Review by DODV
"Nothing super about this game"
So our adventure begins with our hero on vacation with Princess Peach, Toadsworth, and a bunch of nameless Toads to the tropical island of Isle Delfino. The gang lands and finds themselves face-to-face with a massive spill of goop on the airstrip. Oh, and Peach witnesses a shadowy figure who closely resembles Mario in shape and is wielding a paintbrush. But, like any video game doppelganger, it's painfully obvious that it's an impostor, which is given away by his sludgy blue tint and piercing red eyes. Meanwhile, Mario ventures to the opposite end of the airstrip to find FLUDD, the Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device. Don't let the name fool you, FLUDD is more or less just a water pump with a couple of fancy nozzles. Mario uses his newly discovered water pump to clean up the mess (and defeat the monster that rises from it) and collects the first of 120 shine sprites in the game. But not all's fun and games now in Mario land, as afterward he is promptly arrested. Turns out the police think Mario is the one who caused the mess, which you learn is covering the entire island. Mario is found guilty after a rather unfair trial and is ordered to clean the entire island, and he isn't allowed to leave until he does. But wait, Mario just got here, right? How could he have made the mess? Could it be the work of the impostor Mario that Peach witnessed? I think everybody knew the answer long ago.
Pretty compelling story, right? Okay, so maybe it isn't spectacular, but you may be asking why, as you'll see below, I gave it such a ho-hum rating. Well, allow me to clarify that the problem is NOT with the story itself, but with the fact that it's poorly carried out and nothing is done to build upon it. It's just kinda there throughout the entire game, not really doing much of anything interesting or worthwhile. Only 3-4 events add anything to the story, and really they're not so much events as much as ways of prolonging the story, akin to Super Mario Bros.' the princess is in another castle tactic. The cutscenes are so few and far between that first-time players will probably forget what they're even working toward after awhile. I do commend the game for at least trying to have a plot instead of throwing you into level 1 on a rescue mission with no backstory or explanation, but it's too sloppy and rushed to count for much. The Mario games with minimal plot worked better.
Now with the story out of the way, we'll delve into the most pleasant part of this review: the graphics. As soon as you start the game, you'll immediately notice one thing - the graphics are AMAZING. I can't say I've inspected every texture to ensure perfect rendering, but I also can't say I've noticed any flaws. The characters and enemies are animated to perfection, the land/sky, buildings, obstacles, etc. have remarkable detail, and the colors are rich and glamorous. Most notable is the focal point of the game - water. Everything from the wave and rippling effects in the ocean, to how the sun dazzlingly reflects against the water you're spraying - it's all marvelous and you can clearly see the effort they put into it. Definitely one of the most beautiful games you'll find, even when compared to more contemporary games.
The music in this game is pretty good. The backing tracks all sounds fresh and new, and they actually fit in with the courses. Additionally, it's cheery, yet mellow and relaxing at the same time. There are a few times I've actually caught myself stopping to listen to the music in the middle of gameplay. It can get a little monotonous, though, as a few of the levels' themes are just remixes of another level's. But, overall, I have no complaints with the music.
But then there's the voice acting. Please bear with me for a moment while I collect myself.... okay, I think I'm ready. Let me just say one thing: Super Mario Sunshine shows us exactly why Mario hasn't had full voice acting in the past, and why he still doesn't even today. The local residents make these strange noises every time you talk to or otherwise interact with them (and sometimes even unprovoked) that will have you ripping your hair out by the end of the game when you've heard it what seems like hundreds of times. Your water pump (FLUDD) has an extremely boring and monotone voice. Basically, it's the most God-awful thing you'll ever hear, and the worst part is you're unable to skip past the cutscenes where it decides to ramble on for a good 10 minutes. Peach has some small speech segments and she also sounds dull and monotone. Even after she's been kidnapped (oops spoilers, except not really, because that's the plot in every Mario game), she just sounds bored and uninterested. Also getting some VA action is everybody's favorite villain, Bowser. Remember earlier when I said FLUDD's voice was the worst thing you'll ever hear? Well, I'd like to retract that statement and apply it to Bowser. The game was released a decade ago and I'm still having nightmares. Protip: MUTE THE TV WHENEVER THERE'S A CUTSCENE!! I cannot stress this enough.
Those who are used to Super Mario 64 (or the Galaxy games for that matter) won't have a ton of trouble adapting to Mario's new abilities, but there will definitely be growing pains. Why? Well, most of Mario's actions have been made obsolete by FLUDD. You can do long jumps no more, but FLUDD has a nozzle specifically designed to allow Mario to hover for a few seconds. This nozzle is completely broken and removes most of the difficulty, but that's to be covered later. Mario's combat maneuvers have also been removed, which means no punching and no more of his life-saving midair kicks. Baddies are now defeated either by jumping on them, spraying them with water, or some combination of the two. Only a couple stray from this rule, and even then only slightly. Crouching and crawling are also impossible, but who the hell actually crawled in 64? Lastly, the backflip is still in the game, but it might as well not be. It's a lot more tedious to pull of, and it doesn't even send you backwards anymore. Complete waste of time. Mario's most essential moves have returned, however, including ground pounds, dives, wall kicks, and side flips. He has also learned a new tactic, a twirly jumpy thingy (sorry, I have no idea how to name it). If done properly, it gives great height and distance, so it's definitely something worth mastering. And of course, on top of Mario's natural abilities, there's more that come by virtue of FLUDD. The first is FLUDD's basic nozzle type, the spray nozzle, which, you guessed it, sprays water. This nozzle will be accessible at all times no matter what. FLUDD also has a secondary nozzle that can be swapped out. You have the hover nozzle by default, which allows you to hover briefly (duh), and later unlock two additional nozzles, the rocket nozzle (which propels Mario very high into the air) and the turbo nozzle (which propels Mario forward at very high speeds, but at the expense of control).
You'd think it'd be awesome to have all these cool new abilities, but... well, it's not. The camera and controls are the culprits here. They complicate the game a lot more than it needs to be. Movement ranges from stiff and unresponsive to loose and nearly uncontrollable, causing missteps that can lead to rather large pitfalls and delays. The spin jump is especially hard to control and can easily lead to your demise if not intensely practiced. Dives are nearly impossible to steer. Last but certainly not least, but swimming controls are downright horrendous. SM64 had the right idea when it came to 3D swimming controls, so how it was botched so bad in Sunshine is beyond me. In any case, say goodbye to quick and effective swimming, and greet endlessly mashing buttons while Mario slowly nudges along.
Then there's the camera, which is a whole new monster. We're talking Sonic Adventure levels of awfulness here, folks. If you don't know, that's a bad thing. Just wait until you find yourself in the midst of a challenging jump just to have the camera whip behind a wall and leave you clueless and helpless, forced to start the process over again. It's nearly impossible to do successive wall kicks, anything that involves the hover nozzle, or really anything that require some skillful platforming. Hell, screw the platforming; I've even had the camera whip behind the wall when I was stationary on a large piece of land. All games have camera problems, but Sunshine's border on game-breaking.
The concept is really similar to other 3D Mario games. There are 120 shine sprites to be collected through various levels, bonus stages, and side-quests (and the hub). The game features seven main levels that each contain eight episodes. Upon completion of each episode, you get another shine sprite. Simple enough concept, right? Each level also features a 100-coin star and a pair of secret stars (secret as in they're irrelevant to the plot and don't have an episode title that hints at its whereabouts). Furthermore, every single level, as well as the hub, also contains a large number of hidden blue coins that range everywhere from painfully obvious to masterfully secreted.
On the topic of blue coins, I gotta tell ya, they're a royal pain in the you-know-what. When I mention above that some coins are masterfully secreted, I really mean they're in such obscure locations that you'll never be able to find them without a guide or some extreme luck. Coins that appear in just one of a level's eight episodes and are nowhere near where the episode naturally takes you. Coins that require you to find an absurdly specific spot on a random wall and spray it for several seconds before they'll even show themselves. My feelings toward collectibles typically range from palatable to really enjoyable, but blue coins are a nuisance. The pure essence of artificial difficulty. But the worst thing about blue coins might not even be the challenge of finding them, but the sheer number of them. Each level contains an astounding 30 coins (there are 240 in the entire game), and if you seek them while you're normally progressing through the game, you'll quickly find yourself too preoccupied with collecting them to actually enjoy the mission at hand. And don't dare think that they're just meaningless trinkets - every ten coins is worth one shine sprite, which means blue coins account for 24 of the 120 shines. That's 20% of the game!
Another thing I really don't like about Sunshine is how repetitive it is. SM64 spoiled us with a huge variety of levels that included snow, water, desert, lava, sky, mountain, haunted house, and cave environments. It gave us a really cool big island/small island gimmick, and we could even go into the clock. In Sunshine, all of this is gone. You enter level one, and what do you find? A quaint little pseudo-town with a bunch of water in it. You enter level two, and find yourself in a rather empty harbor with a ton of water. If you can't notice the recurring pattern already, the third level makes it really obvious, as it's a fracking beach. Way too much focus is put on water, tropical-themed environments. Actually it's more like a big tourist attraction than anything. I suppose it makes sense given the plot, but that doesn't mean I like it.
In the same vein, the missions are pretty repetitive too. There are way too many recycled boss fights (two fights against Petey Piranha, three against Gooper Blooper, somewhere around half a dozen goop piranhas, and close to a dozen Shadow Mario chases), most of the hidden stars I mentioned in passing earlier only involve replaying a secret stage to collect newly-spawned red coins, and way, way, WAY too many shines involve mindlessly spraying water at things until something happens. I would've loved to see Nintendo get a lot more creative with the shines.
Another issue I have with this game is that it's rather restrictive. You have no such freedom to pick and choose which shines you wish to collect like you did in Super Mario 64. There's a designated 50 shines that you are required to collect to advance to the area where the final boss battle takes place. You don't like a level? Well screw you, you're doing it anyway. Sequence breaking is also made impossible. You really are forced to just routinely collect the same repetitive shines each time you play, which completely wrecks the replay value. The Galaxy games get a lot of criticism for being too linear, but this game is just as bad, if not worse. How it managed to mostly escape that particular complaint is beyond me. But the big problem here isn't that you can't sequence break, it's that the other 70 shines are absolutely, positively, utterly WORTHLESS. I'm not an expert in the art of video game developing and I'll never pretend to be, but any idiot can recognize that it's a huge design flaw when over half of your game's primary collectibles don't have a point. You don't even get a cool 120-shine bonus like a Yoshi that gives you 100 lives and a special jump or the ability to play as Luigi. It's just a bloody thank you message. Spoilers aren't even possible here because there's nothing to spoil.
But as much as I dislike about this game, I commend Sunshine for a job well done on the actual episodes. While there are quite a few bad eggs (such as the repeated boss fights), several of them are very creative and fun to play through. I'd give examples, but half the fun is in experiencing them yourself. A really nice touch, and probably my favorite part of the game, are the secret stages, which appear at least once in every level (two in some). In them, Mario goes through a classic platforming stage sans FLUDD. The levels are designed purely to showcase the classic platforming action that we know and love, and most of them are legitimate challenges since you can't cheaply hover whenever you find yourself in a bad spot. If only the rest of the game could have been like this, it would've been phenomenal.
Finally, concerning the difficulty... well, there isn't much of it. The secret stages I mentioned before account for most of the challenge, but most of the rest the rest of the game is absolutely broken by your ability to hover. See an enemy, just hover over it. See a tough jump, hover over it. Fall off a ledge, just hover and you'll be fine. It's almost impossible to die in this game, and the only time you'll ever screw anything up is when the camera goes haywire. Even the red coin missions, which had potential to be fun and challenging, are ruined by cramming them into a condensed space or the opening clip that shows exactly where they are.
I don't see how anybody could bear through completing the entire game a FIRST time, let alone a second time, and the restrictive gameplay makes even the main story a struggle to replay. No matter how many times you play it, you'll still end up with the same 50 predetermined shines, most of which are collecting coins and chasing shadow Mario over and over and over. Not very fun.
Super Mario Sunshine certainly isn't the worst Mario game you'll ever play - anyone whose played the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 can attest to that - but it's a contender. Only about 40% (that's just a rough estimate) is worthwhile. The rest is crap. You don't need a ton of time to milk all possible enjoyment out of this game, but that enjoyment is worth at least a rental (if GameCube games are even available for rental anymore..). Who knows, you may even like the game and want to buy it. A lot of people do love it; I just don't happen to be one of them.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 07/09/09, Updated 11/22/11
Game Release: Super Mario Sunshine (US, 08/25/02)
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