So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, I’ve made March “Mario Month” and am spending each Wednesday talking about everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber.
Released: 18 September 2020
Originally Released: 19 July 2002
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Also Available For: Nintendo GameCube
After the success of Super Mario 64 (ibid, 1996), a sequel had been in development for several years; however, despite a title apparently in line to be released in the early days of the Nintendo GameCube’s release, Nintendo opted to focus on Mario’s brother, Luigi, for the GameCube’s launch. Beginning life as a tech demo tentatively titled Super Mario 128, Super Mario Sunshine was retooled to both expand upon the mechanics and gameplay of its predecessor and to have Mario utilise a water pump as both a weapon and to navigate his environment. Upon release, the game garnered widespread critical acclaim for its presentation, music, and gameplay, though some did criticise the game’s camera and more frustrating moments. For my part, I had been attempting to buy a copy of the game for many years, having only found it to be extortionately expensive for such an old title, so I was delighted when the title was included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Nintendo, 2020) for the Nintendo Switch, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.
Mario arrives at Isle Delfino for a vacation with Princess Peach, her long-time steward Toadsworth, and several other Toads. However, upon arrival, they find that the once-pristine island has been polluted and plastered with graffiti and Mario, as the prime suspect, is charged with cleaning up the graffiti, recovering the missing Shine Sprites, and uncovering the mystery of his shadowy doppelgänger.
Like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine is a 3D action/platformer. However, while Super Mario 64 had you leaping through magical paintings inside of Princess Peach’s castle, Mario finds himself jumping and hopping around the tropical island resort of Isle Delfino and its surrounding areas. While, at first, it seems as though Mario retains all of his abilities from Super Mario 64, this isn’t actually the case; Mario can still run, jump, double-, and triple-jump, wall jump, and perform a sideways jump to reach higher areas but he can no longer duck, crawl, long jump, or perform a backwards somersault. This is massively problematic coming into this game right after playing Super Mario 64 as you don’t realise how helpful those abilities are until they’re missing.
Also, Mario can no longer punch or kick enemies. He can still perform a running dive (and can now use this to slide away like a rocket if he dives onto wet ground) and a ground pound, which is useful, but his primary mode of attack and manoeuvring is to utilise Professor E. Gadd’s Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device (“F.L.U.D.D.”), a water-blasting jetpack, of sorts, that not only allows Mario to clean up toxic waste, sludge, and graffiti but also to blast at enemies to stun them or topple them over and hover short distances. Mario gains a slight amount of height the longer you hold the jump button to help him reach higher areas but it’s an awkward and cumbersome system, one that makes platforming and jumping far more frustrating than it needs to be as Mario tends to spiral off like a madman, spewing water everywhere, or fall just short or reaching far away (or high up) platforms thanks to F.L.U.D.D.’s limited tank and the game’s bothersome controls.
Since Isle Delfino has been polluted and graffitied by “Shadow Mario”, and the population holds Mario himself responsible, you’ll be spending a lot of your time spraying your environment with water. Entering any of the many (many) bodies of water allows Mario to not only swim and dive but also refill F.L.U.D.D. Even when F.L.U.D.D. is full, though, you can’t just spray until the tank is empty; instead, your water will sputter out after a short time whenever you try to spray stuff for a long time. If you get muck on you, you can wash it off in water or by wriggling the control stick, which can also double as a whirlwind-like jump that I, honestly, found little use for.
As in Super Mario 64, Mario has a health meter, this time measured by a glowing sun. While health can be replenished by collecting Yellow Coins, you’ll no longer instantly regain health by entering water, though you can keep yourself from drowning by collecting Coins and sucking in air bubbles. Also, while you’ll still find Red and Blue Coins in the game’s various stages, these won’t refill your health, though Mario is far less likely to plummet to his doom this time around since there is always a massive body of water to break his fall. Rather than being confined to a castle, Mario has the run of Isle Delfino, a bright and lively seaside port town that is populated by Piantas (goofy little characters who offer vague hints and task you with bringing them fruit) and a few of Peach’s Toads. Still, the general premise is the same; explore a hub world and enter into one of the game’s eight stages, seven of which featuring eight missions (known as “Episodes”) that allow Mario to recover one of Isle Delfino’s 120 Shine Sprites.
Mario can, again, also find Shines in the hub world and by collecting 100 Coins in each of the stages (and easily keep track of any missing Shines using the map/totals screen) but, unlike in Super Mario 64, each Shine can only be obtained in its corresponding Episode (the Red Coins, for example, don’t appear in every Episode) and you’re still unceremoniously spat out of the current stage every time you collect a Shine (even a 100 Coin Shine), all of which means that, while each stage changes in various ways from Episode to Episode, there’s a lot less freedom and choice to how you recover the Shines. To recover the Shines, you’ll be tasked with performing such familiar tasks as defeating bosses, collecting eight Red Coins, or racing against another character. Each Episode also has you chasing after Shadow Mario, spraying him as you go until he yields a Shine, while some have you collecting another eight Red Coins in a startling example of laziness on the developers’ part. Other times, you’ll be running around in circles desperately trying to figure out what you need to do; each Episode opens with a short cutscene to help guide you in how to obtain its Shine but a lot of the time it’s very difficult to figure out what you need to do. Other times, you’ll be racing or collecting Red Coins against a time limit, returning to previous stages with new upgrades and abilities to get missing Shines or be tasked with performing needlessly difficult tasks, such as rolling watermelons to a pier or surfing on a Blooper without touching anything as you’ll have to start all over again or lose a life, respectively!
While the game is much prettier and far more aesthetically pleasing than Super Mario 64, the same blocky visuals make an unwelcome return in the game’s many obstacle course stages; these hidden areas are found in each stage and see Shadow Mario steal away F.L.U.D.D., leaving you to run and jump across various moving, rotating, and temporary platforms without the aid of your water jet or Mario’s more useful jumping skills from the previous game. Generally, you can find at least one, if not two, 1-Up Mushrooms in these secret stages and you are going to need them as, while the game’s camera allows for full 360 degree control and is much improved over the last game’s camera, it’s still sometimes painfully difficult to get a decent angle, to say nothing of Mario’s continued slipperiness and instability (seriously, it’s like he doesn’t even try to stay on or hang from ledges!) Add to that the fact that you’ll have to frantically run around long rotating platforms, try not to slide off of cog-like blocks, and be reliant on Piantas throwing you to far away or high up platforms in these stages and it all amounts to the game’s most frustrating moments by far.
While Isle Delfino is a much livelier and visually interesting environment, with lots to see, do, and find compared to Peach’s Castle, the variety in the game’s stages leaves a lot to be desired. It sounds stupid but the game really does rely way too much on F.L.U.D.D. and its tropical island theme; this means that every stage is full of water and such clichés as beach fronts, theme parks, and ports. While it’s nice that you’re far less likely to fall down a bottomless pit and that you can see the other stages way off in the distance, it got pretty tiresome and boring quite quickly as all of the game’s stages felt far too visually similar. Super Mario 64 was full of stage variety; one minute you’d be exploring sunken depths or sliding about in an ice and snow world, the next you’d be flying through the clouds or exploring a gas-filled maze. While some Episodes in Super Mario Sunshine inject some variety, with a haunted hotel being the focus for most of Sirena Beach and Pianta Village featuring a distinct (if frustrating) cage maze beneath it, I never got the same feeling of diversity while playing through the game and, when it did try something new, it was often frustrating shit like clambering up temporary platforms, trying to not slide off of moving and twisting fairground rides, or shooting yourself into the air using spontaneous sandscastles.
Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one thing Super Mario Sunshine has going for it, it’s its bright, colourful, and attractive graphics and presentation. In keeping with the tropical theme of the game, Mario is wearing a short-sleeved shirt and will not only doze off when left idle but also wipe sweat from his brow when in the shade. He, and all of the game’s characters, also have a plastic, action figure-like quality to them and are far more expressive thanks to the game’s greater processing power. While I grew tired of the tropical theme pretty quickly, the developers definitely went all-in with it; the water effects are amazing, with waves rippling, rising, and falling in the many instances of sea, and the lighting effects really make it feel as though you’re caught in the unrelenting heat of tropical sunshine.
Each of the game’s worlds, and the hub world, are populated by Pinatas, all of whom have funny little reactions to being squirted or jumping on and offer vague hints to your goal for that Episode, which really helps to make the place feel alive compared to Peach’s Castle, which was basically deserted. Though each stage doesn’t really deviate from the overall tropical theme, there are some distinctions to help them stand out; you’ll be traversing ropes and running up a hill in Bianco Hills, fly on the back of a stone bird through the skies of Gelato Beach, and dive into the polluted depths of Noki Bay, with different Episodes offering slightly different variations on each stage in an attempt to spice things up. Things don’t really become visually different until you reach the eighth and final stage, Corona Mountain, which is a volcano full of instant death spikes and lava and awkward boat steering sections.
The game relates its incredibly basic story with beautiful, fully voiced cutscenes. While Mario still only communicates through pantomime and characters use the tried-and-tested speech bubbles outside of the cutscenes, it’s refreshing to see Mario embracing full motion cutscenes for a change. As for its soundtrack, long-time series composer Koji Kondo and Shinobu Tanaka largely eschew the traditional Mario themes for an appropriately tropical theme which, while fitting for the game’s aesthetic, wasn’t quite as memorable to me as Super Mario 64’s music.
Enemies and Bosses:
Despite taking place in an entirely new environment, Super Mario Sunshine sees the return of a number of Mario’s traditional enemies, though many have undergone a slight aesthetic change to better fit in with their tropical locations. This means you’ll be coming across Bob-ombs, Boos, Bullet Bills, and Piranha Plants but you won’t just be able to smack them or jump on the to take them out this time. Instead, you generally must make use of F.L.U.D.D. to clean them off, whittle them down, expose them, or stun them to toss them at other enemies. You’ll also come across a number of new enemies as you explore Isle Delfino’s sun-drenched locations, many of which are rather troublesome to take care of: Chain Chomplets must be doused with water until they cool off and then ricocheted into water to dispose of them; Cataquacks will fling you into the air when you get near and must be stunned with water so you can butt stomp them; and the Electrokoopas will throw their electrifying shell at you and are only vulnerable for a short time. By far one of the worst obstacles, though, are the swirling clouds that appear in various Episodes; these will dart at you and are very difficult to dodge, meaning you’ll probably be knocked out of the air mid-jump or sent plummeting off a high ledge to have to climb all the way back up again.
Super Mario Sunshine features far more bosses than its predecessor; some of these are more like mini bosses, such as the aforementioned chases against Shadow Mario, the Piranha Plants made of sludge that need water sprayed into their mouths until they are defeated in order to open up new areas, and the Monty Moles who incessantly shoot Bob-ombs and Bullet Bills at you from cannons. Twice in the game you’ll have to contend with Petey Piranha and Glooper Blooper in Bianco Hills and Rico Harbour, respectively. The first time you battle Petey, it’s in an enclosed area and he shoots gunk at you that spawns enemies or headbutts you if you get too close. The second time, he’s flying around Biano Hills and must be shot out of the sky but, in both battles, you must frantically squirt water into his mouth to make him reel over and vulnerable to a ground pound. Glooper Blooper, meanwhile, sits there spitting ink at you and trying to squash you with its tentacles; you must ground pound all (or most) of his tentacles to give yourself enough time to pull out the cork stuck in his mouth and send him flying away (though you can make this easier by pulling off his tentacles in the same way).
As in Super Mario 64, you’ll also battle Wiggler and King Boo; this time around, Wiggler is a far more troublesome foe as he stomps around Gelato Beach in random patterns and can only be toppled over by causing sandcastles to spring up beneath his feet, leaving him open for a ground pound or three. King Boo is also far more formidable; this time, you have to content with three spinning rings and a roulette, which will see enemies, Coins, and fruit tossed into the arena. The only way to damage this King Boo is to grab a spicy red pepper, toss it at him, and then toss a different fruit at him three times, which isn’t immediately obvious when you first drop into the arena.
Two of the game’s more unique, if frustrating and troublesome, bosses, for me, were Sirena Beach’s Phantamanta and Noki Bay’s Eely-Mouth. The Phantamanta is little more than a shadow that glides over the sandy beaches and resort leaving icky sludge in its wake; spraying it with water is the key to defeating it but, every time you do, it splits into smaller and smaller parts which, combined with the life-sapping sludge, can make this a tricky battle. Eely-Mouth is a giant eel fought in the dark depths of Noki Bay; Mario dons a diver’s suit for this battle, which means you are constantly fighting with the controls as Mario bops and hovers and darts all over the place seemingly at random, slowly drowning as time passing, and you’re desperately left trying to clean the eel’s foul, rotten teeth with F.L.U.D.D. to unearth a golden tooth that is your true goal without drowning or being eaten up.
Though a prominent force throughout the game, you never actually battle Shadow Mario in a boss battle; after being revealed to be Bowser Jr in disguise, you take on a giant mechanical version of Bowser in Pinna Park. In this battle, you’re forced into a rollercoaster and must shoot rockets at Mecha Bowser while also blasting Bullet Bills out of the sky. While this is good practice for a particularly annoying timed Shine mission that has you shooting balloons with just as little control, the rollercoaster’s constant speed and spinning means getting a clear shot is easier said than done and that’s without factoring in Mecha Bowser’s fire breath.
After finally getting through the treacherous Coronoa Mountain, you’ll go head-to-head with Bowser once more; this time, he’s grown to giant size and is sitting inside of a jacuzzi tub full of caustic water. Bowser tries to fry you with his fire breath and burn you with the acid-like sludge while Bowser Jr shoots homing Bullet Bills at you. The only way to win this battle is to use F.L.U.D.D.’s rocket nozzle to perform five rocket-powered ground pounds at the five spokes of the arena. However, while this eventually leads to Bowser’s defeat, it causes the already-unstable arena to further crumble and the two dragon-turtle’s attacks to increase in speed. Still, probably the hardest thing about this boss battle is not slipping or tumbling from the arena and to your death.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Although Mario can still collect 1-Up Mushrooms for extra lives, Yellow Coins for health, and both Red and Blue Coins for Shines, there are no invincibility power-ups to be found this time around and, after swapping flowers and capes for special caps in Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine primarily revolves around you making good use of F.L.U.D.D. to traverse the game’s various tropical environments. Though versatile, F.L.U.D.D. is largely more of a pain in the ass than an asset thanks to some awkward controls and mechanics at times. However, you can acquire a couple of additional nozzles to make things a bit easier; the rocket nozzle allows you to charge up and release a burst of water to go flying high into the sky and the turbo nozzle allows you to blast away across both land and water, both of which are incredibly useful for reaching new areas and out of reach or temporary Blue Coins.
After being relegated to an after-game cameo in Super Mario 64, clearing the fourth Episode of Pinna Park will see Yoshi eggs appear in each of Super Mario Sunshine’s stages (with the exception of Corona Mountain) and the hub world. If you bring the egg the fruit it asks for, it will hatch and you’ll finally be able to ride either a pink, orange, or purple Yoshi! Yoshi can eat up fruits and certain enemies with his long tongue, use his flutter jump to reach platforms, and each Yoshi can create goopy platforms of a different nature (ascending, stationary, and forward-moving, respectively). As great as it is to actually be able to ride on Yoshi, though, there are some drawbacks; the first is that you can’t ride the traditional green Yoshi, then there’s the fact that he can’t spit fireballs and his supply of fruit drains over time, and, of course, the glaring flaw that your Yoshi will explode when it comes into contact with water, which is particularly frustrating when trying to reach a secret Shine in Delfino Plaza.
Similar to how Mario’s brother was left with a purely solo adventure for his GameCube outing, this is once again a solo adventure for Mario; even after clearing the game, you can’t unlock any additional characters to play as, which is a real shame considering we missed out on playing as Luigi in Super Mario 64. If you talk to the various Pinatas in the game’s Episodes after collecting enough Shines, they’ll eventually gift you a pair of sunglasses that slightly darken the game’s presentation. After clearing the game for the first time, you can pair these with a super snazzy Hawaiian shirt (though neither of these can be worn outside of the Episode you are playing, unfortunately). Clearing the game once also allows you to return to the Delfino Airstrip to collect eight Red Coins for another Shine. While that’s slightly more than in Super Mario 64, it’s still a bit disappointing; once again, you don’t need all 120 Shines to clear the game but having them all slightly changes the ending you get. However, obtaining them all is no mean feat; I finished the game with 90 Shines, which was all eight stage-based Shines, all 100 Coin Shines, and a handful found around the hub world but, to get them all, you’re going to need to find all of those Blue Coins and secret stages, which can be needlessly frustrating.
I was super excited to finally play Super Mario Sunshine; I missed out on it back when I was playing the GameCube on the regular and have been putting off getting it for ages (literally years). The bright, colourful graphics and my fond memories of Super Mario 64 really appealed to me and fuelled my desire to finally get my hands on this game. Yet, despite a promising start, I was left disappointed. There’s a lot to see and do and to like; the graphics are gorgeous, the F.L.U.D.D. concept is interesting (if flawed), and it’s great to be able to ride Yoshi again but there are so many frustrating elements to the game that really let it down. There’s very little stage variety, too many missions per stage (with too many repeating, such as the Red Coin challenges), too much water for my liking (no matter how fitting it is for the game’s setting), and just far too many instances where you slip or fall from platforms, ledges, or ceilings or fail to make jumps because of an awkward camera angle or Mario just deciding to miss or fall. The secret obstacle course stages are an absolute ball ache and, just as the game seems to be getting interesting, it’s over in uncharacteristically anticlimactic fashion, leaving me feeling disheartened and drained rather than encouraged to hunt down the last few Shines.
Could Be Better
What are your thoughts on Super Mario Sunshine? Did you play it on the GameCube back in the day or, like me, did you first experience it on the Nintendo Switch? What did you think to F.L.U.D.D. and the game’s tropical island setting? Were you also frustrated by the controls, mechanics, and over-reliance on the setting or did you, perhaps, enjoy the different direction the game took and the challenge it offered? Were you glad to be riding Yoshi again and did you manage to find all 120 Shines? What other setting would you like to see Mario placed into? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and pop back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Mario Month!
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