Out of the gate, the Nintendo DS has one upped the Nintendo Game Cube by launching with a Mario title, even if it is the same Mario title that the Nintendo 64 launched with. Continuing the trend they began on the Gameboy Advance, Nintendo has put a little spit and polish to an old Mario title and released it on their newest handheld system. While I would have been more pleased to see them release a brand spanking new game, Super Mario 64 DS is a pretty nice little title. In fact, I am having more fun playing it this time around than I did the first time. That and it's easily the best game out for the fledgling DS.
I think Nintendo did a darn fine job this time around. The game establishes itself as more than just a straightforward port by immediately starting the player out as Yoshi instead of Mario. It's up to Yoshi to rescue his comrades Mario, Luigi, and even Wario. Then it is up to the group to rescue the Princess. Just like the original, you accomplish this by retrieving the power stars, hidden throughout the various levels in the castle.
The challenges have been tweaked as well to accommodate the new roster of heroes. You can expect to keep going back to levels, as you unlock new characters, to complete goals previously unattainable. There are 30 new stars added to the already immense 120 that you must collect. Then there are the challenges, seemlessly integrated into the level designs, that allow you to unlock the other characters. These should add something for gamers who have already "been there, done that" with Mario on the 64.
It's cool to experience each level with the different array of tricks that each character possesses. Like most games, Mario has the most vanilla of the tricks. The main thing that Mario does is his special wall kick. This allows him to reach new heights by jumping off of walls (or back and forth between two walls). Luigi is similar to Mario, but he does a little floating at the end of his jump, and he can walk on water for a brief time. Wario's biggest asset is his strength. He is capable of bursting blocks that none of the other characters can. Yoshi is my favorite addition, though. He has a flutter jump like Luigi's only with a little boost at the end. It is amazing how useful this is, a little bit of a last ditch effort if your sinking towards eminent doom. Also, Yoshi can grab enemies with his tongue. It is so much easier than trying to punch the enemy or jump onto their heads. Even better, he can spit the enemy back out, attacking a second enemy (or multiple enemies, depending on how good of a shot you are). Or he can swallow the enemy, turning it into and egg that will follow Yoshi around until you decide to launch it at an enemy. This comes in all kinds of handy. I love Yoshi. He is easily my favorite character in Mario 64 DS. I wouldn't mind seeing him get his own game.
Aside from the unique abilities inherent to the characters, each one has a special ability when they come in contact with the power flower. Yoshi breaths fire, Mario inflates (allowing him to float through the level), Luigi becomes invisible as well as intangible, and Wario turns to metal (and is invulnerable). You must unlock the red blocks, scattered throughout each level, so that you can attain the power flowers. But, once you do, you are given yet another reason to trek back through the levels, completing the goals you left behind. So anyone who still associates Mario with more linear gameplay will have a much less straightforward experience to look forward to.
What else new does the DS version of this game have to offer? Well, how about a multiplayer mode? You can play Mario DS four at a time now. Even better, you only need one cartridge to do it. With the DS's download feature, up to four of you can play over the wireless connection using only one cartridge. This is amazing. It is almost as if a corporation put the fun factor over the almighty buck. I am sure Nintendo could have made it so that each player was required to buy a copy of Mario. In fact it might have even been easier for them to do that. They didn't though, and that is a big step in the right direction. I look forward to a time when a person can sit down in a mall, switch on his Nintendo DS, and see if there is anybody else out there to play with (perhaps someone else being drug through clothing store after clothing store by a mother or significant other). If only one of you needs the cartridge, this opens up a whole new type of party gaming. You can join any game that anyone might be playing, increasing your chances of getting a game going. Neat huh?
There are tons of mini-games to unlock in Super Mario 64 DS. Quite a few of them are a lot of fun. Each character has his own set of games. Mostly, they are puzzle solving games that utilize the touch screen. I had a lot of fun with these. My girlfriend and I spent hours, each with our own stylus, playing each mini-game as we unlocked them. Usually, I find those types of extras a little useless, but not in this case. They are a good fit with the hand held system because they are quick and easy, good for killing a few minutes, which is one of the best reasons to have a portable system.
Now, leaning more towards the slightly useless, is a basic little drawing program. You can draw on the touch screen with a limited amount of "ink" and then manipulate your drawing with the stylus. It is all pretty simple, but it is there and it certainly doesn't detract from the title.
There are two ways to control your character. You can lead him around on the touch screen or with the D-pad. I have read some complaints about the D-pad. True, the game was originally designed to be played with an analog stick, and it might have been easier, but I adapted to the D-pad easily, and so does Super Mario 64. Anybody who has ever played a videogame shouldn't have a problem. It is difficult to control on the touch pad, but with practice it gets easier. Still I prefer the D-pad.
As much as I enjoy the touch screen aspects of the DS (much more than I expected!) I still don't see it replacing standard controls. It is a neat addition though. All in all, it isn't really an aspect of the hardware that Mario was designed to optimize.
Super Mario 64 DS is an excellent game, though it also doesn't hurt that it has little competition on the newly birthed Nintendo DS. For me, Mario is a must. Otherwise my sexy little DS would just be gathering dust, cause you can only play the Metroid demo so many times over.
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