As those who have read my Viewtiful Joe review will know, lately I have been clearing some games out of my GameCube backlog. This ended up bringing me to a nostalgic favorite, Super Mario Sunshine. It was not in my backlog per se, as I had already beaten it. However, it was the only 3-D game in the entire Mario series that I had yet to complete 100%, and I intended for that to change. With all that said, it is sometimes considered the non-spinoff Mario game that leans closest to "ehh". Is it as great as I remember it, or is it more nostalgia gone to waste like Sonic Heroes? Time to find out!
In Super Mario Sunshine, Mario, Princess Peach and a few of her toadstool servants are going on vacation to the "sun-drenched tropical paradise of Isle Delfino." The plane comes to a screeching hault at the airstrip in order to avoid a strange goop covering the landing pad. While exploring the airstrip looking for help, Mario comes across the cleaning robot FLUDD (Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device - yes, that is the official acronym), which Mario uses to clean the sludge off of the airstrip. Upon doing so, he is confronted by local police and is put on trial for spreading paintlike sludge over the island (which has apparently caused the Shine Sprites, the guardians of Isle Delfino, to run away, which has, in turn, caused the island to get darker), with his sentence being to clean up the island. We quickly find out that the one who did this is an imposter named "Shadow Mario", and thus begins an epic adventure that inevitably features the capture of Princess Peach yet again. Oops, did I just give a spoiler?
Gameplay-wise, Sunshine uses the template that 64 established: you are put in an open-ended stage and given missions to complete. Completing one of said missions allows you to receive one of the featured macguffins (Shine Sprites this time around, rather than Stars), of which you will need a certain amount to complete the game. However, Super Mario Sunshine adds a new gimmick to this formula: your trusty water-shooting backpack, FLUDD. FLUDD has several nozzles, used for different purposes. The spraying nozzle is the default nozzle, and you will have it with you at all times. It does just what you think it would do: it sprays water at things. You will be required to use this ability to clean up the toxic sludge that Shadow Mario has left in the various worlds, but it can also be used to stun enemies and sometimes even interact with the environment. Another nozzle (which you will start out with, but can be traded in for other nozzles) is the hover nozzle, which you can press the "X" button to switch to. It functions as sort of a water-shooting jetpack lite, allowing you to traverse the world more easily. There are two more nozzles that you can switch the hover nozzle out for: the rocket nozzle, which propels to extreme hights, and the turbo nozzle, which finally allows Mario to run as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog - it's about freaking time. This may sound like a stupid gimmick, but it's actually pretty unique and interesting. You will be putting the spraying and hover nozzles to great use throughout the game, and the rocket and turbo nozzles have their own missions and secrets associated with them and are pretty fun to use. Also, what other game lets you do so much with just water? I mean, really?
Sunshine's worlds feature less of a focus on conventional platforming than its predecessor, Super Mario 64, and what conventional platforming there is is usually made easier thanks to the hover nozzle. In return, however, Sunshine's levels are far bigger and more open-ended than anything that 64 had to offer. The game also reintroduces blue coins as separate collectible items from normal coins. There are far less of them, and ten of them can be traded at a certain store for Shine Sprites. Thirty blue coins are hidden in each area, making exploration a lot more rewarding. Of course, a Mario game without difficult platforming might as well not be a Mario game at all, which is why some missions will require you to visit "secret" levels. These secret levels feature platforming that is reminiscent of the classic Mario games (but in 3-D) yet remain very unique and even creative. Also, upon entering secret levels, FLUDD is taken away from you, making for a very difficult and fun platforming experience. These secret levels may also be revisited later on (with FLUDD) to collect red coins for an extra Shine Sprite.
Sunshine also features fewer worlds than 64 - seven as opposed to 64's fifteen. However, it again makes up for this in several ways. While it doesn't have as great of a variety of levels, its locales do remain very diverse while still sticking to the theme of a tropical resort island. Several aspects of the levels will change depending on which mission you are playing, including what NPC's you will see as well as what they say, making the levels feel more alive than ever. Speaking of missions, Sunshine features much greater variety in mission structure than Super Mario 64, and the areas feature more missions overall. Besides missions requiring you to chase down Shadow Mario, every mission asks you to do something different. Even missions requiring you to hunt down eight red coins tend to have a different, interesting spin put on them. The game also features several bosses, and while none of them are qute difficult, they are actually very creative and unique as well as a LOT of fun to battle. Even aside from all this, the levels offer a lot more to do overall. There is the aforementioned blue coin hunting, of course, but there are also two hidden Shine Sprites to get in each world, and, like in 64, you can get one last Shine Sprite by collecting 100 normal coins. Many of these attributes extends to the game's featured hub world, Delfino Plaza, which changes as you continue through the game and collect more Shine Sprites and contains many more secrets than Princess Peach's Castle in 64. Overall, I found it to be a far more engaging hub world.
There are two more positive aspects to the game that I feel deserve mentioning. The first is the graphics. The graphics were absolutely amazing at the time, and despite the game being nearly ten years old, it's actually still visually appealing if not technically stunning. The environments are all as bright and colorful as you would expect, and the lighting effects are great. Some of the textures are blurry, but it still looks really good overall. Finally, this was 3-D Mario game that allowed you to ride Yoshi. This may not seem very big, but hey, it's still cool, and he will prove very useful in certain missions and in finding blue coins.
But although Sunshine is a great game, it does unfortunately have a couple of genuine flaws. First of all, the camera in this game is not very good. There will be times when your view will be annoyingly obstructed before the camera catches up to you, and it's not always easy to see where you need to go next. Often, trying to move it with the "C" stick or center it with the "L" button won't help much or can even make it worse. It's not quite something you would expect to see in, say, a Sonic game, but it can be an annoyance. What IS something you would expect to see in a Sonic game is the noticeable lack of polish. Don't get me wrong, the game is far from broken; you will mostly just see some minor oddities. However, there were some disconcertingly frequent annoyances that almost made me wonder if SEGA had developed the game, including three collision detection issues I experienced that came right out of no where and caused me to go through an otherwise solid object. Another example of this lack of polish is a segment toward the end of the game where you have to navigate a boat across a pool of lava that will sink if it hits an object. The method of controlling the boat is that you spray over the side of the direction you want to go in, but there were times when the sides you would need to spray over would randomly invert, making an already difficult area downright frustrating and cheap. Ultimately, I found this issue annoying enough to lower the score down a bit from the 9/10 I initially wanted to give it. Really, Nintendo, I expect more from you.
While it feels more rushed and unpolished than what Nintendo usually puts out, Super Mario Sunshine is still a great game, featuring a neat gimmick, great variety in mission structure, and a lot to do overall. It's sometimes considered to be the weakest 3-D entry in the series, but while 64 is probably more polished, from a gameplay perspective Sunshine does improve on several aspects of 64. If you own a Wii or GameCube and you're a fan of platformers, this is not a game that you should pass up.
My Scoring System:
10 - Amazing game. Flaws are minor at best. If you don't own it, you should be ashamed of yourself. (Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
9(.5) - Fantastic game. Perhaps a couple of notable annoyances, but still a must-have. (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep)
8(.5) - Very good game. Has a few flaws, but you won't be disappointed with your purchase. (Klonoa)
7(.5) - Pretty good game that either has several problems or is just too short for its price. Enjoyable to play, but you may want to wait for the price to drop a bit before picking it up. (Rayman 3D)
6(.5) - Passable game. Has its strengths, but unless you're a fan of the series or genre, you're probably better off not bothering. (Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2)
5(.5) - Mediocre game. Not a bad experience, but it's too flawed to be much fun. A bargain bin purchase at best, and only if you're a fan of the series. (Mega Man X7)
3 or 4(.5) - Bad game. A mostly negative experience, and whatever it does right fails to save it overall. Even if you're a fan, you're probably better off not playing it. (Sonic and the Secret Rings)
1 or 2(.5) - Utter garbage. An unholy abomination that we should do all in our power to avoid playing. In other words, STAY THE HECK AWAY! (Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22)
0 - ...No. Just freaking no. (Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing)