Review by matt91486

"The Six Year Wait: Excruciating. Seeing Mario’s water cannon: Titillating. Finally playing it: Amazing"

One, two, three, four, five, six. That’s how many years we have been waiting for Mario to arrive again. Ever since the groundbreaking Super Mario 64 was released we’ve been growing ever more impatient. When the GameCube launched without a Mario game it only made matters worse. But now it’s here. We’ll probably have to wait another six years to get to experience it all again, but for now, no one can take it away from us.

Six years apparently didn’t yield a whole lot of changes. The game plays like a souped-up version of Super Mario 64 with one small change -- for the first time in recent memory he’s not trying to save some wussy princess. Even Mario knows that chivalry is dead. Nope, instead he’s being a true man -- cleaning up graffiti. Now before you scream “Sellout!” at the top of your lungs, keep in mind that Mario was framed. Some poseur painted the town red and left Mario to foot the jail time. So Mario -- being the goodie-two-shoes that he is -- has decided to help clean up the mess and make sure that this villain never strikes again. Yup, that horrid TV commercial was not too far off.

You see, Mario and Peach decided to take a rather relaxing vacation to the famed Isle Delfino, taking with them a multitude of Toads, and plenty of emotional baggage that surfaces throughout the game. Upon arrival, Mario is confronted, arrested, and sentenced to community service because a look alike (wearing the Metal Mario suit from Super Mario 64 nonetheless) has been painting the town red -- literally and figuratively -- and has left Mario to clean up the mess. Story of his life, huh? As for those wishing for the old Bowser steals Princess Peach stories, never fear; Super Mario Sunshine really isn’t a departure from the series past.

Using his FLUDD, Mario has to explore all of Isle Delfino to clean up the gooey paint and save the island’s sunlight. Instead of collecting Stars, this time around you collect Shines -- hence the name. Stars and Shines still share many of the same missions -- one hundred gold coins, eight red coins, and some hidden throughout the levels, but with one key change -- you can no longer progress in whatever order you choose.

That’s right, now each area is divided into episodes that determine the order of your progression. This allowed the developers the ability to create levels that are slightly different for each episode, but it came at the loss of your freedom to complete goals in whatever order you saw fit. You can still get some Shines at your leisure (The hundred coins and two hidden Shines in each level), but all of the rest fit into the order somehow -- including the red coins Shine. In Mario 64 I loved to do all of the coin Stars first, and then double back and do the level specific requirements -- sadly that is no longer realistically possible.

Changing the gameplay even further is the FLUDD. While Mario still has all of his maneuvers from his last game -- many of which are still controlled the same -- using the FLUDD to get out of situations that would otherwise be imposing kind of takes something away from the game. Mario was always about the simple fight of one good guy against an evil warlord and whatever he could drum up. Now it’s man and MACHINE, and it changes things on an emotional level. Because now instead of jumping being your primary movement, Mario gets to hover and shoot bosses with water. The days of bouncing on Goombas’ heads are over. Classic Mario baddies -- with the notable exception of Piranha Plants -- are not really featured in Super Mario Sunshine, and simply bouncing off of their noggins just isn’t the same anymore. Now it’s all about blasting them into a wall with your water cannon, or some other newfangled invention. In my day, all we could do was jump on their heads! For eighty levels! AND WE LIKED IT!

Don’t worry, not all of the classic Mario gameplay has been lost. In each stage there is one level in which everything clicks -- none of these wacky new objectives. You simply need to navigate an obstacle course filled with traditional Mario hindrances and get the Shine. To go with these classic stages -- which are actually some of the most difficult in the entire game -- are some horrible a cappella remixes of the classic Mario theme. (If you’re a NewsRadio fan, think ‘Chock Full o’ Notes.’) It’s absolutely atrocious.

While trying to implement classic Mario in a new way failed miserably, bring back the always impeccable controls and extending them to cover FLUDD as well worked brilliantly. As you would expect, Mario always reacts to your commands with blazing speed. The configuration is easy to grasp and laid out with ease-of-use being the biggest goal. The only problem that I’ve found with the control is that -- occasionally -- when pressing jump while sliding down a hill or something to that degree, Mario fails to jump. I attribute this to holding down directions AND going downhill and still trying to jump at the same time, but in some situations it can mean the loss of a life and it can get frustrating until you’ve mastered jumping downhill at high speeds.

Something else was changed when Nintendo brought Mario to the GameCube world -- they decided to make his game difficult. Super Mario 64 was unbelievable easy, and a Mario game had not really challenged me since the days of the NES (a fact that can probably be attributed to my age at the time), so this came as a shock. I actually have been finding Super Mario Sunshine to be difficult. The bosses are beating me. I’m falling off mazes that I expected to master. Puzzles are confusing me. I’m getting lost. I cannot always determine what the optimum course of action is. Either I’m losing it, or Nintendo decided to crack down on the players that could beat Mario 64 in a couple of hours. Progress comes much slower on Isle Delfino, and it isn’t because the islanders have a more leisurely pace of life.

And despite how the colors may grab you, it’s not because of them that the progress slows either. To give Super Mario Sunshine a tropical feel, Nintendo borrowed heavily from Sicilian and Hispanic design, blending the two into buildings in the Italiante form. Stucco walls and clay tiles abound. This -- blended with the pastel colors and palm trees -- leads to the feel of peaceful Caribbean isle. Or, in other words, exactly what Nintendo wanted!

The casual, tropical feel extends to all of the orifices throughout the game -- even the areas designed to be dark and gloomy have that aura while not straying too far from the rest of the design. Still, the influences of Super Mario 64 obviously extend to the graphics as well. Essentially this is Tropical Mario 128, with all of the designs merely made of thousands more polygons and the tearing and framerate cleared up. The animation is still impeccable -- even the translucent objects’ movements look smooth. When Nintendo wants a game to be a technical masterpiece they let it all hang out.

The tropical theme adds uniformity to Super Mario Sunshine, something that that the hodgepodge levels of Mario 64 didn’t have. This makes Sunshine more esthetically pleasing on a subconscious level, though some of the ‘wow’ factor is lost without the drastic changes. However the smoothness in the transitions from level to level more than makes up for it.

Musically, Super Mario Sunshine seems to have an ailment similar to that of a mother who just sent her youngest off to college; Now that things have changed around, she’s trying to embrace the new while not throwing away what made her past enjoyable. The eclectic blend tries to be tropical while still retaining its typical roots, and the result leaves something to be desired. Keeping par with Super Mario 64, each stages in Sunshine has its own theme that tries to meld with the look of the stage. However -- since the stages are far more similar this time around -- the differences are hard to notice. Some levels -- Gelato Beach with its steel drum riffs and Ricco Harbor’s reggae beats -- meld well with the feel of the game. Delfino Plaza sounds more Mediterranean than anything. Still others, most noticeably Pinna Park, just sound like typical Mario stages instead of using the setting to its advantage.

Where the music failed, the sound effects succeeded -- the classic Mario blends with the tropical effects in situational contexts that defy the odds by blending the feel of Cancun with that of the duct work in the Mushroom Kingdom. All of the noises that have been recycled throughout the past seventeen years make their repeat appearances, while new noises present the mischievous innocence that the series is famous for (You know, the kind of silly, random sounds that kids love.) and some more exotic effects to fit in with the new feel for the game. The end result is bliss for a sound engineer.

Despite me wanting desperately for a classic Mario adventure without the tikki lamps and kitschy beach umbrellas, playing Super Mario Sunshine was bliss for quite a while. Good games by Nintendo have that ability to just suck you into their world like that of no other company, and Sunshine is no exception. You just get a feeling of overwhelming awe, at how spectacularly crafted the game really is, and you cannot bear to tear yourself away from it. The emotion is especially strong with Mario games, and I’ve been waiting since 1996 to feel it again. I sound horribly corny, but there’s no feeling in the video game world like playing a Mario game for the first time.

Completely ignoring other games in its genre embracing the new norms in the video gaming world, Super Mario Sunshine throws away the precedence set by Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie and scorns multiplayer modes. So it’s probably not a coincidence that single player game in Mario is far more polished than in either of Rare’s titles. Nintendo chose to spend their time making what they’ve always done great rather than branching out a great deal and trying to extend Mario’s legacy into Goldeneye territory. Nintendo has always stuck to their guns despite what industry logic has told them, and despite their criticisms their games always seem to turn out rather well. Sticking up for your ideals, walking to the beat of your own drum, well it just makes the important aspect of making great games all the more satisfying.

The lack of multiplayer does lead to a more cohesive solo play experience, but it does really hurt the replay value. The quest is a bit shorter than in Super Mario 64 (Still 120 Shines, but different ways of obtaining them), and the level orders are far more structured, but you still have a meaty quest to play. Besides, the heightened difficulty makes up for the lessened length, so you’ll probably end up playing for about the same amount of time anyway. Even if you have no reason to play Super Mario Sunshine right off the bat after getting all of those Shines and restoring all of the light to Isle Delfino, you will be playing it again a few years down the line. Time is the ultimate test of a masterpiece, and when you’re playing it four, five years down the line to experience it all again, you know you’ve got something great on your hands.

I’m all for innovation, but those who know me well would tell you that I’m not fond of change, especially when unnecessary. Super Mario Sunshine is a brilliant game technically, and it’s still a blast to play. However, it doesn’t stop me from wanting another typical Mario game. Forget this cleaning stuff and side stories, I want to just rescue the darn Princess right off the bat. Yes, in my mind I’m still waiting for the sequel to Super Mario 64; To me Sunshine is just another gem in an endless string of spectacular side quests.

PROS
*Tropical feel doesn’t extend to the inclusion of Barry Manilow’s ‘Copa Cabana.’
*Architectural blend of various Mediterranean designs -- my favorites!
*It’s FINALLY a new Mario game, and it’s as good as ever!

CONS
*Despite being a great game, it’s still the series’ black sheep.
*Peach actually talking proves that she’s even less articulate than I thought.
*What? No Metal Mario caps?

SCORE SUMMARY

GAMEPLAY--8
GRAPHICS--9
MUSIC--7
SOUND--9
CONTROL--9
FUN--9
CHALLENGE--MEDIUM TO HIGH
REPLAY VALUE--MEDIUM

OVERALL--8


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/31/02, Updated 09/14/02


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