The game itself looks almost exactly like the Nintendo 64 original, which was not a bad looking game for being a first generation title. The characters move in brisk fashion and they animate with as much expression as they ever did. Although it’s presented on a smaller screen, this Nintendo DS version looks exactly like you’d want Mario 64 to look, all the way down to cool water and fire effects.
Where the game runs into problems is in the control, which would not have been an issue if Nintendo would have released the DS with an analog stick. But here you’re limited to using either the D-Pad, which is imprecise for a 3D platformer like this; or using the touch screen, which takes some getting used to. No matter how much you fiddle around with it, there is no good solution for the control, and has the potential to turn you off of the game very early.
This is not to say Mario 64 DS is a bad playing game, but without the analog control it feels much, much different than you remember. With the touch screen you can make Mario move much like it was with the analog stick, but it’s sometimes hard to find the center, which can result in way too many preventable deaths. You can also use the D-Pad to control, which is a better fit, but seems to introduce a few unique problems. For example, running is done by holding the Y-Button now, which can sometimes get you into trouble when making simple jumps to moving platforms.
I won’t say that Mario 64 DS is derailed by the control set up, but it certainly isn’t as much fun as it once was. Stars that should be easy to obtain are occasionally made excruciatingly difficult because of the control, to the point where it will take everything you have to work up the desire to try it again. Things aren’t made any easier with the out-dated camera system which has a strange way of working against you at all the worst times.
Not only is the touch screen used for game play, but it also displays a helpful map. Here you will find where the stars are, as well as where the red coins are located. Some purists might yell and scream that this is simply making the game easier, but the challenges are still difficult even if you know exactly where you’re going. It would have been nice to see the second screen used for something more than just a map, but it’s something that wasn’t in the original game so I’m not complaining.
Outside of the story mode you will find literally dozens of mini-games, each taking advantage of the touch screen in one way or another. In many ways these games are better at showing off the system than the Mario 64 portion, but probably wouldn’t have sold on their own. Each of the four characters in the game have their own sets of mini-games, which are earned by catching rabbits hopping around the castle in the story mode. Not all of the mini-games are worth more than a glance or two, but there are a few gems that you’ll be playing long after you’ve saved the princess (or grown bored trying).
There is no denying that Mario 64 is a great game to have on any system, but this port it fails to take advantage of the cool new features the Nintendo DS promises. If you can overlook some control issues you’ll find quite a lot of game play that will have you going for months to come. It might not be the “Best Game of All Time”, but it’s a rock solid game that everybody should play through at least once.
It may not show off all the cool stuff the Nintendo DS can do, but it is a fun port of one of the best games of all time. If you can get around the control issue, you will be entertained for months to come.
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