"This freeform sense of interaction with the environment helps immensely in immersing the player into the game’s sunny, tropical atmosphere, and lets the player become comfortable with Mario’s new moves, most of which involve the water pack."
Super Mario Sunshine is an interesting title in that its expectations were to become a worthy successor to what some still consider the greatest 3-dimensional platformer (and game) ever, Super Mario 64. Shigeru Miyamoto—the series’ creator—was called upon to deliver a title that packed just as much punch as its predecessor. Unfortunately, while still an incredibly fun, worthwhile experience, Super Mario Sunshine fails to provide the same magic that Super Mario 64 delivered.
Sunshine’s story involves Mario, Peach, and the latter’s servants as they vacation on a tropical resort known as Isle Delfino. Unfortunately, Mario is unable to enjoy his much-needed rest, as a dark imposter has been polluting the island, stealing its shine sprites—the artifacts that provide the island’s famous sunlight—and running amok, creating havoc amongst the island. Mario, accused for the crime, is sentenced to clean up the mess, and is given FLUDD, a back-holstered water pack that ultimately becomes essential to Mario’s new, next-generation adventure.
Much as Mario 64 relied on an over world of sorts in Princess Peach’s castle, Sunshine disposes of the linear adventure of the past titles, and instead creates a hub which connects the (few) levels in the game. This hub, in the state of a bustling plaza (complete with fruit vendors), is surrounded by water on all sides, with the various sights of the levels in the distance. The magic of this area is created by use of FLUDD, allowing Mario to do just about anything you can imagine, including riding Yoshi. This freeform sense of interaction with the environment helps immensely in immersing the player into the game’s sunny, tropical atmosphere, and lets the player become comfortable with Mario’s new moves, most of which involve the water pack.
FLUDD’s features include the standard spray nozzle, whose main purpose is mostly cleaning up the goop and defeating enemies, the hover nozzle, which allows Mario to briefly hover, extending jumps, the rocket nozzle, which propels Mario high into the air, and the turbo nozzle, which becomes a jet ski of sorts, but serves no real purpose other than providing hours of wasted time enjoying it. Instead of being a silly gimmick, FLUDD is used to near perfection in the level design, becoming a necessity in every objective and ultimately developing a reliance on its added features. Unfortunately, due to FLUDD, Mario’s long jump and punch moves are absent.
The levels are all bigger than they were in Mario 64, but that doesn’t excuse the rather poor effort put into their design. Few levels manage to create an enjoyable atmosphere as well as Delfino Plaza, though the limited feeling of exploration felt as you first encounter their features is exciting. Certain episodes bring you out of the jetpack and back into Mario’s roots—precision jumping and timing—through use of warp pipes. These stages, often referred to as ‘secret,’ are hardly hidden; in fact, they’re necessary to obtain their respective shines, as well as advance through the episodes. The moments found in these secret stages are some of the best of Super Mario Sunshine, and leave the player with an immense feeling of satisfaction upon their completion. Unfortunately, the last 40 or so shines are all coin-based, so collecting all 120 shines ultimately feels more like a chore than an accomplishment.
Luckily, the controls are basic, mostly involving the control stick for movement, R button for FLUDD, and A button for jumping. Sometimes, however, the controls can be a nuisance, particularly during precision jumping. The camera, although controllable with the C stick, is rather annoying, often pinning Mario behind a wall or suddenly switching angles during a jump. Many deaths can be blamed on the camera, though working with its tenacity is an actual skill that must be developed if the player is intent on completing the game.
While the water pack is ingeniously crafted into the gameplay, Yoshi seems to be more of a gimmick than a gameplay element. As Super Mario World’s Yoshi was fun and useful, Sunshine’s equivalent isn’t as exciting, and hardly useful aside from obtaining a few shines. Nonetheless, his presence is welcomed, and adds a good deal more enjoyment to the title.
The graphics, especially the water effects, are worthy of next-generation status. The character models, however, are rather blocky, and seem very N64-ish, despite their (fairly) high polygon count. The draw distance is amazing, as even coins can be seen from what appears to be miles across the landscape, and all the animations are fluent along with the smooth frame rate.
While the game doesn’t rely heavily on sound effects, none of them are particularly annoying or poorly crafted. The music, especially the a capella Mario theme during the secret stages, is well tuned to its respective stages, though not as good as previous Mario melodies.
Overall, Super Mario Sunshine is a brilliant game. However, when compared to current platformers, especially Super Mario 64, Sunshine simply fails to compare. Nonetheless, any self-respecting GameCube owner would be foolish to pass it up, as Super Mario Sunshine is not bad at all, and is an incredibly well designed title, delivering, above all, pure, utter fun at its finest.
Staff review by Zack M (November 16, 2002)
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