On the road to 120 Shines, Billy stops and gives offers his import review of Super Mario Sunshine. Does it follow in the fine tradition of impressive Mario gaming, or is it just Koopa poop? The spoiler-free review awaits you.
When I was at Spaceworld last year, I was praying and hoping Nintendo would miraculously have a Mario title secretly ready for the GameCube launch. For the first time ever, a Nintendo console was released without a Mario title. Sure, we got a fun but extremely short holdover title with Luigi’s Mansion, but it wasn’t the same. You see, Mario 64 is probably my favorite game of all time. I was even skeptical that Super Mario Sunshine would give me the same feeling as a gamer as Mario 64 did. Within moments my fears were put to rest. Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto have once again raised the bar not only in platformers, but videogames themselves.
With some additions, Super Mario Sunshine at its heart is a true sequel to Mario 64. So much so, I’d recommend playing through parts (or in my case 70 stars worth) of Mario 64 to get yourself in shape for some hardcore Mario action. Obviously you’ve got FLUDD and Yoshi joining your control options, but now added is the new 360-Spin jump, and dive hop. Fortunately many of the trademark moves made it over including the butt-stomp, U-turn jump, and triple jump, but disappointingly the long jump didn’t make a return. My guess is you don’t need it due to having the jet pack. Wall jumping is crucial to survival and Shine acquisition, and this time around Mario has the help of a little “stick” to him. You can actually jump from one wall to another, slide down again, and then jump back to another wall or surface. Some people don’t like the “stick” but for a fan of wall jumping that I am, I think it really helps to be accurate. Once you have the controls mastered, you can really pinpoint jumps, hovers, and landings. Just as in Mario 64, the movements feel extremely fluid. The only exception is swimming, which isn’t as simple as Mario 64. Once you’re in the water you press B to dive and swim fast downwards, and press A to bring you to the surface or swim upwards. You can’t really swim straight fast. You’re forced to alternate pressing A and B which makes you swim in a wavy motion, which becomes frustrating when you’re trying to get that lingering coin that’s just right in front of you.
I didn’t think I would like FLUDD as much as I do, but when I found myself in levels without it, I wished many times I had my little water spraying friend along for assistance. It has three main purposes: to clean up graffiti and paint, to disable and/or defeat enemies, and to transport Mario. Getting used to operating FLUDD in different situations takes some time to perfect, but once you’re through the first 10-15 Shines, you’ll be switching modes, and nozzles on the fly. All of the nozzles are very balanced, and due to the way the levels and game is designed you really can’t cheat. Overall though, you’ll be using the main squirt-hover nozzle the most. Personally, the propeller was my favorite (and unfortunately not utilized much in the game), and if there’s water and I have access to the propeller, I’m scooting all over levels. Not because I need to, but because it’s a hell of a good time. Actually all of the nozzles just open up more possibilities of exploration, which a game like Super Mario Sunshine invites you to do.
Super Mario Sunshine’s gameplay is comprised of the main hub objectives, main levels, and then within those levels there are sublevels, and the new infamous Warp-Mini Game levels. The environments you get to play in are what I would consider extreme playgrounds. The level design is right on par with what only the extraordinary minds of Nintendo can create. Every time a new world opened, my mouth watered at the possibilities of what I could do in these arenas of fun. Since the difficulty of Super Mario Sunshine increases very quickly, the levels and objectives also get trickier and more insane. The things that you have to do to nab Shines will excite and frustrate you a the same time, but I had fun trying to figure out all of the Shines, no matter how twisted and tough the levels became.
Even though there are 11 Shines per main level, the environments change enough dynamically or offer separate gameplay elements that eradicate level repeat boredom even more than Mario 64 did. Also, with the addition of the warp levels, there’s more than enough variation of gameplay. I know a lot of people that hate the warp levels, but I actually look forward to them. I’d love it if Nintendo made a whole separate game of these levels in the vein of the VR missions in Metal Gear Solid. They can be a total bitch, and they will make you tear your hair out, but they are one of my favorite parts of the game. I could honestly play through hundreds of these levels. One gripe of the level design is the amount of levels that require you to elevate yourself to great heights. For example there are a couple shines that are on top of a hill, cliff, or some sort of tall platform, which require nimble and intricate jump work, or balancing just to get anywhere near where you’re supposed to go. One fall, and you have to start all the way from scratch. When it takes you a couple minutes just to get to an area, it becomes a chore when you repeatedly get knocked off. Granted that’s part of what a platformer is, but there’s just an abundance of it.
Contrary to popular belief, I think, taken as a whole, Super Mario Sunshine is visually stunning. Sure, there are some graphical shortcomings like frame rate, collision detection, and shoddy textures, but what makes Super Mario Sunshine so eye-poppingly tasty wipes the negatives goodbye. I think the first thing that blows people’s minds about SMS is the water and other liquids, which is a good thing considering that it’s one of the main elements and facets of the game. Whether it’s just sitting there or if you’re spraying or hovering with it, it just looks absolutely gorgeous. The levels themselves are extremely detailed down to simple things like flowers, grass, birds, and fish. Any skeptics just need to take two seconds and look around Mare Bay or Sirena Beach and bask in the beauty.
Ever since the platformer went 3D, every company has had a heck of a time getting the camera perfect. Even Nintendo themselves have had some problems with Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda. Super Mario Sunshine is no different. The camera doesn’t have the fluidity that Lakitu allowed in Mario 64, but Lakitu isn’t in Super Mario Sunshine. He’s dead and lying in some gutter for all we know, and the camera work is now up to the gamer. You will need to manually adjust the camera with the C-stick quite a bit to get the perfect viewing angle. With the GameCube controller, I think it’s fairly easy to do, and feels natural. So far, there have only been a couple times where I couldn’t see something exactly how I wanted to, but it’s minimal.
As I’ve said from moment one with Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo would be just plain stupid to not make an official soundtrack recording of all the sounds and music from this game. You’ll hear quite a few remixed favorites, and plenty of new songs that you’ll soon be humming. In particular, the a cappella Mario Bros. Theme is not only well done, but in my case actually helps on timing jumps or moves. Most of the in-game sound effects are clean and crisp, and with a surround sound setup, they offer audio clues on where enemies or Shines are in a level. The character voices are the only sore spot in the sound department. Mario has no real speech, and the only characters that do talk are often muffled by the background music or are just plain boring. Peach in particular sounds like she’s ten years old. I like the fact Nintendo is still using Leslie Swan for Peach’s voice, but a little compression and some audio effects would have done wonders for her, and others in Super Mario Sunshine. Most people you talk to in levels just have the usual gibberish mumble speech. I don’t understand why Nintendo can’t fork over some money for some really good voice acting. The only interesting voice in the game is the rather feminine announcer in the Dolphic Island commercial. Whatever the hell “Kanenneamanniipooopoooo” means I don’t know, but it makes me roll in laughter every time.
Super Mario Sunshine’s difficulty increases dramatically when you get into the meat of the game. I wouldn’t go as far to say the game is too difficult, but there are Shines that are extremely challenging and will drive you mad. I love my WaveBird dearly, but its cordless freedom has made it very easy to pitch across the room like a fastball during fits of anger. These levels can be so brain melting and frustrating that I’ve often screamed many unmentionables about specific key Nintendo development staff that cannot be repeated (especially on this site). But when you finally acquire one of these difficult Shines, you will feel like you accomplished a feat that only Jesus himself could. Honestly, I think Mario fans will be happy. However, newcomers to the series will be frustrated, and they’ll need to practice certain levels repeatedly. It’s time to put your big plumber pants on.
In a world where we can finish games without batting an eyelash, I welcome Super Mario Sunshine with open arms. It took me well over 40 hours to get to the final stage and boss, and I still have 50 more Shines to go to complete the game. Ironically it took me 1 week to beat Super Mario 64, and it took me 1 week to beat Super Mario Sunshine. You can actually beat SMS with a little more than 50 Shines, but only people with some real guts and game stamina will go for and complete it with the full 120. I did it with Mario 64, and I can’t wait to do it again. I have no idea how many hours the last 50 will take me, but I can see myself playing this game off-and-on until late fall. Sure I’m a little depressed the initial game is over, but there’s still a heap of Mario goodness to be had.
Mario titles themselves are held in different regard than an average-Joe game, and respectfully so. Since almost every Mario game is ground breaking in some way, and some have even revolutionized gaming, everyone demands perfection on a god-like scale. We have so many expectations of the “new Mario title” that we become hyper-critical of ever single intricacy of the latest game. I believe Super Mario Sunshine to be one of the best, if not thee best Mario title I have ever played. It’s exactly what I wanted as a Mario fan, and as a Nintendo gamer. I can’t wait to go back and play more, and then replay the US version next month. Sunshine is one of the most fun times I have ever had playing a video game. For as many personal expectations I’ve had for this game, I am more than thrilled with what Nintendo delivered. I just only hope that we don’t have to wait 6 more years for the next one.