With the launch of any Nintendo console, there is usually a familiar face. That face belongs to the world’s most famous plumber, Mario. Conspicuously absent for the first months of Gamecube’s life, Mario finally makes his return. Can "Sunshine" live up to fans’ expectation and the new competition that has emerged in the past few years?
Though this is not the revolution in platform gaming that its predecessor was, anyone will have a hard time arguing that Super Mario Sunshine is not a terrific addition to the genre. The game features an offbeat scenario where Mario is actually on his way to begin a relaxing vacation to Isle Delfino (Italian for Dolphin, Gamecube’s original codename) with Princess Peach and friends. Once you land on Delphino’s airstrip, you learn that a menace who is very similar to Mario in appearance is wreaking havoc on the island. In fact, the island’s residents believe Mario is the one who perpetrated the vandalism, and order him to clean up the various paint spills and polluted waterways. As Mario, you embark on your quest to clean up the island and discover the mystery of your liquid doppelganger.
Mario is given an upgradeable, multi-purpose water back known as FLUDD at the very onset of the game. This device is the most significant addition the series has seen since Yoshi, who also makes a return after a decade’s absence. With FLUDD, Mario can glide, hover, propel himself to great heights, or move at the speed of jet ski depending on what upgrade he is using. Using water is central to the game play, as you will have to clean up dozens of paint spills, use your FLUDD pack for navigation purposes, and use water to fight enemies.
With the extra abilities afforded to Mario, Nintendo has taken quite a bit of liberty with the level design in the game, and it has worked wonderfully. Delfino plaza serves as the main hub or over world to all of the game’s areas, much in the same way that the castle did in Mario 64. Each of the levels are large, obstacle ridden, and have a terrific layout. From passing across shell towers in Noki Harbor to exploring the underside of Pianta Village, the unique layouts are constantly employed in the objectives that lay ahead of you. You will also want to keep in mind where the sources of water are, as an empty FLUDD pack can’t significantly hamper your navigational abilities.
The variety of tasks laid out before in the game is also quite impressive. Early in the game you will simply have to clean up large messes with FLUDD and battle large bosses. As you progress, you’ll face missions of increased complexity, such as luring a large enemy to a hot spring, or needing to Yoshi to open an area that has an elusive shine sprite. One of the title’s highlights includes a battle against a huge, mechanized Bowser while riding around the roller coaster that surrounds him. These types of scenarios are what earns so many of Nintendo’s games a "classic" status among fans. Mario Sunshine is full of them. The open-ended nature of the game also allows you to skip certain missions that are too difficult, or simply put them off until you’ve mastered Mario’s skills.
The only aspects that keep Mario Sunshine from earning a perfect score for gameplay are the tedious "FLUDD free" levels, and the game’s often-infuriating camera. In the former, you’ll have to make your way to the end of a long level without the FLUDD water pack, as liquid Mario will often pop out of nowhere to temporarily steal it. While these levels will remind many long time fans of the previous Mario titles more so than the game proper, they often rely on dumb luck simply to make it to the end. Expect to lose quite a few lives in the process. Complaints about the camera may seem a bit exaggerated in the beginning, but as you progress you will see that poor detection of walls or other objects will leave you totally blind as to what is going on. One instance in particular sees the camera shift back as Mario tries to move across underground platforms. You will simply see the grassy surface of the level while Mario plummets to his death after missing the targeted platform.
Despite these annoying flaws, Mario Sunshine still stands as an example of how great the platform genre can be. It may not be as polished or innovative as some of the other games on the market, but its length, variety, and sheer fun factor make it one of the best platform games this generation has seen.
Since Super Mario 64 revolutionized the platform genre in 1996, many games have failed to match its stellar game play, but many have succeeded in trumping its graphics. Unfortunately, Mario Sunshine doesn’t even appear to be making an attempt at stealing the crown. While a good-looking game in its own right, it suffers from a few problems that really shouldn’t be present in any version of such a landmark series.
The first problem is the model composition. Mario, NPCs, and enemies alike do not appear to be any more detailed than those found in Sonic Adventure, Rayman 2, or the other notable platform games that appeared earlier this generation a few years ago. Secondly, the game does not boast great image quality. Many textures have a very dull, drab, and blurry appearance, and aliasing can be spotted just about anywhere. The last major fault is that the game only runs at 30 frames per second. This is not a major issue, but the fact that better looking games such as Ratchet & Clank run at a smooth 60 fps should not be overlooked. The animation in Sunshine just isn’t up to par.
Despite its faults, Sunshine still succeeds in several areas. The first and most noticeable aspect is the game’s enormously large levels. Huge draw distances allow you to see every virtual square inch of a level when your line of sight is not impeded by an object, and even off into the distance other areas of the game can be seen. All the while, several animations such as bee nests, roller coasters, and moving boats are visible to the eye. Having a tropical setting, the game is also extremely colorful. Each world has a very distinct look, and the vast bodies of water surround Isle Delfino genuinely gives you the impression that you’re stuck on an island.
The water itself is where Mario Sunshine’s graphics excel. Being a core element of the game play, you’ll see impressive use of it as well. From the waves moving over a coral reef, to Mario using his FLUDD pack to navigate an area or fight an enemy, the H2O never fails to impress. Even the details such as small puddles rendering Mario’s reflection before they evaporate are quite good. While the game is still not as graphically impressive overall as some may have hoped it would be, its strengths ultimately overcome its faults.
Super Mario Bros. and every game in the series that has followed have been known best for one thing: Fun. Super Mario Sunshine fully delivers in this regard. The inclusion of FLUDD, the return of Yoshi, and the breadth of gameplay variety presented will provide hours upon hours of great entertainment. Novices will be able to skip some of the more difficult challenges at later points in the game, while diehard platform fans can take on every obstacle they meet in their quest for each one of the 120 Shine sprites in the game.
The lack of a truly coherent story may disappoint a few, but the only aspect of the game that truly diminishes anyone’s ability to enjoy it is the camera problems previously mentioned. Even that sore spot is not enough to detract greatly from such a fun, lengthy, and rewarding game.
Although not quite the revolution in game play or visual aesthetics that Super Mario 64 was in its heyday, Super Mario Sunshine still stands as one of the premier platform games of this console generation. The gameplay mechanics and top-notch level design will remind everyone why Mario became the original icon in the videogame world. Its open-ended nature will also provide room for gamers of varying skill levels. Best of all, with Mario czar Shigeru Miyamoto vowing to release another Mario title on Gamecube, you won’t have to wait another six years for the next installment.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.