Super Mario 64 DS is arguably going to be the launch title to get when Nintendo's DS hits the streets in just 10 days. The DS game is a revamped version of the Nintendo 64 classic, which is still one of the landmarks in 3D gaming history. Nintendo has revisited the original game and tweaked it in a number of ways to take advantage of the DS's dual screen, touch screen, and Wi-Fi capabilities. We saw the game at E3 and the Nintendo Gamer's Summit and were happy to see that it has evolved into its own unique animal. We got our hands on the final retail version of the game this afternoon and have dutifully dissected it to see how Mario's DS adventure turned out.
The game's intro has been modified to compensate for the tweaked story and includes Princess Peach inviting Mario over for some cake. As we've mentioned before, you'll start by taking control of Yoshi, who heads to look for Mario, Luigi, and Wario after they're trapped in Peach's castle. Before you can get inside the castle, you'll have to wrest the key from a rabbit who is chilling nearby. You can find the long-eared key holder by keeping an eye on the map displayed on the DS's lower screen.
Once you get the key and head inside the castle, the game seems to unfold in basically the same way as the original, at least in terms of your objectives. You'll still be playing as Yoshi, who handles differently than Mario, thanks to his float jump, tongue attack, and ability to lay eggs. However, the levels have been tweaked slightly in terms of item placement--you'll now find colored hats that correspond to Mario, Luigi, and Wario in the levels (which are shown on the touch-screen map). Collecting a hat will morph you into one of the three characters and let you use his abilities, although you'll still sound like Yoshi.
But we'll cover the single-player mode next week. In the short chunk of time we've had to play the game so far, the order of the day has been multiplayer. When playing solo, you'll be able to practice alone on the four maps initially available to get a feel for their layout. Castle grounds is just what you'd expect--a course set around Peach's castle that's based on the area from the game. Sunshine Isles is an original area that seems more akin to the sunny shores of Super Mario Sunshine, with its blue water and small islands arranged in a circle. Princess Peach's Secret Slide is a twisty slide area you'll have to ride down. Finally, Battle Fort is an enclosed arena with massive iron balls and a second level you reach by climbing up a pole.
The multiplayer game we were able to try sent us on a race against three other opponents to collect the most stars and coins strewn throughout a level. The main goal is to have the most stars, but in the event that there's a tie, your coin count will come into play. The games we played cast us all as different-colored versions of Yoshi, although we were able to switch to Mario, Luigi, and Wario by collecting their respective caps in the level. As you'd expect, these kinds of multiplayer games are chaotic, especially when you start using your tongue to grab your enemies and mess with them. We were able to keep our competitors at bay by grabbing the Wario cap--it's impossible to nab his badness due to his "big-boned" nature.
In trying out Super Mario 64 DS's multiplayer, we also decided to give the multiplayer mode a go with a single cartridge. You'll initiate a game by selecting versus on your cart and waiting for other players to join. For players without the cart, you'll have to go to the DS's main screen and select "DS Download." By selecting it, you'll prompt your unit to check for other units offering downloads within broadcast range of your unit. You'll then see what's available--the name of the game and the name of the player offering it. Once you select a game, the download process will begin. Mario 64 DS takes about 30 seconds, give or take, to fully download to the other units. Once the download is complete, the game starts. The process is surprisingly easy and handles well even from a short distance, although if you get too far away from the group you'll get disconnected, so don't plan on playing too far away from your friends. In between each of the matches you'll be brought to a tally screen where you'll see everyone's standings and have the option to either back out of versus mode completely or play again. The setup works fairly well, although it seems that the only way to get out of a multiplayer game is at the tally screen.
The graphics in the game do a solid job of re-creating the Nintendo 64 game's look, although there are quite a few differences that we'll be scrutinizing in the coming days. The same can be said for the audio, which can be set to stereo, surround, and headphone configurations and is nicely robust for a portable system.
We're going back to have a look at the original game for a proper comparison this weekend, so come back next week for more on Super Mario 64 DS. Until then, check out a slew of direct-feed movies from the game on our media page.