, they are quite simplistic but full of charm and clear and easy to see. The only real complaint about the graphics is that the main game's camera is still a bit of a bitch. You learn to live with it and it can be manually fixed to a degree, but at times it still proves somewhat troublesome. It is never bad to the point that it ruins the game though. The bottom screen is mainly used to display a map of the level you are in and this actually comes in handy more often than you'd expect as you use it to find various things you may be searching for.
|Fly fat ass! Fly! |
The sound quality is terrific and again it has been improved slightly from the original game. The new characters all have their own little noises and speech samples and the catchy, upbeat tunes are all perfectly suited to the different environments of the game. You might not even really notice it until you turn the DS off and find that one of the tunes from the game is still stuck in your head. The DS stereo speakers do a pretty good job of things, though for optimum sound quality (and to avoid pissing off the people around you) you'd be best off using headphones. Thankfully there's no need for a stupid adapter to plug headphones into the DS as there was with the GameBoy Advance.
Controlling the game is never quite as smooth as it was/is with the N64 version. You can move the characters using either the directional pad or the touch screen for analogue control. Unfortunately neither style ever feels completely right. I found the touch screen much too...umm... touchy to be manageable, while the directional pad never felt quite precise enough. I ended up just going with the directional pad, where you hold the Y button to run - much like in the old school Mario games. It isn't perfect, but I got used to it after a while and it did the job ok. The touch screen controlled mini games, on the other hand, work perfectly, as they were specially designed for use with that method.
The gameplay is definitely the greatest element to Super Mario 64 DS. Exploring the fantastic worlds and using all the different skills is a true joy. You no longer start the game as Mario, instead controlling Yoshi from the beginning. As Yoshi you have to free Mario. Then you can also find Luigi and Wario. All four characters have different skills; Mario is the all rounder, Wario is the powerhouse able to smash things the others can't, Yoshi has his trademark ability to swallow enemies and Luigi can jump extra high. There are some other individual differences between them as well. To earn all of the stars in the game you have to use different characters in each level. Many of the levels have been slightly altered in various ways to help incorporate the new mechanics. This means the game feels much fresher than just a straight port of the original Nintendo 64 version. There are 150 stars to be found in the new version, 30 more than there were in the old game. It really hooks you all over again once you get into it. The design of these levels is quite ingenious at times.
|Pinball wizard |
The bonus mini games are the icing on the cake. They range from memory based card games, to reflex testing games that are reminiscent of the old game and watch games. One example of the clever way the touch screen is incorporated is the mini game that sees little Marios bouncing around both screens while you draw trampolines for them to spring off and keep them safely in the air. Every so often the pace quickens and more Marios appear, so things get more and more hectic as you frantically try to keep them from falling off the bottom of the screen.
The other great thing about the mini games is that, because using a stylus on a touch screen is such a simple method of control, even people who don't usually play video games will be willing to give them a try. But be careful letting them have a go if you want to get you DS back! To unlock more mini games for each character you have to find and capture rabbits in the main game. I'll get all those wascally wabbits if it's the last thing I do!
There's not a whole lot more I can say about Mario 64 that hasn't already been said many times before. The only downside would be those control and camera problems, but I never found them overwhelmingly bad. The new content is fun to explore and the old levels are just as great, or even greater, than ever. Put simply Mario 64 is one of the best games ever made and this new DS version serves as a wonderful reminder of that. If you have purchased (or are planning to purchase) Nintendo's latest gizmo, I can certainly recommend getting a copy of this wonderful game to go with it.
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A truly classic game with some great new features