Welcome everyone to the first installment in our series of grudge matches between an original game and its remake. In this set of articles we’ll be comparing the two titles directly and try to determine if the remake actually improved on the original release or if you should stick to the original release. For this first installment we’ll be looking at the Nintendo 64 classic Super Mario 64 and its remake for the Nintendo DS. Both of these games helped launch new Nintendo hardware, each of which featured brand new control methods for the gaming world at large and its no doubt the Super Mario 64 is one of the best games ever made. But if you want to play it today, what’s the best way to do so?
When it was released back in September of 1996, Super Mario 64 was an absolute revolution. While 3D games weren’t all that new never before had gone into the third dimension so masterfully and many of the elements that we still enjoy in modern 3D platformers were established in Super Mario 64. Camera controls, large open world, full 360° control and gameplay that takes advantage of all axis’ of movement were all things that Super Mario 64 thought us how to do, and when these gameplay elements are merged with Nintendo’s high-end quality control standards, refined gameplay and presentation you had the recipe for an instant classic.
Super Mario 64 DS was also tasked with launching a brand new piece of Nintendo hardware though under vastly different circumstances. In 2004 Nintendo was hoping to supplement their Game Boy Advance line of handhelds with a new, more powerful gaming system that would give players a brand new way to play. The Nintendo DS needed a game that would show off just how different this system was from the Game Boy line with its almost purely 2D visuals so what better game to showcase than the poster-boy for 3D gameplay. Super Mario 64 DS launched alongside the DS and quickly became one of the system’s best-selling games cementing the legacy of Mario’s 1st 3D adventure.
But despite both being launch games for new, innovative systems both Super Mario 64 and 64 DS were actually quite fundamentally different. While the original game had you solely wearing Mario’s cap throughout the adventure on the DS you would also take control of Yoshi, Wario and (finally) Luigi on your quest to recover all the Power Stars. This was worked into the story by explaining that Mario, Luigi and Wario were all tricked by Bowser and now found themselves trapped inside of Peach’s Castle. As Yoshi finds & rescues his friends you get access to their special abilities opening up the path to even more Power Stars.
This is really one of the biggest advantages to playing Super Mario 64 DS over the original, that the game features so much more content than the Nintendo 64 version. For one the game features 30 more Power Stars than the original which may not seem like a lot in a post Super Mario Odyssey world but represents a lot of additional content. And that’s only scratching the surface as the DS version also includes a throng of new secrets, levels and mini-games for players to discover whereas the big ‘reward’ for finishing Super Mario 64 (99 lives) was always seen as pointless the DS version gives you a ton of things to do and keeps you entertained. So in the content department the advantage definitely goes to Super Mario 64 DS.
And it’s not the only way Super Mario 64 DS improves on the original, as the graphics & presentation were significantly improved over the original’s simple and flat polygons. Mario and friends were given more definition, more ‘shape’ and more closely resembled their ‘official’ models. Not only that but the world actually given texture which made what was inside the paintings even more vivid. While this may not seem so impressive today remember this was the first handheld released designed to play games in 3D and needed a graphical showcase to help set it apart from the Game Boy Advance’s sprites. And while the PSP would release shortly later and immediately put the DS to shame in the visuals department it was nonetheless impressive to see such an improved version of Super Mario 64 running on a handheld gaming device.
So far Super Mario 64 DS is 2-for-2 and seems like the best way to play Super Mario 64 but we still have to deal with the Chain Chomp in the room – the controls. While both versions were launched alongside new, unproven control methods (joystick and touch screen) there really is no contest here – the Nintendo 64 version is superior. Running through the various paintings felt smooth and natural with the N64’s joystick and was a big reason why the game caught on so well. On the DS, a system without a joystick you had two ways to play the game, either with the standard D-pad or by sliding your finger on a virtual stick on the touch screen. Both of which were incredibly frustrating to use and reinforced the need for an analog stick when playing 3D games, something that the Nintendo 3DS would fix 7 years later. Now I will point out that if you play Super Mario 64 DS on the 3DS or via the Wii U Virtual Console you can get an improved experience but it’s still far from ideal.
FINAL VERDICT – Super Mario 64 is the better version.
Despite being a technically more impressive game and offering a whole bunch of extra content Super Mario 64 DS remains the inferior version due to its control schemes which walk the line between frustrating and unusable. That’s not to say that you can’t force yourself to wrap your head around how the game plays but that should never have to be the case. The Nintendo 64 version on the other hand is still a robust adventure in its own right that will take hours to complete but features a control setup that is not only ideal but laid the ground work for all 3D platformers to follow and for that reason is our pick for the best version of Super Mario 64.
Join us next Monday when we take a look at the next grudge match in this series.