User Review: Super Mario 64 DS (Retro)

By GABO1423, Oct 22, 2020 (updated Oct 22, 2020) 7 6

Oct 22, 2020
  • Release Date (NA): November 21, 2004
  • Release Date (EU): March 11, 2005
  • Release Date (JP): December 2, 2004
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo EAD
  • Genres: Platformers
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone
  • PEGI Rating: Three years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer

Review Approach:

Judge the game outside of the context of its original release, and analyze how does it compare to the original Super Mario 64.
Here is one of the most revolutionary games ever made...… now on the go! How does Mario's first 3D adventure translate to a completely new platform?

In between the releases of Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, the next handheld Nintendo console would make its debut. The Nintendo DS was an ambitious machine that attempted to do something unconventional. Return to the dual-screen setup that was last seen on some Game & Watch devices. It also started Nintendo's new focus on making gaming accessible to everyone. This strategy would later result in the launch of the Wii. But Nintendo wanted to show that the DS would be a capable machine with a lot of potentials, much more than just a simple gimmick. To demonstrate what the DS was capable of, Nintendo decided to remake one of the most revolutionary games in their catalog, Super Mario 64.

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What better way to showcase the power of a new console than to remake Super Mario 64?

Released as a lunch title for the Nintendo DS in 2004, Super Mario 64 DS remains to this day one of the most technically impressive games on the system. Regardless of the technical achievement that the game represented, Super Mario 64 DS is not that highly regarded today. With the controls, as well as changes made to the original structure being enough for many people to prefer the original Super Mario 64. Seeing as I have already reviewed Super Mario 64, I won't focus too much on many of the unchanged aspects of the game. The level design, the core gameplay, and the music are unchanged from the original game, so to talk about them again would only be redundant. With this in mind, we will be focusing on the changes and additions made from the original Super Mario 64. Were these changes an improvement or a step backward from the original game? Is Super Mario 64 DS still worth playing today over its predecessor? Let's take a look at Super Mario 64 DS.

Presentation: Graphics and Plot

The plot of the game has received some notable changes from the original game. Princess Peach invites Mario to her castle to enjoy some cake together. But this time, Mario is also joined by his brother Luigi, as well as Wario. The three men then enter the castle. But after a while, their whereabouts become unknown. As time flies by, a Lakitu wakes up a sleepy Yoshi and tells him of the situation. Yoshi then enters the castle and discovers that not only has Bowser kidnapped Peach, but he has also kidnapped Mario, Luigi, and Wario. Now it's up to Yoshi to not only rescue the mustachioed trio but recover the power stars, rescue the princess, and defeat Bowser once again. While this is still the traditional Mario plot, this plot offers a nice twist from the original while also not changing it too drastically. And it succeeds in introducing new characters into what was once strictly Mario's adventure. So this plot once again gets the job done while not being a hilarious mess like Super Mario Sunshine.

This plot is a nice change of pace from the original game.

Now let's take a look at the updated graphics. Super Mario 64 is not a bad looking game. But it has not withstood the test of time gracefully, showing quite clearly how this was one of Nintendo's first games on 3D. But this was now 2004, and Nintendo had learned a lot about 3D graphics by this point. With the gorgeous Super Mario Sunshine being a prime example of how much Nintendo had improved since 1996. And Super Mario 64 DS is no exception. The most significant improvement from the original game's graphics is the character models, with Bowser being the shining example, now looking pretty close to the game's artwork. The environments have also seen a nice improvement with new textures and a brighter color palette. However, due to the lower resolution of the DS' screens, the game has a more defined pixelated look. Whether the pixelated look is an improvement from the smoother look of the original game or not is a matter of preference. But overall, Super Mario 64 DS is a significant visual improvement that still manages to look nice today. While the music is unchanged, there are now new voice clips recorded for every character in the game. While these sound fine, they can be a little bit too loud at points. This increased volume became quite distracting initially, but you get used to it as the game goes on.

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Super Mario 64 DS is a nice visual improvement from the original game.
Gameplay: Changes in structure

So, how does Super Mario 64 DS handle the core gameplay? As mentioned in the introduction, the core gameplay is mostly intact. You still navigate Peach's Castle, going into paintings to get Power Stars. The freedom the original Super Mario 64 offered is also present here. So the strongpoints of the original game mostly carry over here. But the gameplay is not a 1:1 transition from the original game. So what was changed from before? The main selling point of the game is that you can now play as multiple characters: Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Yoshi. While the core controls are the same for all four characters, each one comes with their attributes to make them stand out. Mario is mostly unchanged from the original game, besides having a significantly higher jump from before. The improved wall jumping from Super Mario Sunshine makes its return, and Mario is the only character that can use the wall jumps. Luigi does not have his signature subpar traction. But he does have an improved backflip, which allows Luigi to hover like a helicopter, allowing the player to reach very far distances. He also has a useful flutter jump that can allow for midair corrections of your jumps. Wario, on the other hand, is the most powerful character in the game, being able to handle combat with ease. But this comes at the cost of Wario being not only the slowest character but also having the worst jumping capabilities in the game.
Yoshi resembles Mario quite closely, but with his signature flutter jump and eating capabilities from Yoshi's Island making a return. Much like Yoshi's Island, Yoshi can also produce some Eggs to use as projectiles, but in Super Mario 64 DS, he can only make one egg at a time. But Yoshi is also an anomaly since he can't break basic bricks that the other characters can. And since there are no compelling reasons to use Yoshi, you end up only using him whenever he is required. The same flaw applies to Wario since the better combat capabilities are not that useful when Mario and Luigi can handle enemies and Boss Fights just fine. So you mainly end up playing most of the adventure as either Mario or Luigi since there are simply more reasons to play as them. So while the additional characters are a good addition, the execution is lacking, which makes me question if the addition of the extra characters was even worthwhile.

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While the extra characters are a great concept, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

But a problem is introduced by the multiple character setup. What if you suddenly need to use another character while in a level?
In theory, you would need to exit the stage, change your character, then come back into the level to do the particular objective. This solution can become quite annoying, so Super Mario 64 DS decides to handle this problem with the character caps. Scattered across the levels are enemies that will have the hat of a specific character. By grabbing it, you transform into that character and can use all of its abilities until you get hit. The Caps are a brilliant addition that not only solves the character switching issue but also is non-intrusive and fits quite nicely into the core gameplay. But there is one exception to this problem: Yoshi. There is no character cap counterpart for Yoshi. And while very few stars require him, when you do end up needing to use Yoshi, you have no choice but to exit the level, switch the character, and then do the objective.

But the biggest flaw that comes from the lackluster execution of the multiple characters is how they handled their inclusion in the game's structure.
Most of the game's objectives are unchanged, so this means that Mario is more than capable of completing any challenges the game offers. So what incentive do we have to use another character besides curiosity? Many of Mario's abilities are now things that only the other characters can accomplish. Mario cannot use the Metal and Vanish caps anymore. Only Luigi and Wario can use those abilities, respectively. Which then leaves the player with no other choice than to use those characters whenever those abilities are required.

While the Caps mitigate this issue, Super Mario 64 was, quite simply, not designed around the use of multiple characters. The characters were brute-forced into the game. And since the developers could not change the structure substantially due to this being a remake, the concept cannot reach its fullest potential. Which once again makes me return to this question: Were the additional characters worth it? These changes only serve to add messier aspects to the original game's structure.

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The simple fact that the character's unique abilities are the ones Mario could easily use before is a problem.

But the messier aspects don't end with the lackluster execution of the multiple characters. To add more content to the game, Super Mario 64 DS now has a total of 150 Power Stars to collect, 30 more than the original game's 120 Power Stars. So how are these extra stars added to the game? There are two ways in which these new Power Stars are retrofitted by the developers into the game, both with very different results. The first method is what I would like to call the "Super Mario Sunshine" method since these stars are nothing more than filler content that doesn't add a lot to the core stages. These were a problem in Super Mario Sunshine since they contributed to a lot of content getting crammed into a small space. In Super Mario 64 DS, however, they are not as intrusive as in Super Mario Sunshine. Instead, they are at worst mindless objectives that serve their arbitrary purpose of adding more content to the game. The most common of the "Mario Sunshine" stars are the brand new Star Switches. By pressing one of these Switches, a Power Star temporarily spawns inside a crystal ball, so you need to reach the Power Star before the time limit runs out. While these are fine in concept, they lack in terms of difficulty, making them very bland and forgettable.

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While harmless, these type of Power Stars are nothing more than filler.

But the other method used to add Power Stars is much better, creating brand new objectives and areas to explore. The developers removed some Power Stars in favor of new ones. These changes result in some fun new challenges, with my favorite addition being the Silver Stars, which would later return on the Super Mario Galaxy duology. But the best parts of Super Mario 64 DS are the brand new stages. Most of them come in the form of brand new boss stages (We'll get to that soon), which offer more content that I honestly find to be very creative and well designed. The problem is that they are not enough of these new stages, which is a huge wasted potential. New levels like these would have gone a long way to add more value to the 30 new Power Stars, but as is, these new Power Stars are a mixed bag. Some of them are fun, some bland, and most are just filler.

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These new stages are a fantastic addition, but they are simply too few of them.
Extra Content: Minigames and Boss Battles

Before we get into the most controversial part of the game, let's take a quick look into the last bits of extra content. Super Mario 64 DS decides to add some optional minigames. You can unlock the minigames by catching many Rabbits that run around many parts of the castle. These minigames are very simplistic in concept, but the simplicity works to their advantage. Utilizing the DS' Touch Screen, many of these minigames are very easy to pick up and play. And they also have an addictive and arcadey feel to them, which makes them a fun addition to the game. But they are, at most, an optional distraction. And the fact that New Super Mario Bros. has all of these minigames means that there is no reason to buy Super Mario 64 DS just for these minigames.

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The minigames are a fun addition, but not a major selling point of the game.

Next, let's talk about the three brand new boss battles. Since the rest of the pathetic boss battles are unchanged from before, I'm only going to talk about the aforementioned original boss battles. The bosses are Goomboss, King Boo, and Chief Chilly. You fight them to unlock Mario, Luigi, and Wario, respectively, as playable characters.
Goomboss requires you to outrun him to hit him on his back three times. The circular arena complements this concept quite well, leading to a fun and simple boss battle.
King Boo requires you to use environmental clues to hit him with a ground pound. This twist makes this fight way more interesting than the three Big Boo battles and does make for another fun and a simple boss fight.
Finally, Chief Chilly is by far the best boss battle in the game. You defeat him in the same you kill Big Bully, punch him off the platform. But the slippery platform, as well as Chief Chilly's sporadic movements, make this fight more intense than the three Big Bully fights combined.
On the whole, these three boss battles are a great addition that easily outshines the competition. But much like the new stages, they are too little of them, which is another example of wasted potential.

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Goomboss, King Boo, and Chief Chilly are a substantial improvement over the original game's boss battles.
Gameplay: Controls

Now it's time to talk about the most controversial aspect of the game. This aspect is the part that can either make or break the experience. It's time to talk about the game's controls. One natural question that comes to mind is: How are they going to handle the lack of an analog stick? The original game's most notable innovation was by far the analog stick. So without the analog stick, how are you going to handle Super Mario 64? Nintendo offers you three controller options, all with a compromise of some sorts. Two of them involve using the Touch Screen as a replacement for the analog stick. You can then either use the D-Pad or Action Buttons (depending on your dominant hand) to perform actions. Touch controls for a 3D game are never going to be suitable replacements for a regular physical analog stick, so to call these controller options awkward would be an understatement. And since the DS Touch Screen is not that comfortable for the fingers compared to any smartphone screens, there is no reason to use any of those options. This fact then leaves us with just one choice, Standard Mode, this is the best of the three controller options, but it also has its fair share of problems.

Controlling a 3D game with a Touch Screen is simply awkward.

In Standard Mode, the D-Pad handles movement, and the Action Buttons do just that. The D-Pad movement is very similar to how Spyro the Dragon controlled on a D-Pad on the Playstation 1. This type of control is gradual, which tries its best to simulate the feel of an analog stick. But no matter how much Nintendo EAD tries, the D-Pad is a far cry from the analog stick when it comes to precision. And the characters feel a lot heavier than how Mario handled in the original game. To deal with the lack of analog movement, the Y Button is now the Run button. The Run Button comes straight out of a 2D Mario game, but the combination of these aspects leads to a crammed controlled scheme for many actions. A long jump is just more comfortable to perform with a stick, a trigger, and a button compared to how comfortable it is to execute with two buttons and a small bumper button. This control scheme is usable, but it is the result of compromise. Super Mario 64 quite simply was created for an analog stick, not a D-Pad. Without an analog stick, the game design suffers as a result. While the controls are not absolute trash, they were never going to be handled well with a D-Pad. Super Mario 64 is a game for the Nintendo 64, not for the Nintendo DS. The developers forced the game to fit on a platform where it did not fit well at all. And the final game suffers from this as a result.

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Super Mario 64 was made for an analog stick, without that, the game suffers severely.

Super Mario 64 DS feels more like a showcase of the Nintendo DS' capabilities instead of a worthwhile remake that comes from a love for the original game. The central theme of Super Mario 64 DS is, without a doubt, trying to fit into a place where you don't belong. Everything from the 30 new Power Stars, the new characters, and the game's controls are a result of compromise after compromise made to get Super Mario 64 onto the Nintendo DS. Yes, it is a remarkable and impressive technical achievement that did its job showcasing the capabilities of the Nintendo DS. But besides that, what was the point behind this remake? Frankly, Super Mario 64 did not need a remake whatsoever. It demanded sequels to improve on its foundation. It did not need a compromised remake made to show a console's power. But this is still at the end of the day, Super Mario 64. A pretty admirable bold step forward in 3D game design. And while the compromises made to the remake do detract from the experience, Super Mario 64 DS can still be a fun time. But, the original Super Mario 64 is such a better experience that is available on many platforms, including portable devices like the Nintendo Switch. So there is no reason to revisit Super Mario 64 DS today besides curiosity and the novelty of playing it. Super Mario 64 DS is easily the weakest 3D Mario game I've looked at so far. And I can only offer a cautious recommendation for Mario fans only. Not a bad game, but you are not missing a lot by skipping this one.

What I Liked . . . Improved presentation. Fun and addictive Minigames. Faithful to the original game. What I Didn't Like . . . Lackluster implementation of multiple characters. Filler Stars. Compromised controls.
8 Presentation
The graphics are a significant improvement from the original game. The character models alone showing how much has changed since 1996. While also being an impressive showcase of the Nintendo DS' 3D capabilities. The worse mix of the voice clips and the pixelated look might be jarring, but they don't take away from the improved presentation.
7 Gameplay
While very faithful to the original game. Super Mario 64 DS' gameplay suffers from trying to fit new content when there was no room for that new content. This conflict leads to a very lackluster execution of many ideas that could have worked wonderfully on a new game. And while this is still Super Mario 64 at the end of the day, it is still an inferior version of the original gameplay.
6 Lasting Appeal
The messier structure that the game offers severely detracts from the simple elegance of the original Super Mario 64. The filler stars, the multiple characters, and the simple lack of an incentive to play this over the original game do not help with the game's longevity. But the core freedom that Super Mario 64 offered is still there, so at the end of the day, what is here is strong, but not strong enough for me to play this over the original.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Super Mario 64 DS is an ambitious and impressive technical achievement. But it was too limited because it is supposed to be a remake. The lack of an analog stick is just the tip of the iceberg here. While the presentation is improved significantly from the original game, and there is some new and worthwhile content. Super Mario 64 DS is nothing more than a technical showcase of the Nintendo DS at the end of the day. Easily the weakest 3D Mario game so far. And while previous and future 3D Mario superseded this title, Super Mario 64 DS is still a fun game that I can cautiously recommend to a Mario fan.


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