However, there is a counter-argument that makes Nintendo’s decision more understandable. The DS is introducing a totally new control mechanism, and by allowing players to become familiar with this via a game they already know, it’s easier to assess the controls in isolation. You’ve already played Mario 64 with a analogue stick, so now you can compare that to using the various touch-screen options on offer.
The new control mechanisms haven’t been implemented that decisively though. Indeed, the default option allows you to simply play using the D-Pad and buttons: a system not as good as the N64’s analogue stick and one that barely takes into account that extra screen (at least not during the main adventure mode). However, there are two other options, ‘Touch Mode’ and ‘Dual Hand Mode’, which effectively allow you to use the touch-pad instead of the D-pad – using either the stylus, or more preferably, the thumb-strap/digit-holster/pinky-harness to emulate analogue controls.
There is sure to be a great deal of discrepancy in different people’s control preferences. If Nintendo couldn’t decide on a single option, which it couldn’t, then clearly the best technique is apparently open to interpretation. We found ourselves switching in and out of the various different styles with surprising frequency. Mostly, we were just falling back on the vanilla D-Pad scheme; although at times the touch-screen works perfectly. Swinging Koopa around by the tail, for example, will have you circling the low screen with your nubbed-thumb to excellent effect. Perhaps this open conclusion over control method is a good thing. We can now happily accept that you can play pretty much any 3D game using one of various methods, and that should promise plenty of flexibility for future titles. Adversely, a game that only attempts to recreate an analogue stick may come off worse for wear.
Moving on to the game itself, there’s not a great deal that needs to be said. The main adventure mode is basically just a tweaked version of the N64 original with some extra levels, extra stars, and extra characters. Graphically, it’s on a par with its bulkier counterpart: although the screen does bring a certain jaggy pixel flavour with it. But on the whole, it’s fair to say that this can match, even supercede, the N64’s graphical crunch power. At this stage in time, that’s quite an impressive thing. If you compare it to any other existing handheld game, it is certainly the sparkliest. Although that could well be construed as a back-handed compliment.