The import review you’ve been waiting for is here. Don't worry, no spoilers!
I’ve been wearing these shorts for three days now. I used my last spoon this morning. Empty Dr. Pepper cans are everywhere. My apartment is in shambles. Mario has arrived.
Super Mario Sunshine came in five days ago, and everything else since then is just a blur. This game has taken over my life, and soon it will take over yours. Hopefully I can justify my obsession and delight over this game and explain why Sunshine is such an incredible game.
It all starts with the gameplay. Everyone said that Super Mario 64’s best accomplishment was that it successfully brought the Mario experience into three dimensions. Sunshine will make you see how silly and pompous that conclusion was. In retrospect, SM64 was actually not much like a Mario game at all in terms of gameplay and game design. Many of the objectives were more about adventuring than action, and Mario’s vast array of jumps was rarely utilized.
Now Sunshine comes out, and stylistically, it’s even further from the old Mario formula. There isn’t a single Goomba or Koopa Troopa to be found, plus Mario’s running around with this crazy water pump on his back. Despite all this, Super Mario Sunshine is the truest Mario platformer since SMB3 on NES. The game requires you to master all of Mario’s moves and use them with expertise time after time. Its difficulty hearkens back to the days of 2D gaming and makes you realize just how easy most 3D games have become.
Sunshine’s level of difficulty is sure to become a hot topic as the game is released worldwide. To be blunt, it’s fricking hard. Hard like banging your fists on the floor. Hard like WaveBirds flying across the room. Hard like spending fifteen lives and over an hour just trying to beat one puzzle level. And yet, even when I’m cussing the game out, I can’t help but be thankful for the challenge. The frustrating parts are actually few and far between; for me, the difficulty is such that I can usually scrape by after two or three tries...just barely. It makes for an exciting game that you can’t just breeze through. Furthermore, Mario Sunshine is so much fun that you’ll be encouraged to improve your skills and keep trying so you can see whatever’s next, because you know it will be awesome...and the game doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The end result is that you get better and better as you go, forced to master the moves and think hard about how to tackle problems, and you appreciate the game so much more than if it were easy. Anyone who complained about beating Luigi’s Mansion in two days should thank their lucky stars that Sunshine is a thousand times more challenging. Though it was off-putting at first, the difficulty has become one of my favorite aspects of the new Mario. It’s a brave, bold move on the development team’s part, and it works out beautifully. Casual gamers will be motivated to become far more proficient than they ever have with a game, and serious gamers will be relieved to finally have a game that challenges their skills.
The biggest new addition to Mario’s gameplay is the water pump, which is named “FLOOD" and speaks with one of the more annoying voices I’ve heard lately. Anyway, one concern I had and I’m sure many of you had is that the water pack, particularly the hover function, would make jumping too easy. Although hovering does provide a fudge factor of sorts, you can tell that a great deal of care went in to keeping it from taking over the game’s mechanics. Most of the jumping tasks require a combination of using Mario’s jumps extremely well and applying the water pump in a certain way. The hover function is also taken away frequently, either by Water Mario stealing your backpack or by being replaced with another nozzle (both conditions are temporary, of course). In other words, anyone who relies too heavily on hover is going to be in a lot of trouble once they find themselves without it. By the time I was halfway through the game or so, I found myself rarely using hover at all unless absolutely necessary. Most of your normal jumps simply don’t need it, and using hover gratuitously will slow you down and use up a lot of water, both of which can become critical factors for getting certain Shines.
The other pump functions have less impact on the basic gameplay, but all are balanced wonderfully. The spray nozzle is handy for all kinds of tasks, but the game design only calls for its heavy use in a few cases. In other words, don’t expect every level to be drenched in sludge, which you have to spray off. That particular scenario is used so seldom that, when it showed up late in the game, I had a blast running around and cleaning up. The “cleaning up" theme isn’t overused at all, at least not via gameplay. The Super Jump nozzle is hard to master, but you can do some really cool stuff with it once you’re experienced. The dev team seems to have realized the limited uses of such a function though, and Super Jump is thankfully not abused. The propeller nozzle is sure to become a fan favorite, and in fact it seems to have been included almost as a bonus rather than as a serious gameplay element. You won’t need the propeller to obtain many Shines, but it’s always there to play with for fun, and you’ll definitely be doing that.
Plenty of fuss has been brewing over Super Mario Sunshine’s graphics. It seems that some people think it looks awful and others think it’s gorgeous, and that schism probably isn’t going to change. I personally fit into the latter category; while there are a few nasty textures, most of the game is simply breathtaking. The character modeling for Mario and Yoshi is excellent, the draw distance is unrivaled, and the water is the best I’ve ever seen in any game. Simple but charming special effects are everywhere, from the little ribbons of light sucked into level entrances to the impressive motion blur applied sporadically. Then there’s the sludge. I don’t even want to know the technical mayhem behind applying these wonderful dynamic sludge textures. There’s something magical about spraying water at this colored goop and seeing it realistically be washed away. The effect is magnified when you meet enemies later in the game that actually leave trails of sludge behind them. I can’t see how anyone could not be impressed with the level of interactivity and life that these graphic achievements provide to the game. I can put up with any bad textures if the rest of the game is this beautiful, this lively. Unfortunately, one visual flaw I can’t so easily forgive is the slowdown. Although it is rare and hasn’t affected the gameplay for me, it’s kind of sad to see any stuttering in such a naturally fluid game. We’re not talking about anything as heavy as the slowdown in Banjo-Tooie or Perfect Dark, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I’ve noticed the game chugging probably five or six times in my forty hours of playing. Those players more sensitive to framerate might notice more, but it’s still nothing to get concerned about.
Meanwhile, the sound is practically flawless. Every song is beautiful, from the completely original tunes to the very innovative remixes of old favorites. If you haven’t heard the a cappella Super Mario Bros. theme that plays in puzzle levels, you haven’t lived. (We have it for download at our SMS game profile, by the way.) Billy and I both agree that the beat of that song helps our timing for the puzzle levels...how cool is that? The music is sometimes exciting, sometimes soothing, but always very well done and quite smile-inducing. Sound effects are also great, especially the many water sounds associated with your backpack. I’m a bit torn on the voice acting...it’s pretty cheesy and childish, but I can’t really expect anything high-caliber from voice in a Mario game. There are two specific gripes with the voicing though: FLOOD is absolutely grating and, worse, hard to understand. Secondly, Mario doesn’t talk enough in the cut-scenes, and when he does, his voice is mixed very low so it just sounds like he’s mumbling. I don’t understand why Nintendo wouldn’t want you hearing what he says...Mario has never been portrayed as a silent character like Link. NOA actually brings Charles Martinet to E3 so he can talk as Mario to all the showgoers! There’s no sense in mixing Mario’s voice so low that you can’t make out his words. On the bright side, his in-game exclamations are a joy to behold. When Mario nabs a Shine and says “Ya-hee!", I just can’t help myself from imitating him. He sounds so damn happy and that glee is infectious.
Playing this game makes me happy. I guess that’s the most important thing when all is said and done. I can’t remember when I had so much plain old FUN while playing a game, and not just in certain places but almost non-stop. Super Mario Sunshine is a triumph of game design. It is the best single-player experience I’ve had in ages. It’s easily the best GameCube title yet, and arguably the best Mario game ever. The wait was worth it...oh man, so worth it! Get this game and fall in love with it just like I have.