Review by AGBear
"Alright, but hardly a revelation"
Lord Alan, the ultimate Mario hater, takes on Mario Sunshine, aka 'Mario 64 with a water pistol'. Strangely enough, I came away pleasantly surprised.
Graphically, Mario is a bit of a mixed bag. By now I'm sure most people will have drooled over the awesome water effects- Mario's water cannon and the pools of water dotted around the levels are a joy to swim through. It almost looks good enough to drink. Also, the lighting effects and particle effects (Mario turning into a mass of balls before entering a level) look great.
Unfortunately, these awesome water effects come at a price, as the Gamecube really isn't up to rendering the whole world in such beauty. As a result, the textures are ugly and lack detail. It also suffers from the same problem as Mario 64, and that it looks washed out and bland at times. And before you say it, this isn't my TV or Gamecube. That said, the Mario sprite looks good enough considering you only see the back of him for most of the game. Other characters are not as detailed, suffering from a lack of polygons and general detail.
To be blunt here, the music is awful. Yes, we know Mario's on a holiday, but every level's music is the same old rubbishy tune composed on a pub piano and the odd coconut shell clacking. About 5 minutes into the game, you'll be reaching for the volume control. The only saving grace is that the classic Mario theme is back for some of the 'traditional platform' levels, and its very catchy.
Sound effects are as you'd expect in a Mario game- decent, but with those irritating Mario noises. ''Yahee!'' screams Mario. ''Argh!'' screams the reviewer. Voice acting, although it isn't required often, is pretty grim. Thankfully, it only occurs in cutscenes so you don't have to put up with it a lot. When Princess Peach started talking, I laughed so hard I almost choked on my Chicken Tikka Masala.
First things first- I don't like Mario. As a character, he has the charisma of a toilet brush. I mean, look at him! He's a fat Italian plumber for crying out loud! Also, his past games just aren't my thing, with the exception of Yoshi's Island. I came to Mario Sunshine expecting more of the same, but it wasn't as bad as I thought.
The basic 'plot' (if it can be called that) involves Mario going on a much-needed holiday to Delfino Island, taking his girlfriend Princess Peach with him. Upon arriving on the island, he finds huge amounts of multi-coloured slime. Then Mario gets blamed for it, and has to clear his name by finding out who's behind all this nefarious mischief on the island. OK, the plot is absolutely ridiculous, but it's better than the usual Mario fare.
As in Mario 64, there is one large hub level and Mario can travel to and fro levels as he pleases, providing he has enough Shines. Shines work like Stars did in 64, you get them for successfully completing tasks in each of the levels. Although collecting them won't be quite as easy as in 64, as I'll explain later.
One of the high points in the Mario games has always been their controls. The Gamecube controller was, lets face it, designed for games like this, and Sunshine takes full advantage of it. The analogue stick is used to move Mario, but its much improved over the 64's stick and makes controlling Mario a lot more fluid. The R trigger fires FLUDD (Mario's cannon) but its execution is very good, as holding down the trigger a little means Mario can still run, while pushing the trigger in fully turns Mario into a mobile turret of sorts. Hitting Y also puts Mario into turret mode, but makes it easier to control the arc of the water being fired. X switches your nozzle instantly. You never feel like Mario is out of control, and you'll need every ounce of control to survive at Sunshine.
A lot of criticism has been levelled at the fact that Miyamoto seemingly abandoned the platform game in favour of an eco-friendly cleanup game. Luckily, Mario doesn't spend a lot of the time spraying gunk and can get down to some good, clean (excuse the pun) platforming action. It's ironic that the cleanup sections are actually better than a lot of the platform bits and make a welcome change of pace from the sadistic platform levels.
The levels range from the massive to the mundane. Some, like the Gelato Hills, are quite large and have lots of things to do. Others, like Ricco Harbour, have appalling level design. I'm sorry Mr Miyamoto, but running along narrow beams which require pinpoint accuracy is not my idea of a good time. Speaking of a good time, a lot of the Shine challenges are quite boring too. Anyone who has played Mario 64 will probably remember the red coin challenges- well, they're back! And they're just as repetitive as ever. But Mario Sunshine goes one step further and adds blue coins to the mix- not as a separate challenge, just dotted around the level randomly. As such, you could wander around a level for days without finding the blue coins.
This goes for a lot of the challenges- it's not always apparent what you have to do to complete a level. I'm all for exploration, but some of these puzzles are frankly illogical! It all brings back horrible memories of Ecco 2 on the Mega Drive, wandering around aimlessly not knowing what to do. When you do know what to do, there's only one way to complete the levels- and that's the hard way.
For a platform game aimed at the younger generation, Mario Sunshine is so difficult that it comes as quick a shock. In certain sections, Mario loses his water gun (*snigger*) and has to go at things alone, ala Mario 64. These are among some of the most infuriating sections of the game, with jumps that require perfect timing, and some that also seem to require superhuman abilities. This is partly due to the camera angle, and partly due to the fact that it's just too damn hard. Other times, like in the fight against Mecha Bowser, the camera angles are awful making it a hard game, which is good, but for the wrong reasons, which is bad. Yes, you can control the camera for most of the game, but when you're trying to leap between platforms, in 3D, in a split second, you'd nearly need a second person controlling the camera. And the camera won't control itself, unfortunately.
Miyamoto stated in an interview that he felt Sunshine was too difficult. I agree. But the word 'difficulty' can be a bit of a vague one. The key thing is to make a game challenging- i.e., it challenges the player without being unfair. This is one of the things that is fundamentally wrong with Mario Sunshine. There are many difficult jumps, which, if missed, will cause you to have to replay the whole level again. The way Mario punishes you for your mistakes is unfair, and very off-putting. It's easy to see someone getting frustrated and throwing that cute little Gamecube disc out of the window.
Mario Sunshine has a lot of positive aspects going for it. The FLUDD is great fun to use for the most part, and it can be a lot of fun to play. Inversely, it can also be bitterly annoying to play. There's no fun in scaling a level only to mistime a jump and fall on your arse, only to have to do the whole thing again. Restart points would greatly remedy this, and it baffles belief that these haven't been included. Sunshine is decent, but it still has a lot of flaws. Why should I have to control the camera myself, when other games will do it for me? Why should I spend ages hunting for coins, when quite frankly it's boring? It's things like these that put myself, and a lot of others off Mario.
There are plenty of levels for Mario to wade (get it?) through, and 120 Shines to discover in total. Some of these will take a long time to collect, although by then you might have moved onto other games. Sunshine offers a lot of replay value, and you'll keep coming back to it to finishing off collecting all those Shines. Some kind of a multiplayer mode would have been nice, but alas there isn't any. It's long enough for just one player though. And don't forget that barbaric difficulty level! Some medieval torture devices were more fair to the user than Mario Sunshine.
An entertaining enough platform romp, which is highly recommended to Mario 64 fans. If you aren't a Mario fan, this probably won't change your mind.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/06/03, Updated 05/06/03
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