SEATTLE--We recently had a chance to get our hands on Super Mario 64 DS, the Nintendo DS incarnation of Nintendo's classic Super Mario 64. While the game looked like a pretty straightforward conversion of Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64, with a few extra bells and whistles, it has now apparently come a long way since we first saw it at E3. The work-in-progress version on display at Nintendo's Gamer's Summit boasted a number of significant changes to the N64 game, and it appears that Nintendo has worked hard toward establishing Super Mario 64 DS as a unique title.
You'll find three game modes when you fire up the game: versus, adventure, and rec room. Versus will let you play with up to three friends in wireless multiplayer competitions that are similar in format to what we saw at E3, although the game will feature several new game types and maps to play on. For example, one of the maps we saw will require players to fight for possession of a set number of silver stars.
Adventure is the single-player portion of the game, based on Super Mario 64. In this new incarnation of it, you'll eventually control four characters: Mario, Yoshi, Luigi, and Wario--although you'll start out as Yoshi. The story has been tweaked to accommodate the new gameplay flow. We find Princess Peach inviting Mario and the gang over to her spacious castle for some cake (apparently when she's not being the poster child for kidnapped royalty, Peach can actually throw down in the kitchen). Unfortunately, when Mario, Luigi, and Wario stop by for some chow, they're trapped in the castle. However, hope is not lost, as Yoshi, who was napping on the castle roof like any good slacker, becomes aware of the situation and heads out to save the day. Over the course of your platforming adventure you'll eventually find the other members of the gang who will then become playable characters.
Finally, the rec room mode is a collection of minigames specific to each character. The version we played offered 36 touch-screen-focused minigames--nine for each character. In addition to the proper game modes, Super Mario 64 DS features a doodling option that incorporates some of the tech demo technology we saw at E3.
When you start the game you'll see the three modes laid out across the bottom of the touch screen. You'll see a random floating head for one of the characters in the game above your choices, which you can tap to call up a doodle option. Once the head is tapped it will be redone as a simple black-and-white line drawing that you can manipulate any which way--dragging parts of it or pulling it across the screen for example--that will cause it to deform in real time. You'll also have the option to erase it and draw a new picture or write your own message on the screen.
The gameplay in Super Mario 64 DS is similar but not an exact carbon copy of Super Mario 64's. The characters have now been given unique moves to ensure they all handle differently. For example, Yoshi will have his float jump and will be able to snag enemies with his tongue and make eggs out of them. A power flower power-up will now yield specific effects for the cast when they collect it. For example, Mario will turn into a balloon and be able to float around, while Yoshi will be able to breathe fire.
Besides featuring the three other playable characters, adventure mode will include several new elements. The mode will now have 150 stars to find, which helps complement the inclusion of several new levels to the game. During a demo of the game, we saw a new level that was filled with undulating platforms and poisonous gas, and it had a woodsy feel to it, thanks to the use of trees as platforms and slides. As you're playing through the game you'll also discover different colored hats that you can use to temporarily turn into the other three playable characters. As you'd expect, the hats are color coded according to who's who, so Mario is a red cap, Luigi's green, and Wario's yellow. Once you've put on the jaunty headgear you'll morph into whoever's hat you've found and remain in that form until you're hit.
Along with the changes to gameplay, the control for Super Mario 64 DS has undergone some changes to compensate for the DS' button layout and lack of analog stick. You'll use the D pad to walk, hold down the Y button to run, while A and B will retain their original jump and punch duties. The camera will be recentered by the left trigger and it can be manipulated by using the lower touch screen as well. The setup works fairly well once you get accustomed to the lack of analog control, although it didn't feel quite as responsive as we would've liked. Nintendo has attempted to address this by including an analog option that will let you control your character by moving your thumb along the analog screen. It also appears that the carrying strap slated to be available at the DS launch will include a thumb pad that will fit over your thumb like a thimble, which will afford more precise control in this mode. The strap wasn't available at the event today, so we had to rely on our regular old thumb, which still wasn't as precise as we would have liked. Hopefully the thumb pad will make a difference or the control will be refined before the game's launch to ensure optimal handling.
The graphics in Super Mario 64 DS are faithful to their Nintendo 64 cousins, although there are subtle differences that differentiate it from the old game. The colors seem brighter and there have been some additions to the familiar look of the old game, such as the presence of more rabbits in the area around the castle, which keep the game looking surprisingly fresh. Textures are slightly inconsistent, though, with pixelization cropping up in some spots. Fortunately, you'll have to look hard for such minor issues as the screen resolution does a fine job of smoothing over any weirdness. The frame rate moves along at a steady clip, which is hardly surprising, and it keeps the action fast and smooth.
The audio in Super Mario 64 DS is on par with Super Mario 64, so you can expect to hear the familiar tunes and sound effects re-created perfectly and, in some cases, it's enhanced. In addition, you'll hear the full suite of voice and effects for the new characters thrown into the mix.
Based on what we've seen, Super Mario 64 DS is looking like a snazzy update of a classic that will be a strong first-party entry in the Nintendo DS' launch lineup. While its core is still the original Nintendo 64 game, you could do a lot worse than work with such classic material. The only thing we'd like to see tightened up in it are the control options--otherwise the game seems solid as a rock.
For more updates on the Nintendo DS and other impressions and media, check out GameSpot's coverage of Nintendo's Gamer's Summit.