Rick dons his flame-retardant suit in order to give you his FULL review of Super Mario Sunshine.
Super Mario Sunshine is a game that any Nintendo fan has been waiting six years to play, and while it’s not the same achievement in video game history as Super Mario 64 was, it is certainly more fun. However, it’s not a perfect game, and is bound to be a bit disappointing to some, especially to those that just don’t want to like it. The game isn’t going to go out of its way to endear itself to PS2 or Xbox fans with its bright colors and cartoon characters. But to anyone that can see past those “flaws”, they’re going to find a title with the utmost in great Miyamoto-style gameplay, clever and challenging puzzles, and 40+ hours of it. This is certainly not a six-hour “suck fest” like his brother’s last adventure.
The game has some of the best graphics seen on the year-old console. Yes, there are some rather lackluster textures, and the game isn’t as high-poly as most would expect, but it’s certainly not N64-esque. The use of FMV for the cut-scenes was unexpected, and rather unwelcome. There didn’t appear to be much that the in-game engine couldn’t have done that the FMV could (except take up space, maybe), especially considering the clear artifacting present.
However, the majority of the game has some rather lavish visuals, including the mesmerizing water (which blurs objects below it), and the lovely heat waves in some of the hotter levels. The muck that splatters the levels also coats Mario as he explores, quite a nice effect. Water and mud splashes as he runs through them, lens flare abounds, and the draw distance…well, when you can see the other levels from some places in the game, you’ll start to understand just how far the draw distance is. There is also some slowdown in rather odd places, places you wouldn’t expect to see slowdown. It happens when Mario is closed in and there is hardly anything else visible on the screen. Luckily, it doesn’t impact your ability to play, and never causes death. Overall, Sunshine is spectacular to look at, regardless of any of these issues.
Audibly, the game is a real treat. The calypso beat is never exhausting, and the many variations on classic themes are like gifts to Mario fans. The pipe organ version of the Mario theme sets your mind at ease, right before you rip your hair out during one of the “void” puzzle sequences. And of course, the underworld theme returns as Mario explores the pipes underneath the town. There are some new musical themes as well, certain to become instant classics. Mario makes his trademark exclamations and punctuates every jump with some sort of utterance. Really, the only downside is the unfortunate voice acting in the FMV sequences. Peach is much too high-pitched, bordering on whiny, Mario doesn’t speak at all (that can be heard, anyway), and FLUDD is way too slow and deliberate. These were all choices made to give the characters more … well, character, but it largely backfired. Thank goodness that the FMV clips are rare.
Of course, the fabulous gameplay takes center stage. The water pump (affectionately named “FLUDD”) could have easily been turned into a massive “clean-up” mission, but it’s used just enough to spice up what would have been a basic platformer. The hover function gives gamers a bit of a safety net for some of the trickier jumps, but the game has been carefully designed to not allow overuse to ruin the challenge. The mini-games in some levels are just plain fun, like the squid racing, or the timed challenges. Red Coin hunts are back, in addition to the newer Blue Coins (which can be traded in for Shines), and the sheer number of Shines to be found will certainly keep you busy. The final boss can be defeated as soon as you capture “Water Mario” on each level, which is likely doable in about 40 hours. Gathering all 120 Shines will probably keep you busy for another 20 hours or more.
The extra gameplay after beating the villain is great, because quite frankly, the ending is quite a letdown. Considering how downright difficult the game can be, the end battle was very easy, and the ending was unsatisfying. And to make sure you have your expectations set appropriately, despite what you might have heard, Luigi is nowhere to be seen, even after collecting every Shine. It’s an unfortunate continuation of the trend started with Mario 64, where the ending wasn’t what gamers wanted. At least Mario 64’s end battle was satisfying … here it is simply a means to see the final FMV.
Since the game will be compared endlessly to its predecessor, it should be noted that while Sunshine does make great strides in puzzle design in challenge, it’s more of an evolution of what Mario 64 started, than a genuine leap. Most of the control elements are borrowed from the previous title, but Miyamoto and his team take those moves and apply them to some quite ingenious puzzles. Sunshine is certainly more than a sequel, and is in almost every way better than Mario 64 … almost, due to the rather troublesome camera. While the camera is indeed improved over Mario’s last 3D adventure, it’s also more likely to get stuck or give you a false perspective than it would before. Much of that is due to the more ambitious design of the levels; the camera simply catches on objects due to the quarters you are forced to navigate in. Most of the time, a tap of the C-Stick will pull the camera away or move it around to give you a better vantage point, but occasionally the game will decide that it knows better. The player simply needs to learn to use Mario’s shadow to navigate, a rather helpful consideration in the face of a less than perfect camera.
Finally, the game is most definitely not bug-free. Pinna Park in particular has some glaring geometry holes that will frustrate those that find them, and at least one programming error left Mario hanging in space with resetting the console as the only solution. Other bugs have been noted as well, and this is all indicative of a game forced to make its date. Considering how complex today’s games are getting, bugs are to be expected, and while falling through a surface can be frustrating, being forced to reset the machine in a game already challenging the player is cruel.
Still, the outstanding puzzle design and tremendous challenge is what is going to make this game a huge hit, despite any of its flaws. Successfully tackling a puzzle without your water pack is a great thrill, especially when they seem so impossible at first. Every Shine is a real reward, making the effort worthwhile. Completing Super Mario Sunshine is certainly worth the money, and definitely worth the 60+ hours it will take to find all of those Shines. Let’s just hope that it won’t be another six years of waiting for the next one.