Super Mario Sunshine, the game everyone was expecting after the GameCube didn’t launch with a new Mario game. Instead, we got Luigi’s Mansion which was a good game but significantly different than your usual Mario game so the hype for the next true 3D Mario game went through the roof. Luckily, we are more than ten years ahead of these times so let’s see if Super Mario Sunshine is capable of holding up.
The game begins with Mario, Peach and a few Toads in a plane towards vacation on the wonderful Isle Delfino. Sun, drinks, party and peachy sights are what they think awaits them, but in the live-promotional video, Peach notices a shadowy-Mario jumping in the background while Mario himself is distracted thinking about food. Wait a second, either this video is live recorded in which case Shadow-Mario must have already started with his plan which doesn’t add up to the first gameplay section as well as the entire story OR this video was pre-recorded and nobody on Isle Delfino, while editing that video (which they show all new arrivals), noticed Shadow-Mario in the background.
Anyway let’s continue, the plane arrives on the Delfino airport but the landing is not very comfortable as part of the airport sank into a slime-like liquid. With no one knowing what to do, Mario quickly finds F.L.U.D.D., a device that can spout water and talk. With the power of water, Mario cleans up the slime, defeats a slime monster within the slime and restores the sunken part of the airport. That’s a lot of slime (or goo?).
Anyway, a so called Shine-Sprite appears, naturally, Mario grabs it. After grabbing it, the police arrests him and they immediately put him in court with no lawyer or anything like that and he’s forced to spent a night in prison as well as having to clean up the entire island. For what you ask? Someone soiled the entire island with this slime and as a result, all Shine-Sprites, which are responsible for the sunny sun and life, disappeared. Remember that little detail for later please. Also, despite the fact that Mario has JUST arrived including witnesses and proof that he WASN’T on Isle Delfino while this happened, they just sentenced him based on a drawing of a dark-blue Mario-like figure…
Look I’m saying this right away: I have a personal dislike against most people of Isle Delfino because most citizens can’t even recognize Mario on that drawing when you talk to them on the street.
Well, the story is set and it’s continuing with the introduction of Bowser Jr., who has his first appearance in this game, the identity of Shadow-Mario and a hilarious cut scene involving Peach asking herself if it’s possible that she’s Bowser Jr.’s mother, I’m not kidding. Also there is voice acting in this game and it isn’t as bad as you would expect. Only cut scenes have voice acting though. I took a liking to Bowser Jr.’s voice because I imagine him to sound like that. The story isn’t anything special really and you should see everything coming from a mile away, the people of Isle Delfino are jerks and that’s why we have this game, it’s that simple. I’m going to be honest though, mainstream Mario games never had a lot of story to begin with so let’s dive into the gameplay.
The gameplay is where this game shines… unless you want to complete the game 100%, which I’ll get to later. You move Mario with the control stick, you can do the triple jump, the ground-pound, back-jump (although, since crouching is impossible, you can only do it while moving now) and the new spin jump, which is harder to control but you can jump higher and cover more distance with it. Also, you can do the belly flop, which is broken (to your advantage, use it on some water in front of you) in this game. Removed abilities include the melee attacks, crouching and crawling. The mentioned F.L.U.D.D. replaces them. With F.L.U.D.D., you can do two things: Shoot water and extend your jump with a hover upgrade. The hover upgrade is your standard upgrade you usually have alongside your supersoaker, but there are two unlockable upgrades you can find throughout the game, which replace the hover upgrade for the rest of your current mission or as long as you don’t enter a level/leave a level or get another upgrade.
This is a shame, since it would have been much better to just keep all upgrades and thus make you appreciate the overall level design. Also, while F.L.U.D.D. is a very nice addition to Mario’s moveset, it brings a ton of problems with it. There is no cursor indicating where exactly the water lands, while you get a feeling for this you never know where you shoot water or where you’re going to land if you use the rocket upgrade, though you can help yourself just a little bit by watching the tiny little shadow of Mario. This doesn’t sound that significant? Again, if you don’t want to 100% this game, you can probably just have an enjoyable time by skipping everything that’s broken with this game. Let me tell you again: There is no cursor for anything (since in one side mission, you have to precisely shoot rockets at balloons which doesn’t work since the aiming is nothing but horrible). This is a major design flaw and I have to wonder: Who thought this was a good idea? Having missions that require precise aiming without a cursor to see the trajectory sucks, there is no better word for it.
It’s a good thing that you can usually skip those missions but you will find yourself in situations with completely broken physics (the infamous pinball machine) or just flaws in execution, which is the opposite of how Mario himself controls in this game. Let me sum it up this way: F.L.U.D.D. usually works when there isn’t any precise aiming involved.
Your hub world this time isn’t Peach’s castle but instead we have Delfino Plaza. Via paint-portals we can travel to the different vacation spots on the island and fix what’s broken, so usually everything. The hotel disappeared because a 2D thunder-shadow-manta ray swallowed it in electric goo (this is one of the more annoying missions you can’t skip) or we have situations like the mysterious bay, in which a cork blocks the waterfall, preventing clean water to flow into the bay and poisoning the bay. In short: Everything is screwed and you have to fix it.
For every successful task you usually get rewarded with a Shine. In total, there are seven levels in the game and like in Super Mario 64, each level has 8 missions, each rewarded with a Shine. There are also secret Shines hidden in these levels, like collecting red coins in the secret parkours and collecting one hundred coins. There are also hidden Sprites in Delfino Plaza which you can get by e.g. destroying a door leading into a tower or helping the residents by gathering fruit for them. Why are they allowed to hoard them again? I thought Shines are the life force of all residents there so why do the residents have them? NO SERIOUSLY, WHY?
This game will probably break you internally for even trying 100% thanks to the mentioned broken physics like trying to sit in a boat. Sounds simple? Well, sitting in the boat isn’t hard but moving in it is another thing. The mentioned blue coins are everywhere and the worst blue coins are in places where you can easily screw up and probably die immediately afterwards. There is also a 100 coin Shine in each level but the game forgets to mention one thing: There are only specific mission in which you can actually get this 100 coin Shine. That’s right, in some missions it is absolutely impossible to get 100 coins so if you find yourself in one of those, you’re screwed and you have to do it all over again.
Here is the thing: Shines don’t matter in this game. The only thing you need to do is complete the seventh mission of each world to unlock the final boss. Really, the only thing you can actually do with Shines is to get sunglasses and a new shirt for Mario.
Here is the recommendation: Just complete episode 1-7 with sometimes episode 8 as well, that way, you get the most enjoyment out of Super Mario Sunshine. Many secret stars are also a lot of fun to do as well but that way the chance will rise of you encountering one of the broken levels.
If you are insane enough to get the blue coins, there are 240 in total, with each tenth blue coin, you get a Shine from the black market which has 24 Shines and doesn’t give a crap that everyone is potentially dying because they want ‘dem blue coins. There’s also Yoshi in this game but he can’t touch deep water or he dies (water is everywhere in this game), he can eat stuff and uses his vomit to clean the island and to get rid of weird moving orange stuff that is blocking Shines. The camera is also working against you in some cases, when it just outright refuses to give you sight to anything and sometimes keeps being in the most obscure places, but usually it works fine thanks to c-stick control. The camera is generally much better than in Super Mario 64.
Let me address once again: Super Mario Sunshine can be a very, very enjoyable experience as long as you do the fun stuff. Whatever you do, DO NOT ATTEMPT 100%! This is an absolute requirement for you to enjoy this game, period.
The music is very good, it’s a 3D Mario game after all. The tunes are catchy and the quality of the soundtrack, even though it’s midi, is very good except for 1-2 tracks which get kind of annoying if you hear them too many times. Generally, the soundtrack still holds up.
The art design of the game is very good. It still looks pretty thanks to its more cartoony-look and the water still looks nice, even by modern standards. The worst parts about the graphics are the resolution and some rough edges here and there, but you get used to both. Graphically speaking, this game is still perfectly playable today, but it may take some getting used to.
What this game does very good for its genre:
As long as you stay on track, this game is a good 3D Mario game with a catchy soundtrack and nice graphics. The beach theme is a nice change of pace.
What could have been improved:
Oh boy, a lot. Include missing features like a cursor for aiming and a landing sign for your rocket upgrade.
Make all upgrades available at any time, once you get them, significantly decrease the amount of blue coins, make the 100 coin Shine possible for all missions, Yoshi shouldn’t die from water, repair your technical issues like the physics and I also encountered some collision errors.
Even though the voice acting isn’t phenomenal, you should use good voice actors for all dialogues, not just cut scenes.
When you die, make it so that the game spawns you in the level itself, not send you back to the hub world.
Any completion bonus is better than a picture at the end of the credits, change the controls for leafes and the boat so that you can actually steer them via the control stick, improve the camera and please make the final area only accessible through Shines again instead of completing a certain mission in each world because the way it is here, Shines are completely useless.
A day/night change which also changes the world in terms of how the citizens behave and on how you can get new Shines (preferably instead of blue coins) would have been great. This could have really changed up the pace of every level, like having some missions exclusive to that specific time (day/afternoon/night) while with others, you can just choose the time you prefer, Delfino Plaza on the other hand would have a fluent day/night cycle you could directly influence by taking a nap or whatever.
Super Mario Sunshine is a joy to play as long as you go straight towards unlocking the final area of the game by finishing episode 1-7 of each level. Will you have a flawless experience? No, but it’s much better than going for the Shines that are, in the end, doing absolutely nothing. The blue coins are nowhere near worth the frustration, the 100 coin missions are screwed up, there are incomplete or just flawed features and some areas have very broken physics.
Is this game a worthy successor of Super Mario 64? No, it has too many problems for that but this is still a good, flawed game that you can get a lot of fun out of, if you play it right. The music is good, the graphics are appealing and the new features can be fun. I see loads of potential for a sequel and I really hope that some day, Nintendo or someone else picks up on this gameplay, improves and enhances it. A nicely done remake could get rid of many, many problems I have with this game.
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