It has been over six years since Nintendo created a true Mario game to call our own, but now the time is finally upon us. Mario is back in fine form on the GameCube, and despite a few glaring issues this is one of the best adventures starring everyone’s favorite slightly overweight plumber yet. It’s hard to compare Super Mario Sunshine to previous Super Mario games simply because it is so different from them all, with the obvious exception of Super Mario 64, but based solely on entertainment value it ranks right up there with the best of them. Over the years, the basic run-and-jump formula has barely been touched, but Sunshine introduces an entirely different spin on things with the inclusion of Mario’s new FLUDD device, which allows him to maneuver like never before.
In the same way that Sonic the Hedgehog games have transcended from 2D side-scrolling games into plot-driven “adventures”, the story of Sunshine is also an integral part of the experience, and is told through character interactions and cut-scenes galore. The game starts out with Mario, the Princess and Toadsworth (Peach’s longtime steward) kicking back in the Princess’s private jet en route to Isle Delfino, the ultimate vacation hotspot replete with the calming sound of waves gently breaking on the shore and seagulls turning lazy circles in the clear blue sky, or so the story goes. Upon arriving at Isle Delfino, the trio discovers that the entire island is covered in a sticky ooze-like substance. What’s worse is that Mario is immediately fingered as the culprit. Of course, Mario would never do such a thing, but the inhabitants of this paradise island don’t know that. So Mario is tried, found guilty, and officially charged with creating this enormous mess. Aside from just being unsightly, the mess has also interrupted the Island’s source of power: the mystical “Shines”. It’ll be up to Mario to set things right and hopefully clear his name in the process, with a little help from his friends of course.
One cool aspect about Mario games of the past, starting with Super Mario Bros 3, is the non-linear level progression systems they have adopted, and like those games, Sunshine allows you to choose from an assortment of stages at your own pace via a hub in which all the worlds can be accessed from different areas. You’ll need to visit each world eight times in order to complete that portion of the game and as you progress more worlds will become available to you. There will be seven worlds in all to explore before the always-epic final confrontation. Each level you complete will net you one “Shine”. The more Shines that you attain, the more areas will open up. Shines can also be garnered by completing mini-quest objectives, collecting ten blue-coins, or just happening across one in an improbable location.
The levels that make up the various worlds are all very unique. Some feature gameplay-styles that are not seen anywhere else in the game. There are some obvious recurring themes in the game though. For instance, some levels require that you collect eight red coins that are scattered throughout the level, some pit you into a situation where you must chase down a Mario-imposter and soak him with water, and others are old-school-style running and jumping stages that feel like something between the original Super Mario Bros and Super Monkey Ball. While the level objectives are unique from stage to stage, the fact that you need to play through the same world eight times can get tiresome.
The gameplay in Sunshine can be most closely likened to that of Super Mario 64, nearly all his moves have made the cut for his 128-bit adventure. The significant difference between the two, play control-wise, is the inclusion of Mario’s new A.I. pal, FLUDD, which is basically a water pack that different nozzles can be fitted onto. FLUDD was created by the brilliant Professor E. Gadds, the same guy who fashioned Luigi’s ghost-busting vacuum cleaner device, and with it comes the basis for Sunshine’s innovation.
With FLUDD, Mario has the ability to squirt jet streams of water, cleaning up goop and attacking enemies, or hover for short periods of time when FLUDD is in hover nozzle form. The turbo nozzle can be charged up to release an intense horizontal stream of water, propelling Mario forward at super fast speeds. And the fourth function for FLUDD is the rocket nozzle, which must also be charged up, but releases an explosion of water vertically, resulting in Mario soaring upward, followed by a trail of water vapor. The functions that you can perform with FLUDD are dependant on the nozzle attachments that are currently affixed to FLUDD, and only one alternative nozzle can be attached at a time, so you’ll need to make sure you are willing to part with the currently equipped nozzle before picking up another one. You’ll also need to keep an eye on the water pressure. Excessive use of FLUDD requires that you constantly refill the tank. Luckily, water can be found almost everywhere, so refilling the tank shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Yoshi also came along for the adventure but his role in the game is limited to a few optional shine quests and a single stage. Other than that, Yoshi is pretty much just a novelty addition whose function is almost purely optional. When Yoshi consumes fruit around the island, he will be able to spit different flavored streams of liquid; some marks on various walls only react to specifically flavored liquid. There isn’t a whole lot of incentive for riding on Yoshi, though it does prove an interesting diversion for a little while.
Visually, Super Mario Sunshine is incredibly impressive. The attention to detail is nothing short of astounding. Every drop of water looks amazingly lifelike and reflects nearby objects in real-time, including Mario’s own reflection on water that drips off of him when he is wet. The game really is a sight to behold; the graphical improvements are leaps and bounds over that of his previous outing. Being that the game largely revolves around its water-based theme, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the developers spent a lot of time making the aquatic elements look good, but the finished product defies even exaggerated expectations. The rest of the graphical elements look great too, like the ultra smooth character models and intricately creative and colorful environments. The world of Sunshine seams to breath with life and the hot and humid atmosphere in the game is stunningly believable.
Super Mario Sunshine is also up to snuff in the audio department, but shoddy voice-work does detriment the overall aural presentation. While voice-overs are more the exception than the rule in Sunshine, the instances where dialogue is audibly spoken is really very bad. I’m talking Sonic Adventure bad. Luckily, Mario’s vocabulary is limited to a few words so his good image remains untainted. Sound effects are all very appropriate and entertaining; some of them are reused sound clips from the original NES games that long-time gamers will be sure to recognize. The music is composed of catchy light-hearted tunes that are simple yet memorable. Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself humming a few bars well after you’ve turned the power off.
The biggest issue most gamers will have with Sunshine is its finicky camera system, which can often get hung up in close-quarter situations. More often than not, you’ll be able to correct camera problems by rotating or zooming in and out with the C-stick, but sometimes you’ll be forced to rely on intuition to progress. When an object is between Mario and the camera, a silhouette of Mario will show through which lets you know his relative position but does little to rectify the situation.
There is no doubt that Super Mario Sunshine is a great game, but whether it is worthy of purchasing is almost completely dependant on how much you enjoyed Super Mario 64. In other words yes, you will get your money’s worth. Sorry to say though, after waiting six full years for a true sequel to be released, a few gameplay tweaks and a graphical revamp is not enough to make up for the lapse of time between games. Nevertheless, Mario is back and I’ll take what I can get. This is one of the best games currently out for the GameCube, it’s just not as innovative as I had hoped it would be.