Review by Malorkus
If you think about it, the Mushroom Kingdom is probably the worst place in the entire Nintendo universe to live. It has no police presence and no one can even enjoy a nice stroll in the park without being threatened by a walking mushroom or a hammer-throwing turtle. At least Dream Land's enemies are cute and cuddly. At least DK Island's worst problem is banana theft. At least Hyrule only has that Ganondorf problem every few hundred years. But the Mushroom Kingdom? Enjoy those bottomless pits to your death right outside your house! It's no wonder that Mario and Peach would finally want to get the hell out of there and enjoy a vacation. Enter Mario Sunshine, a blissful trouble-free trip to a distant island where the only problem you will face is
well, bottomless pits to your death right outside your hotel. This vacation is serious business, and Mario needs all the help he can get to enjoy one day without a crisis.
Upon arriving at Isle Delfino (shaped like a dolphin, get it?), Mario is taken into custody by the main residents of the island, the Piantas. These hilariously non-subtle stereotypes of indigenous island natives have accused Mario of covering the island in paint like all hooligans from the mainland. Turns out a blue doppelganger of Mario has been framing him, which probably says more about the Piantas' piss-poor eyesight than anything, but they refuse to let him leave the island until he cleans up all the goop. Realizing this is the perfect opportunity to stay on the island forever and never return to the horrors of the Mushroom Kingdom I spoke of earlier, Mario sarcastically responds, Oh no, so horrible for me, and makes friends with a talking robotic water pack named FLUDD (part of that sentence may have been made up, but I'll let you figure it out). With his water pack in hand, Mario sets out to mop up the island and stop the real perpetrator.
Right off the bat, you will notice how everything in this game revolves around the water pack, as the game immediately plunges you into a water-spraying chase against Shadow Mario. Mind you, Mario can still jump on enemies' heads like always, but it's more of a finishing blow that will not do much against many baddies. FLUDD has two basic nozzles to switch between spraying and hovering. You can control both the direction and the pressure of the spray thanks to the Gamecube controller's pressure-sensitive shoulder buttons. Spraying will clean up goop and paint-based enemies, though it will only stun more standard baddies. The hover nozzle is your main means of leaping from platform to platform, enabling you to reach greater heights than you would in another Mario game. You will also come across further temporary nozzles as you progress, such as a super-fast turbo nozzle and a rocket nozzle that will launch you to astronomic heights.
While the water-aided platform element is a divisive concept among the Mario faithful, Sunshine succeeds by presenting you with a vast open world within each stage, larger than any seen in Super Mario 64. Largely sticking to a tropical theme, Sunshine still manages to find diversity by bringing you to bustling ship harbors, a bizarre jungle village, a giant bay with a towering waterfall, and even some classic Mario archetypes like a Boo-themed world make an appearance. Even the hub world is like a stage in itself with all its secrets. Shine Sprites take the place of Power Stars, but serve the same basic function, and there are 120 in all, which has become a tradition now. Each stage contains eight different Shine Sprite objectives, plus several more that you need to seek out on your own. This is a smart system that guides players toward required Shines, but for optional ones, forces you to really dig around in the sandbox on your own and explore every inch of the world before you.
Sunshine keeps these objectives varied, with some requiring you to take down a boss, others requiring you to collect red coins like in Super Mario 64, and a few really think outside the box, like a ride on a missile-armed roller coaster and a plunge to the bottom of the sea with a fish bowl on your head. But perhaps the most thrilling moments come when the game relieves you of your water pack altogether and plants you in the void of space with a series of challenging platform challenges that honestly put the platform elements in Mario 64 to shame. These stages are old-school fashioned, both in nonsensical design and relentless difficulty. The room for error in these stages is nonexistent, as while the rest of the game lets you progress at a relaxed pace, these FLUDD-less stages will drain your extra lives one after another. Almost completely thanks to these challenges alone, Super Mario Sunshine is probably the hardest Mario game we have seen since The Lost Levels. But it's a good, rewarding difficulty that makes you feel accomplished rather than frustrated.
Shine Sprites are not the only collectibles, however. Hidden blue coins occupy nooks and crannies of each world, and finding 10 will net you another Shine. These blue coins make Sunshine more about wild exploration than any other Mario game, and deviously placed ones will have you trying out all sorts of tricks to obtain them. Unfortunately, Super Mario Sunshine goes a little overboard with the blue coins, taking up a whole one-quarter of the overall number of Shine Sprites in the game. While every 3D Mario platform game has a little bit of filler here and there to reach that magic 120 number mark, these are excessive to the point where they could have easily been used for more unique missions or additional stages. They come off as lazy design and become tedious for the player spending hours trying to hunt down those final two or three blue coins in each stage, often requiring going through multiple shine episodes. Sunshine is still a wonderful game in spite of this, but it's enough of a nuisance to keep it just a peg below Mario 64 and the Galaxy titles.
Super Mario Sunshine is a game that has managed to become better with age. At the time, players were still clamoring for the next Mario 64. Over a decade later at the time of writing, we are now saturated with more traditional titles, and Sunshine's creativity now blossoms a lot more brightly. It is a massive game with giant open worlds to explore, and the water pack lets you reach and uncover things you would not be able to in another platform game. The game also never holds your hand, being thoroughly challenging even if you decide to only complete the minimum amount required to defeat the final boss, and truly demanding for players who choose to go all the way. The blue coins unfortunately cross the line between enjoyable collecting and excessive tedium, but they are a blip on an otherwise charming vacation. As the Mario franchise has become more dependent on safer titles that are guaranteed to sell millions, Sunshine's out-of-the-box mindset has since turned it into a classic.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/26/07, Updated 03/20/15
Game Release: Super Mario Sunshine (US, 08/25/02)
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