Letting Me Down… Gently
Recently I’ve found myself thinking that it’s alright to be disappointed sometimes. Nintendo have recently released the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection for the Nintendo Switch and whilst many are having fun either revisiting old favourites or making their way through the legendary adventures for the very first time, I found myself feeling oddly left out.
Super Mario Galaxy is my favourite game of all time. I haven’t had a single day in my life since it’s release where I haven’t thought about it, so when I heard it was on the way to the Switch I was excited for obvious reasons. Skip forward a couple of months and we get the announcement that 3D All-Stars is a limited release, it’s gonna cost full price and Nintendo completely neglected to change anything meaningful about the re-release.
This was a let down. I love Mario, I love his adventures (except Sunshine) and I still wanted to look back on his 35th anniversary, regardless of my position on 3D All-Stars. So I took it into my own hands (quite literally) and decided I’d do my own all-stars marathon. Beginning at the beginning, both for 3D games and for my actual love of the plumber, with Super Mario 64 DS, a game I have loved since it released back when I was only 9 years of age.
Touching on Traditions
The Nintendo DS is an interesting beast. Especially today. We’re looking at a handheld with two screens, a touch screen, GBA support, a microphone and notably for the time, wireless multiplayer capabilities. This was a huge leap forward for Nintendo and portable gaming, but if there’s one thing the DS never had, it’s an analogue stick.
Which brought confusion to the forefront of many people’s minds when Nintendo announced Super Mario 64 was being remade for their console back in 2005. How were they gonna fit an award winning outing onto such a small device? How was it gonna control? What would they have to change to make it work?
64 DS is absolute proof that Nintendo are capable of adapting their biggest and brightest titles for new consoles. Tough decisions were made during development, many of which still receive their fair share of criticism online. I’ve touched lightly on one of the bigger points, with the DS lacking an analogue stick, many look no further than this one gripe to declare 64 DS the inferior port. Which is something I just cannot agree with.
Yes, there is a clear sacrifice in the fidelity and fluidity of Mario’s control. Jumping from a controller with a layout like the N64 pad to the barebones DS will do that. Especially with the N64 pad being built in tandem with Mario 64. They were literally made for each other. But, the DS has so much more to give Mario 64 than it takes away.
More, More, More!
First off, L was real since 2005. Luigi, Wario and Yoshi are available to play as in addition to Mario. This is by far the most notable difference between the two games, but one that I always enjoyed and one that changes the way the game plays in more ways that you might first think. Not only do each of the characters have unique abilities, they control differently too. Different speeds, different jump heights, different swimming speeds. These are tiny tactical decisions you have to make before jumping into a world that can make a huge difference to some missions.
As you unlock the different characters throughout the game, you’ll find Goombas walking around stages wearing Mario, Luigi and Wario’s caps. If you manage to steal the cap, you can actually equip it to transform into that character. This lets you enter stages with peace of mind that you won’t be locked out of any stars that may require Wario’s strength or Mario’s wall jumps.
Looking back on this mechanic in particular, I find it interesting to see the parallels with Cappy from Super Mario Odyssey. The idea of using a cap to transform and temporarily boost Mario’s moveset isn’t as seemingly new as I once thought. I love going back to older Nintendo games for this very reason, as the experience always seems to dig up some new observation or idea that’s been sat there for a long time.
Another point in 64 DS’s favour is there’s notably MORE content on show in the DS version. There’s extra stages, there’re more secret stars to find, a ton of DS exclusive mini-games and there’s an outright all new multiplayer mode that only required one person to even own the game. Remember DS download play? Now that was a value proposition.
Setting the Stage
Also as subjective as this may be, I find the character models and the art style to be far superior on the DS version. In spite of it’s pixelated look, everything looks like Mario should and it arguably set the tone for what would come next via New Super Mario Bros, a game we can all agree shaped the art style and presentation for the Mario series throughout the next 15 years. (They also reused a bunch of assets from 64 DS when creating NSMB, so there’s that too!)
I think the most impressive thing about Super Mario 64 DS is how little they lost in the transition from console to portable. This is a really fun, playable version of it’s legendary counterpart and it has a lot to offer. It stands out from other Mario games in really interesting ways, applying that 2005 era Mario aesthetic to his iconic 1996 adventure. Something that feels incredibly unique, now that 64 DS is as old as 64 was when it was re-released.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed playing through 64 DS again for this article. It’s definitely a unique flavour, especially given the console it’s on. I think it’s really good to look back on the DS and its amazing library of Mario games. 64 DS, NSMB and Mario Kart DS are all solid but very different games and all titles I intend to revisit on my own personal, Mario All-Stars anniversary celebration!