Super Mario 64 DS is a remake of the Nintendo 64 3D platformer Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo DS. I’ve already reviewed Super Mario 64 so if you want the basics on the base game I would urge you to check that out or simply play it yourself before jumping into this review. Instead, I’d like to focus more on the differences in this version and how they affect the game overall. Also, keep in mind that I played this on a Nintendo 3DS, so even though I could’ve used the d-pad the entire time as the DS would’ve been, I used the circle pad for a majority of the game. Because of this, I won’t have much to say specifically about the d-pad control even though the circle pad is just simulating those inputs. I’ll also not be talking about the touch screen movement as I didn’t use it much either. With all of that in your mind and out of the way, let’s see what we have to work with here.
The plot is basically the same except that Luigi, Wario, and Yoshi have also been summoned to Peach’s Castle for cake. You start out only being able to play as Yoshi, who was sleeping on top of the castle while the other three went rushing in. You run up to the castle only to find that it’s locked, but luckily Lakitu marks a rabbit on your mini map that has the key. You must chase it down and catch it with your tongue. This is where the difference in the controls becomes noticeable. You no longer run by default. Instead, you walk unless you hold Y. B jumps and A attacks. As Yoshi you can hold B to flutter in the air for a short period before falling to the ground. Yoshi’s attack uses his tongue, which is what you need to grab the rabbit that runs away through a small hedge maze. Once you get the key you can go inside and start playing as usual, but right away you’ll notice Bob-omb Battlefield is a little difference. Aside from the visual changes you’ll find that the first boss encounter works a bit differently to fit Yoshi’s playstyle. Instead of picking the king up from behind you have to eat the bob-ombs he throws at you and either hit the duck button R to turn them into eggs that you can throw at him, or simply spit them back out at him directly. To finish up the controls tutorial, L centers the camera behind you and can turn the camera along with you when held. Otherwise you can manually turn the camera left and right with the arrows on the touch screen.
You’ll also start to notice some level revisions. Some levels add in new areas or alter old ones to make them easier. For example, Whomp’s Fortress has an extra area added beyond the blue coin switch spot now. Most of the levels have even more coins present to make the 100 coin stars easier. The item boxes with shells in them will respawn so you can reuse the shells without restarting the level. The coins are even in 3D now! You can talk to newly added Bob-omb Buddies that will point out the locations of uncollected red coins on your mini map. There are even two new types of star missions. One type is a switch star. These require you to push a switch in the level and then quickly reach the spot where the star spawns before it disappears. One of these has been added to each Bowser stage as well. The other type is the silver star… uh… star. These missions have five silver stars hidden in the level that you must find and collect in order to make the power star appear. There are also a few replacement stars here that try to take advantage of the new additions in the game while remove more difficult stars from the original. There are even some brand new levels thrown in that give you extra stars which brings the total star count up from 120 to 150.
A few of these levels are where you need to go in order to unlock the three other characters. You’ll have to get through the stage and beat the boss in order to get a key that unlocks that character’s door. Each character has their own traits. Mario is pretty much unchanged though he is the only one that can perform wall jumps. Luigi can slow his descent by holding the jump button and does a very high backflip jump complete with a spinning descent. Wario is fairly slow and can’t jump high but his punch packs a wallop and only he can break the dark bricks, whereas the bros can only break the normal bricks and Yoshi can’t break any. Yoshi has that flutter jump and egg spitting ability as mentioned, but he also can start the stage with the cap any of the other characters from the level select screen. This is a new mechanic as well. See, in some levels, and on pretty much all the levels after unlocking all of the characters, you’ll find character caps. Wearing the cap turns you into that character until damaged by an enemy. At this point you’ll lose the cap and revert to your chosen character, thus resetting the cap’s location. There is no Yoshi cap. Along with this feature is a change to the special switches. There is now only one special switch to activate all the red boxes, which will give each character a different temporary ability. With Mario you will either get the classic wing cap to fly around or a power flower that turns you into balloon Mario as seen in Super Mario World. If you get it as Luigi you get the powers of the vanish cap from the original game. Wario gets the power of the metal cap. Yoshi gets a limited time use of fire breath, allowing him to attack enemies and melt blocks of ice.
A whole new set of rooms is included in the castle this time as well. On the first floor where you’d normally find the small room with the secret slide is now a larger room that still contains that secret slide but also has multiple doors inside. Three of these doors are the character doors you need to go to in order to change who you’re playing as. Walking into the same door as the current character turns you back into Yoshi. The door in the back of the room leads to the Rec Room. In this room is a painting of a new level and a star door requiring 8 power stars to enter. Inside you’ll find the painting for unlocking Mario. In the Rec Room itself you can consult the drawers in the back to play minigames. This is also possible on the startup screen. The minigames are split up into four groups. Each character gets one minigame when they are unlocked and then to get their other 8 games each they must find and catch 8 rabbits running around the hub world, making that 9 minigames each for a total of 36 minigames to play. The minigames are all designed around using the stylus. Some of them are puzzle-oriented. Some are action-oriented. Some are chance-based. And a few are even just tabletop casino-style games. Most of these will track your high scores or keep your progress if you leave the longer ones. None of them have any effect on the main game. These two things are separate. You may even recognize some of these if you’re familiar with New Super Mario Bros on the same system as they reuse many of them there. The title screen does not feature the same face manipulation as the original, instead opting for a mode with an outline of the character’s face than can be pulled around with the touch screen. The only other thing to mention would be the multiplayer, but I had no one to play with so I was unable to try that out for comment.
There’s definitely a lot to like here. I mean, I already have lots of nostalgia for Super Mario 64 so it’s not too surprising that this is still good. They didn’t mess it up. The visual overhaul is interesting. It isn’t an HD remake or anything and honestly the limitations of the DS hardware keep it looking close enough to an N64 game that it didn’t feel too alienating. It kept some of that charm. It’s kind of nice that it makes some of the art direction more consistent with the now-standard Mario style, I suppose. And it’s much easier to collect coins in 3D space when the coins are also 3D instead of 2D sprites. Having new levels is a really cool expansion. Hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing an entirely new game with the same mechanics as Super Mario 64 if they had it in ’em. I also very much appreciate the increase of coins for some of those 100 coin stars. I also though the inclusion of the two new types of star missions was great. I mean, you have the 100 coin stars, red coin stars, and a few boss stars already in the base game. So including switch stars and silver star… uh… stars… is a great way to keep that feeling of consistency rather than feeling gimmicky. It made me get used to the new star mechanic rather than a one-off gimmick to grasp at straws… or should I say grasp at STARS? No, I’ll stick with straws since that’s a real phrase and the other is stupid. At any rate, adding more stars to up the total count has exciting potential and means pretty much what you think it means. It’s just more Mario 64, man. Having more bosses was pretty interesting too. Getting to play as the Uig Man is always a plus. And I’m so glad they didn’t mess with the music. Especially the ending theme. It’s a truly moving piece. Maybe not literally, but emotionally. Even some of the minigames are pretty fun to mess around with to kill some time.
Most of the minigames feel pretty lame though. Some are random while others are just practically unending. They’re a neat idea but without any consequences for the main game there’s not much incentive outside of killing time or getting used to the idea of touch controls for new DS users. While I like the new levels and a few of the level tweaks, I don’t much care for the level alterations that added new areas or severely changed existing areas. I think the worst offender I can think of is in the igloo on Snowman’s Land. This area is complete redone from being a maze into more of a jumping challenge. This level also changes the mazelike ice sculpture into a very easy Yoshi star. So by far this felt like the most altered level and honestly I preferred the original stars to the changes here. Getting the rabbits is a nice way to encourage you to explore the whole castle and try out the different characters, but it’s more of a pain in the ass to do when you realize that all you get are unrelated minigames. They can be fun, but they aren’t really worth the effort. I didn’t really care for playing as the different characters either. There were a few times when Yoshi’s long reach or Luigi’s great jumps came in handy for making parts easier, but it feels like they basically just downgraded Mario’s special abilities and allocated most of them to the other characters. So basically it felt more like I was forced to use other characters rather than getting the option to do so. I ended up pretty much just playing as Mario unless I HAD to be someone else, which isn’t a great sign. Besides, switching characters got a bit tedious and using the cap system got frustrating when I kept losing the necessary cap from a single mistake. Also, one of the stars you get involves getting enough shiny rabbits, which only spawn randomly. This means you have to run around a ton and keep looking at rabbits, hoping one of them will be shiny when you do. It’s another neat concept that becomes a chore in practice. And lastly, let’s talk about the control and controls. The controls themselves are kind of awkward to get used to. Again, I didn’t do much with the touch screen, but I DID mess with the d-pad a bit more than that to see if it was better than using the 3DS circle pad to at least make me FEEL like it’s controlling better. It’s definitely rough to have such limited movement options when a lot of the game is easier with the added depth in the original. This is probably why you don’t run by default. If you ran everywhere it’d be too easy to fall off of platforms by accident. The problem is with the run button. See, having B jump makes Y a comfortable run button, though it can be a tad annoying to run in place and then dash full speed forward if you hold it while standing in place. The thing is that the attack button is now over on A, which is on the other side of the jump button. So basically you have to choose between a running jump or a jumping attack. It’s hard to do a running attack or a running jump attack. It’s another thing you can adjust to over time, but sometimes the extra lag of slowing down or reaching over to hit the attack button will mess up your flow and get you hurt… possibly even killed. The physics are pretty damn close to the original, so it’s still not that bad to adjust to, but you just can’t turn as sharply or do those more advanced maneuvers with ease. For example, I used to be able to pull back, jump, and kick in mid-air to ascend certain slopes if they were steep enough to slide down but not TOO steep to slip off a rapid rate. I was unable to do that here. But it does make wall jumping easier by letting you slide down it a bit rather than using precise timing, so I’ll give it that. I guess most of my other complaints would be too nitpicky as a fan of the original and not really worth bringing up.
So where does that leave us with recommendations? Well obviously if you’re a huge fan of Super Mario 64 then it’s worth getting to check out the new content and as an excuse to play the game some more. Getting it on the DS is a good way to get a backup copy or even to experience it for the first time while also giving you access to this game on the go. It’s perhaps one of the best 3D platformers on the system as well, though I haven’t played enough to make a convincing argument there yet myself. It’s not really worth getting if you’re looking for a huge upgrade to the original, though. It’s maybe worth 25 to 30 bucks if you don’t already have a version of the game, but for Super Mario 64 owners it may be wise to look into a copy for 20 bucks or less. You can get it cheaper on the Wii U, but then you wouldn’t get the portability and the original is there anyway so that’s even more of a niche purchase. I’d really only call this game a must-have for platformer fans or Mario fans if you don’t already own or have access to the original game. I must admit, I ended up liking Super Mario 64 DS more than I expected to. It grows on ya and by the end I at least felt satisfied with what I had played. It didn’t make me just want to play the original instead, and for a game that special to me… that’s really saying something. Until the next review, keep that touch screen smokin’!