The game is an enhanced port of the original N64 version. It includes additional playable characters (Luigi, Yoshi, and Wario), new powerups, a slew of minigames, a multiplayer mode, graphical upgrades, and additional stars and levels boosting the total number of stars available from 120 to 150.
Gameplay in Super Mario 64 DS is actually quite different from the original due to the change in input scheme and the special abilities given to the new characters. Players can choose between a right and left handed analogue control schemes, where the bottom screen of the DS is used as a Analog Stick and either the ABXYRL buttons or the d-pad are used for jumping and attacks, or can use a digital scheme where the d-pad is used to control the character, and the ABXYRL buttons again control jumping and attacks.
New items are available in many of the levels such as the classic "big" mushroom which makes the character roughly five times larger than normal and allows you to tear through previously impenetrable areas.
Each of the characters in the game also has his own unique abilities. The question mark blocks from the original Super Mario 64 now give out Power Flowers, and each character gains different abilities from them. Some of these are the are abilities Mario had in the original but that have been taken away from him and given to other players. Others are entirely new.
Yoshi finally gets a good 3D appearance in a game. In fact, he gets to star in the beginning of this game, rather than Mario. He's slightly weaker than the other players, but he can jump higher, and has a fluttering ability to hold him in the air for slightly longer. He also has the ability to eat enemies, and can make them into eggs which can then be thrown at enemies or obstacles ahead. At other times he's required to swallow fire and transport it somewhere else in the level. When he gets a power flower, he can breathe fire. He can also transform into one of the other main characters by picking up their cap.
Mario still retains most of his abilities from the original, but loses a few (he can no longer become invisible or walk underwater), but he's the only character capable of the wall kick, and is probably the best all around one to use in the game. He also bloats up like a balloon and is able to float when he grabs a Power Flower from a Question Block.
Luigi plays much like Mario, except that he has regained his magnificent jumping ability from Super Mario Bros. 2. In addition he has a copter ability that simplifies a lot of the tasks in the game, and is fairly fast. He can also run on water for a short time, and gains the ability to become invisible when he grabs a power flower.
Wario is an odd addition, and plays rather difficultly in the game, but he is the most powerful of the four players, and so he is necessary to get through some obstacles. He does have a neat spin throw ability in multiplayer, and can become metal by picking up a power flower, making him invincible and able to walk underwater. The only thing that can actually kill him while he is metal is falling into a chasm.
In addition, a slew of minigames were added to SM64DS in order to showcase the capabilities of the DS. Two are available when the game starts. The rest must be obtained by catching different colored rabbits throughout the main game. There are thirty Rabbit, giving a total of thirty-two minigames.
Multiplayer mode consists of four different levels. One level is outside the castle (with drained water and a few new platforms), another is on an island called Sunshine Isles, another is in a place called Battle Fort and the other is a race down Princess Peach's Secret Slide.
Each level has set locations that stars appear, and the players race to get them. In the slide level, some stars bounce down the slide and others wait at the bottom of the slide for the first person to reach them. Players can knock the stars out of other players by attacking them (this causes the stars to bounce around, like stars do in other Mario games). There are also Silver Stars; seven of these can be collected to form a new star. The player with the most stars when the time runs out wins. If there is a tie in stars, the winner is the person with the most coins.
Multiplayer mode requires only one copy of the game, and takes roughly thirty seconds to load the entire game onto all the players' Nintendo DS systems.
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