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Nintendo DS handheld games console

Just a PSP rival - or something more interesting?

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But there's something missing: the analog stick. Both the PSP and the Tapwave Zodiac have attempted to put an analog controller on a handheld, and it's hard to imagine how Nintendo could have replicated the brilliance of the N64 controller without one.

Nintendo DS - Metroid PrimeIn Super Mario 64 DS, for instance, you're left with three options. You can play the game with the SNES-style digital controller, pressing the B button to run, but this is a painful reminder of why the early PlayStation Mario rip-offs never worked. Digital controls and 3D platform games just don't mix. This leaves you with a choice of using an odd little 'nub' on the end of the DS wrist strap to turn the touch-screen into a sort-of analog pad, or using the stylus to move Mario and the D-pad to jump and punch. Opinions differ, but I found the latter method more effective, and the whole game starts to resemble the Mario you remember.

But, it's still not perfect. At a crucial moment, your thumb slips or you hit the edge of the screen, and suddenly Mario is squealing like a fat, Italian baby as he falls to his doom. Nintendo has sensibly widened the odd path and changed sections to make the game easier, but I'm sure the slides of Cool, Cool Mountain weren't this perilous last time around. If this wasn't a pixel-perfect remix of one of the best games ever, the control issue might be a disaster. As it is, it's only a mild annoyance.

And it's one that seems practically irrelevant once you exit the central Mario 64 adventure and start exploring the game's other options. First up, we have the four-player battle mode. The DS includes built-in wireless networking, based on good old 802.11b technology, and it all behaves exactly as you'd hope it would. One player starts up a game, then other DS gamers can join in, downloading the necessary chunks of code even if they haven't got the cartridge in their console.

Nintendo DS - Super MarioIt's simple, it's painless, it just works. You can practically guarantee a connection up to 30ft away, given a lack of intervening walls and other interference, and the range can be even longer in some conditions. Add in the recently announced plans for online play using wireless routers, then start thinking of the possibilities of eight-player Mario Kart, and a smile should start spreading on your face.

Next page: Verdict

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