I Can See What the Big Deal Was
The home conversion of the original Mortal Kombat was the beginning of my wandering eye. To that point, I had been a staunch Nintendo supporter. At least as staunch as you can be when you’re 12. To me the Sega Genesis was a laughable attempt to compete with the Nintendo juggernaut. Then the Mortal Kombat debacle. Blood and gore intact on the Genesis version. Everything clean for the Super Nintendo. Ridiculous. As I entered my teens I was angst-ridden and trying to distance myself from the cartoon-inspired games of my youth. That mindset led me away from an N64, and I became a PlayStation man. I didn’t return to Nintendo until the release of the GameCube, a full console generation later. What does that mean? It means that even though I consider myself an avid gamer and a gaming historian, of sorts, I’ve never played The Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, and the original 3D platformer: Super Mario 64.
Now, among other systems, I own a GameBoy Advance SP, the aforementioned GameCube, and most recently, a Nintendo DS. I’m comfortable in the knowledge that I have embraced, if not necessarily returned to, my heritage. I purchased the DS not necessarily because any of the games coming out for it look outstanding, but more because I liked the idea of Nintendo attempting to take games in a new direction. The once-behemoth now the underdog, with a cult following similar to Apple is trying something different. I’ll gladly throw my dollars behind that. I was also excited to finally get my hands on Super Mario 64 DS. After playing the collection of N64 Zelda titles Nintendo put out a while back, I welcomed the opportunity to again experience a game that I knew so many of my favorites were predicated upon.
I believe that a discussion of the merits of Super Mario 64 DS must not only be aware of the pedigree of the source game, but should also mention this new game’s status as a launch title for a new console, and a new style of gaming. It is possible to unlock a number of minigames, based on which character you are at the time, which henceforth become accessible from the title screen or from a special room in the castle. As time has passed with the game, I find myself equally likely to continue my quest to gain yet another star as to fire up a quick round of turtle shell curling or “three Yoshi monte”. This is a testament not only to the design of the minigames but to the addictive interface of the DS in general. Graphically, the game generally looks outstanding. Having never before seen graphics so vibrant on a handheld system (Sony’s impending PSP notwithstanding) certainly helps matters. Unfortunately, some of the game’s textures look noticeably dated as you approach them. Overall, though, the graphical presentation is quite impressive.
One of the key differences between this version of the game and the original is the addition to Mario of three playable characters. Luigi, Wario and Yoshi (who is actually the only character available to you from the outset) are all represented here. All four have various control quirks, and additionally, there are stars that only a particular character can obtain. This makes for some interesting moments in the game as you switch from one to the other. This, however, seems like a bit of a distraction. Mario games, Super Mario Bros. 2 excepted, have only ever been about the characters in the loosest possible sense. Certainly, the cast is much beloved in the same way Disney and Warner Bros.‘s characters have become parts of our family. But I would argue that the real treat in any true Mario platformer is in level design. Super Mario 64, and hence Super Mario 64 DS, does not disappoint in this respect. The additional characters, however, can feel a little tacked on. A game too eager to say that it’s different than its previous incarnation.
Although it pains me to do so with a franchise I love so much, there are negatives that must be discussed. I can’t comment on the additional 30 available stars, as I have no knowledge of what constituted the original 120. My first exposure to the format of a Mario game where you repeatedly enter the same worlds over and over to gain stars for different feats was in Super Mario Sunshine. However, being denied the advantage of having solved some of these puzzles before has made for some frustrating moments. Some of the required tasks are rather arcane. In this the day of the onscreen map and well-defined objectives, the original design of Super Mario 64 DS does not stand the test of time. On a couple of occasions I sought the help of the illustrious GameFAQs.com wondering how anyone could have played this properly without the help years ago. Further, though the control scheme possibilities on the DS are varied, none quite match the level of precision offered by true analog controls. On more than a few occasions, I’ve accidentally walked off a ledge, and that’s not something I’m likely to blame on my gaming ability.
That said, Super Mario 64 DS is an exceptional game. The ability to see where games like Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter evolved from is a wonderful opportunity, especially since I missed it the first time around. Moreover, Super Mario 64 DS gives a cursory, and addictive, illustration of the potential of this new user interface of the DS with it’s plentiful minigames.