Super Mario Sunshine is a game I’ve played for many years. This particular game rarely needs any introduction, however, some brief history to start would be a good jumping off point for this formative review.
Super Mario Sunshine was released to the public on July 19th, 2002 for the summer holiday, fitting am I right? To critical acclaim and general praise amongst Nintendo fans, many praising it for its new take on the Mario franchise, the fans who loved it praised it as a new step into form for Mario in the 3D era of video games. There was praise for its out of the box design and completely different take on the red and blue plumber man. On the other hand, there were fans who insisted this was not the wahooing and weeheeing red and blue overall wearing plumber man they fell in love with, scoffing at his new tools. All in all, there was a mixed reaction to the game and it no doubt sowed the seeds for future titles to come. Today, most fans see it as the awkward older brother of the group, but that’s also why it’s still looked upon favorably and played to this day, even being released as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection on the Nintendo Switch. Nowadays, people play it mainly for nostalgia, to relax, or just to see how batshit insane it can be. Fortunately, I fit into all three categories.
Now that we’ve been given some background on this game, how about we jump in to see if this game holds up, and my full experience with it over the years. I dare say, let’s-a go!
This game was basically my whole childhood back when I was a wee lad at the ripe old age of 7. Once I got it, I instantly rushed home, popped it in, and booted it up. I played for many hours into the night jumping through all the levels and getting all the shine sprites.
There are many good things about Super Mario Sunshine, one of them being the whole range of movement that Mario has in this title. You have the classics like the triple jump, side somersault, and wall jump, but also now the spin jump, a wonderful tool for getting to high places and looking cool while you do it.
There’s also your trusty partner FLUDD, who has a lot of new moves to bring to the table using his different nozzles, the hover being one of the most key aspects of the game. Additionally, there is the rocket nozzle, which allows you to soar straight up into the sky whenever you want, and reach high places you normally couldn’t with your regular jumps. Lastly, the turbo nozzle allows Mario to reach incredible speeds on land and in the water. By using this you can do so many new tricks to make it across large gaps and there’s even an entire level based around it. Mario’s moveset has been extremely expanded in this game, so he has many new tricks he can do and it makes the game a lot more fun to play. The expanded move set is what makes me want to recommend this game to anyone who wants to pick it up cheap from a game store and have a blast playing through the unique levels.
Another great thing about the game is the rich atmosphere within it as there’s a lot of small details you don’t notice at first. For example, the culture of the island residents is actually the very reason for all the conflict in the game. The shine sprites that are very important to their culture go missing, setting everything into motion.
Nintendo really outdid themselves with putting as much culture and lore into the tiniest little things and I feel that most people ignore or don’t even stop to appreciate that. There’s many examples in the game, but my favorite has to be the little tidbits you get on the map screen as they have fully illustrated panels that pop up when you click on any certain location such as Pianta Village or the ruins in Noki Bay.
The hot springs in the volcano at the end of Super Mario Sunshine are also a really nice touch, and it’s even the place where you fight the final boss of the game. The fact that even a volcano can be a place where these island residents thrive shows so much about their resilience to the elements and how they’ve really dug their roots (no pun intended) into the island itself over the millennia that they have lived there for. As a whole, you don’t see many games actively try to do this as much as older games these days and I think it’s a really good thing to help build the lore and background of the universe.
Now that we’ve talked some about the good, let’s talk about the bad. First of all, the gameplay is hit or miss, but when it misses, it REALLY misses, taking a complete buttery shoe slippery nosedive deep into the unending bottomless void beneath it. As you can tell, this game also infuriates the hell out of me, especially those idiotic secret levels. The basis of these levels is that Mario has FLUDD taken away from him by the game’s main antagonist Shadow Mario and is forced to endure some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Of course, this is all without the help of his trusty backpack and for some reason, freshly buttered up shoes on his feet, you never notice how absolutely terrible Mario’s traction in this game is until you play these secret levels without FLUDD. It is the most aggravating thing you will ever have to face because Mario is slip slidin’ away at every single little chance the man gets. If you thought that different surfaces would have different traction, you’d be sadly mistaken, as literally everywhere Mario walks, be it sand, gravel, bricks, wood, or giant cubical watermelon, there is the same level of surface response as all the other ones, and it makes Mario near impossible to control in these levels. Mario and his now super greased up, buttery smooth soles with no tread whatsoever are knocking on your door and demanding to rip your liver out of your body at the slightest touch of the control stick and send you flying into space.
The playability of the whole game is either hit or miss. While I love a lot of aspects of it like the movement, fun gameplay loop, and design, I feel the structure can sometimes feel very bland with the constant in and out of every level. The levels themselves will spit you back out into the plaza every single time but that’s usually only a small inconvenience. The real pain is once again, Mario’s movement, as there are a lot of quirks with Mario’s movement. For example, when Mario is jumping it’s not only extremely loose, but hard to control him once he’s mid air. I think this is on purpose because of FLUDD but it’s still awful after jumping and especially after using the trampoline in the pachinko machine level. That’s where I first noticed that Mario has terrible jump control and also sinks like a rock in this game. The developers definitely did this on purpose and it really messes up that level from start to finish.
While hovering the pressure also drops gradually so you’ll be going up faster at the start of your hover than at the end which is a really weird quirk. If they had just made things a bit more powerful, consistent, and longer, that might’ve helped this feature feel not as sluggish and hard to control at times. And lastly, we have Mario’s slippery shoes. Oh, you thought you’d be free of that in the overworld? Nope, it’s still there and still messing up everything you do, especially precise platforming. It makes everything just that slightly more harder to do, especially in levels like Pina Park or Ricco Harbor.
Super Mario Sunshine is a flawed game, but in part that’s why it’s so loved. Sure it might have its quirks, but it was part of a lot of people’s childhoods. It means a lot to us because of all the memories it has given us, even if some of them might be bad ones, they’re still memories of a time where we were having fun and experiencing a game that not many people nowadays would have fun playing and I feel that’s kind of special. There are still things in it that hold up today and mechanics that people really miss and want to see again, along with ones that are even now being brought back into the spotlight. My final review for this game is still a glowing 5 stars, even with the bad parts taken into consideration, I love this game to bits and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!
Written by Gregory Robertson, Lethbridge College
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