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• Super Mario Sunshine

developed & published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo GameCube / 2002.8.26

Super Mario Sunshine

With Super Mario Odyssey returning the series to open-ended level design, I felt now was a good time to replay Super Mario Sunshine. While it was generally well received, Sunshine has dropped on lists of the best 3D Mario games in the last 15 years. But does it deserve this new reputation, and if so, why?

Story

Taking a well-deserved vacation, Mario and the gang set out from the Mushroom Kingdom, with Sunshine taking place in sunny Isle Delfino. Upon arriving Mario is framed and shamed for polluting the Island, and sentenced to help in the clean up. Unlike most non-RPG Mario games, this one has lots of NPCs to talk to, adding to the cartoony atmosphere. The new characters and enemies are a nice addition to the Mario universe that, frankly, the series needs more of. And is it just me, or do the Piantas look an awful lot like the Muu-Muus from Jumping Flash!?

Super Mario Sunshine

FLUDD

It follows that Sunshine is just as unique in the gameplay department. Mario’s moveset has been trimmed from Super Mario 64, but is expanded with the water-powered FLUDD backpack. Mario can spray away pollution with the standard attachment, or hover in mid-air for a short time. FLUDD requires water (which is plentiful) to use, and takes some practice to master, but can pull off some unusual maneuvers unlike anything in most other 3D platformers.

Yoshi

Yoshi joins the action in 3D for the first time in Sunshine. He changes color based on what fruits he eats, and can then spit out fruit juice similar to FLUDD’s water gun. Juice turns enemies into platforms for a short period of time, that then move in different ways depending on the type of juice Yoshi spits on them.

Without any tutorials explaining that, first-time players are in for a real headache in Ricco Harbor. You can even enter Yoshi’s level before you’ve unlocked him, where you’ll waste time looking for him in vain. A strange oversight.

Super Mario Sunshine

Difficulty

Sunshine’s newfound reputation likely has something to do with its difficulty. The player-controlled camera combined with the new FLUDD mechanic makes for a more complicated control scheme. Compared to the 3D Mario games where the camera isn’t an issue, Sunshine could be described as the “expert” 3D Mario game.

Players are put to the test by thin platforms, unforgiving level layouts, and tricky obstacle courses where FLUDD has been stolen. You’ll soon realize how reliant you’ve become on FLUDD’s hover ability when you’re forced to go without it. These courses are enough to make a Mario veteran’s palms sweat!

Super Mario Sunshine

At times, A Test of Patience

A few blemishes, besides the camera (which tends to get caught in tight quarters) mar the experience. Some of the platforming physics can feel a bit off, with unexpected bounces that can ruin the fun. The Pachinko level’s physics has some especially weird stuff going on. Small individually, but frustrating in the grand scheme of things.

The encounter with Mecha Bowser feels half-baked, when it should be a great spectacle. Mecha Bowser fires homing missiles at you while you ride a disorienting rollercoaster, but changing direction takes too long! And if you miss with your one rocket, you’re defenseless. Another boss, King Boo, seems to take damage after you feed him a hot pepper, but that’s meant to show he’s vulnerable. This led to me fighting him for several rounds thinking I’d eventually win, when I hadn’t even hurt him once. This is all the more frustrating as this particular fight is prolonged by rounds where you can’t do any damage at all.

Super Mario Sunshine

And I encountered two unusual issues in Noki Bay. The blue coin under the waterfall causes your game to freeze if you collect it from the wrong angle. And I passed through a wall in the upper Western cliff face that is shaped like a door, falling beneath the stage forcing me to reset the game. Normally Nintendo catches these kinds of glitches, leading me to believe Sunshine was rushed to market to boost faltering GameCube sales (similar to what happened with Zelda: Wind Waker).

Presentation

Despite its age Sunshine still looks and sounds fantastic, running at a smooth 30 fps, and supports 480p with component cables. Levels have impressive draw distance, and shader effects enhance the visuals. Shiny and wet surfaces produce semi-accurate reflections, the sun’s heat causes things to shimmer in the distance, and stuff underwater becomes blurry. The music can get a bit repetitive though, with each area really only using one song for its 8 levels.

Super Mario Sunshine

Conclusion

At times, it’s easy to forget that Super Mario Sunshine is only the second 3D Mario game. Each area presents a diverse range of activities, each with its own look and theme poles apart from traditional platformer tropes. Nintendo wasn’t afraid to go in a brand new direction with the FLUDD backpack and Isle Delfino and its strange inhabitants, ensuring Super Mario Sunshine a special place among Mario’s many adventures. I wouldn’t recommend it as someone’s first 3D platformer, but it’s certainly worth tackling if you’ve played Mario’s more forgiving games.

PROs:
+ FLUDD backpack fundamentally changes the way you play
+ Each zone offers something entirely different from the others
+ Excellent production values hold up well 15 years later
+ Isle Delfino & islanders fit nicely within Mario universe

CONs:
– Some minor glitches
– Can be frustrating for the wrong reasons
– Yoshi seems like an afterthought
– Some Shines are too obscurely hidden
– 240 Blue Coins (30 per area) is overkill

Nintendo’s Super Mario Sunshine press conference