Mario 64 DS is undoubtedly the key Nintendo DS launch title. A portable remake of an N64 classic is sure to get people interested, and when combined with some genuinely entertaining mini-games, you have the ideal title for a new console launch.
Anyone who played games during the PlayStation era will surely have heard of Mario 64. It was the game that defined the Nintendo 64 and clearly showed how 3D gaming should be done. PlayStation owners could be contented that they would get the most support from third-party developers, but they knew that they could never play a game as beautiful as the N64’s flagship title.
So, approximately ten years later, handhelds have come of age and are offering true 3D gaming for the first time. What could be better than a port of Mario 64? Hmm, “there is no analogue stick,” you say. You’d be quite right to have concerns. The N64 pad gave us the joy of full precision thanks to the brilliant analogue stick; this played a huge part in making 3D games the revolution that they were. It is hard to imagine playing the game with a clunky old D-Pad.
Well, you won’t have to imagine for much longer, as Mario 64 DS forces you to adopt some rather unwanted control schemes. You can choose to play in a number of ways: Using the D-Pad is as tricky as you had imagined, with the precision you had taken for granted no where to be seen; faked analogue using the touch-screen and a thumb strap will seem like such an alien concept, that simply moving Mario will make you wonder what Nintendo were thinking; stylus control (for the main game anyway) is something best not to be messed with.
Initially you will be crying into your pillow at night, wishing Nintendo had managed to fit your much loved N64 analogue stick onto the DS somewhere, but your torturous control of Mario will gradually make way for control almost as precise as the game deserves. Using a thumb strap and touch-screen combo is definitely the best way to go. It takes a lot of getting used to, with your thumb finding the freeness to move rather liberating, but not ideal of gameplay. Once you tone down your movements you begin to command much more control, and you can partially forgive Nintendo for the lack of analogue stick. This is still the same old game, but at first it will feel like you are playing with your wrong hand.
Other than the difficulties adapting to the new control schemes, the game offers everything you would want from an updated version of Mario 64. You can now control Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Wario (over the course of the game), there are entirely new sections to the game, a load of mini-games and a wireless multiplayer battle mode.
The mini-games are perhaps the greatest new addition to the game. While only offering eight from the start, there are a total of nine for each character, collected by catching rabbits which run around the Princesses castle. These games make excellent use of the stylus control, and provide enough enjoyment and replay value that they could have formed a game on their own.
The game looks great, and is leaps and bounds ahead of what you had expected from a handheld game up to this point. If anything, the game looks better than its N64 father, with more detail in the environments and character models. The game looks ultra crisp on the DS’s superb screens, with only a lack of filtering getting in the way of a superb looking game.
We will cover the game in a lot more detail when the DS finally gets a European release, but for anyone looking to import the console, we can easily recommend Mario 64 DS. While some of the games precision control has been lost, you have one of the greatest 3D platform games ever made, playable on a handheld, and a load of addictive mini-games added for good measure. People were worried that the Nintendo DS would simply be the home for N64 ports, but if they are all as good as this, I don’t think many people will be complaining.