"Takes Mario 64 and notches the difficulty up ten levels!"

Introduction –

Mario 64 is one of my favorite games ever, and is considered alongside Zelda OOT and FF7 to be one of the most impressive and revolutionary titles of the 32-bit/64-bit revolution. Nintendo went ahead and did the unthinkable with their launch of the Gamecube, with no Mario title to be seen, even though Mario’s brother got his own small showing in Luigi’s Mansion. Luigis Mansion is a decent enough game that was over way too quickly and really is seen by many circles as more of a tech demo rushed out for the public, none of the traditional Mario platform elements could be seen, and fans cried afoul.

Well, after a bit of a delay and a brief hiatus (Mario 64 was released about 6 years ago), Mario is back is an all new, butt-stomping, platform hopping, hair tearing, controller throwing adventure that looks set to separate the hardcore gamers from the rest of the population. Super Mario Sunshine doesn’t do anything revolutionary when compared to Mario 64 vs. Super Mario World, but it does take an evolutionary leap in the Mario Bros franchise and kicks the series difficulty up a notch, creating what can only best be described as the biggest platforming challenge since Super Mario Bros 3 back on the N.E.S.

Gameplay –

Sunshine begins with Mario, Toad, Princess Peach and co. taking a vacation from the Mushroom Kingdom and heading off to the tropical Isle of Delfino. Delfino promises them a much needed break from all the Bowser snatching antics of past years and looks to give Mario and co. a relaxing vacation in a warm climate, or so it would seem. Just before landing, a mysterious character begins to splash the island with gooey paint, as well as scaring away Isle Delfinos power source, the shine Sprites.

Shortly after landing and realizing the runway is splashed with a gooey substance, Mario gains control of a newly designed tool called F.L.U.D.D, basically a water hose that can also be used to hover among other things. After a brief tutorial, followed by cleaning up the runway, Mario is thrown in jail and charged with the graffiti crimes. His punishment? To clean up Isle Delfino and return the Shine Sprites to their proper resting place. Of course, not long after, Mario runs into the real culprit, a shadowy version of himself, and after chasing him down Super Mario Sunshine truly begins.

Since Mario 64 came along there has been hundreds of platform wannabees popping up in every direction trying to get a piece of the 3d platforming pie that the famous plumber started. From great runners up such as Banjo-Kazooie, Rayman 2, Donkey Kong 64 and Conkers Bad Fur Day to horrible entries such as Gex: Enter the Gecko, Rascal, Earthworm Jim 3D and Spyro the Dragon, the 3D platform genre has become one of the most popular and overdone genres in gaming today, almost reaching the flooding amount of 2D platformers of yesteryear. 3D platforming has really needed a bit of a boost these past few years, and while Mario Sunshine still does plenty of things the same way Mario 64 did, it feels like a more polished, hardened and more skillful game overall.

Controlling Mario on the N64 was as simple as could be, and controlling him on the cube controller is no different. He can tiptoe, run, sprint, jump, triple-jump, butt-stomp, slide, spin-jump, wall kick, body slam and more, all through the use of easy to pick-up controls. A button controls Mario’s jumps, while B controls his dives and the ability to talk to the Islands residents, a much more important feature than how it was implemented in Mario 64. Pressing Y will allow you to look around almost through the eyes of Mario while X will change your FLUDD backpack from the hover nozzle to the hose nozzle anytime you want it to. Pressing L while running will straighten up the view for you while pressing it in midair will do the classic butt-stomp we’re all used to in the Mario Bros series. Spinning the C-stick left or right will pan the view around Mario, while pulling it down or up will zoom the view in and out of him respectively.

The biggest addition to the tried and true Mario formula though is the addition of the FLUDD backpack. This little talkative water hose will shoot out its water by pressing the R trigger. You can aim even easier in the hose setting if you’ve used the Y button to look around, and if you click the R trigger all the way in then you can aim on the spot. While you can no longer fly in Super Mario Sunshine, the addition of FLUDD really does aid Nintendo in throwing a lot more obstacles that they simply couldn’t do without it in the N64 incarnation of our heroic Italian plumber.

Of course, everyones favorite little dinosaur, Yoshi, is back for a proper 3D appearance, (he only appeared as a bonus “Easter-egg” after completely finishing Mario 64) and while he does add to a lot of the platform jumping and puzzling sections of the game, he’s not near as integral as FLUDD is to the gameplay.

Isle Delfino acts as a hub for Mario Sunshine, the same way that the castle acted as one for Mario 64, only Isle Delfino is a massive level in it’s own right. It’s a town swarming with the Pianta and Noki (the Isle Delfino residents) and being able to talk to every character really adds a lot of character to the game that Mario 64 was at times lacking. Some characters have certain mini-quests to carry out, while others are just there to push the corny story along its rails.

Mario 64 had 120 Stars to collect, while Mario Sunshine has 120 Shines. SMS also has 240 blue coins to collect on your quest, and these can be as hard, if not many times harder to find than your lost Shines. For every ten blue coins you find you can trade up at a local’s shop for a shine, and given the amount of blue coins to find it will be a long while before you find all of them.

Mario’s quest in SMS places him in the locations around Isle Delfino, such as Ricco Harbor, Bianco Hills and Pinna Park. While there aren’t as many main stages in Mario Sunshine as there were in Mario 64, all of the levels are a lot more massive than their N64 bretherin and the challenges found within are a lot more devious. Each level is split up into Episodes, each containing a various challenge to acquire a different Shine, and with 8 Episodes in each Level it amounts up to quite a large undertaking in the end. There is still the well-used “Find 8 red coins” Episodes per level, as well as a regular “chase shadow Mario” Episode per level, and a newly added “challenge stage” hidden within each level. These stages are a throwback to the days of Mario 3, when extra lives really were needed to pass through some stages. Shadow Mario steals your FLUDD backpack in this stage, leaving you to rely on your platform jumping skills to pass through all sorts of spinning blocks, rotating wheels and other such objects. While these bonus levels start off incredibly easy, the difficulty level jumps dramatically after playing just a few of these, and seeing as if you play the level again you can do another red-coin bonus challenge for a Shine, a lot of people would be forgiven for throwing their controllers at the wall in frustration at times. These stages are extremely challenging and only the most adept people at platform games will be able to get all the way through the red-coin bonus stages.

One thing that was extremely lacking in Mario 64 was Boss stages, the small few you had against Bowser were rather easy, but besides that there weren’t really any others to be found. In Mario Sunshine, Nintendo throws boss after boss at you throughout the Episodes to test your skills and while some of the bosses are over used a few times, they are nevertheless always quite fun and challenging and worthy of your time. The FLUDD backpack really changes what you could do in a Mario game, being used as a way to shoot enemies, float to hard to reach spots and unlock many hidden puzzles strugn throughout the levels.

Finally, Mario Sunshine is just a whole lot harder to finish than Mario 64 was, the game is bigger, throws a lot more challenges at you and really requires all your reflexes to be up to scratch. Mario 64 seems like an introduction to the 3D platforming world compared to Mario Sunshine, and SMS is the absolute evolution of that.

Graphics/Sound –

Luigis Mansion wowed some gamers with some really cool lighting effects, while Rogue Squadron impressed with it’s crazy amounts of Tie-Fighters on screen at once, SFA also impressed with massively detailed environments and a great draw distance, but in my opinion Mario Sunshine is as impressive if not more so than the above mentioned games. The thing that SMS does more so than most other games on the cube in graphics is simply that it is so well done across the whole board. The game has a beautifully cartoony look throughout, not in the toon-shaded style of Zelda: The Wind Waker but more like a combination of Mario 64 and Sonic Adventures would be.

Mario Sunshine’s draw distance is extremely impressive, allowing you to scale large cliffs and see coins floating in the water far below, the way the gooey paint looks through the levels not to mention the fact that it has characters running around in spades make it so that the levels themselves never seem boring in any respect. There is always something to make you stop in awe, from beautifully designed beaches to the absolutely gorgeous water strung throughout Isle Delfino. This is the best water seen in a videogames next only to Waverace: Blue Storm, and at times SMS even looks better than that game with it’s water effects. Little details such as a plane flying way overhead while you run through the level, if you take the time to notice it, or just the way characters move through the levels really impresses.

Mario and Co are wonderfully detailed, Mario now looks like a real cartoon character compared to the few blocks he looked like on the 64, all of the Islands residents also look terrific, albeit in a basic cartoony way. One Episode, in the level Pinna Park, throws Mario onto a zooming rollercoaster fighting off a massive well-known boss character, and the way the rollercoaster flys through the level at such a rate is amazing in so many ways that one can’t help but be impressed.

Many may seem a little held back when appreciating the graphics, due to all of the levels based around an Island location, no there is no snow levels to speak of, but the levels, despite being on a tropical Island, never manage to come across looking the same as another. The challenge stages also help add to the mixture, placing you in vortex type levels with platforms spinning and twisting every which way, something that is a lot less impressive on paper but looks great when the stage pulls back and you see what your truly in for.

The music in Mario Sunshine though, is another matter entirely. It combines some classic Mario themes such as the underground pipe theme and Mario’s classic theme with some very new age style of music, which will bother some and make others listen a little more closely. SMS has voice acting, which at times, is rather questionable. It’s not that it is truly bad or anything, the game style is supposed to be corny and comedic anyway, but some voices such as Princess Peach and FLUDD should have been skipped altogether, as hearing either of these two characters speak will send you into a rage induced screen punching frenzy. You won’t be humming as many classic tunes in your head after walking away from this game as compared to past Mario titles, but none of the music in the game is exceptionally bad, it’s just not very memorable to be honest.

Lastability – Is Mario Sunshine worth the price tag? The answer to this question is a resounding yes! Not since Mario 3 has a Mario game truly been as engaging as SMS, at least in the lastability stakes. Many people will find Mario 64 more to their liking than SMS due to it’s easier difficulty level, but for those up to the challenge of finding all 120 Shines and all 240 blue coins, SMS is the more polished, playable and overall more challenging and engaging of the two. When gaining yourself a Shine on one of the red-coin challenge stages you’ll find yourself with a real sense of accomplishment, something not felt in a Mario game for years. Of course, these challenges may also be too hard and stress inducing for some, finding all Shines and Coins in this game is not easy, but it is worth the challenge and the experience.

Final Recommendation – To be honest a lot of people are going to be cut down the line with this game as compared to Mario 64. Some will say that Mario 64 is the better game with more variety in levels, while others have been known to simply get bored halfway through Mario 64 due to the lack of any real challenge. SMS isn’t about to bring anyone who doesn’t like platformers over to the platform/adventure genre, but it is a very clever, very well done and stylized platformer, that is better than it’s predecessor in many, many ways. This game should be in just about everyones collection, for those who own a cube, and for those who don’t but like a good challenge, then this is one of the true reasons for owning a cube.

Gameplay 10/10
Graphics 9/10
Sound 7/10
Lastability 10/10

OVERALL (Not an average) 10/10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/25/03, Updated 03/25/03


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