Review by EJRICH

"A Darkened Sun"

Mario seems to have all the luck when it comes to vacations. He's been on treasure hunts, flown to lush tropical islands, dined at royal banquets, been to castles; the list goes on and on. There's one teeny little detail though, they always end up in him having to save someone! Guess that's not much of a vacation, eh? Super Mario Sunshine is the follow-up to the acclaimed Super Mario 64, something that many gamers still hold precious to this day. Being on the track of such a great title can be a curse more than anything else, simply because people begin to expect more. It's not that the game is necessarily bad, the thing is that hype ultimately brought a sad reality to it, a reality that never should have existed.

At its core, Super Mario Sunshine (Which will conveniently be called SMS from now on) brings to the table much of what appeared in 64. Great level design, enemy variety for the ages, graphics on par with a plasma screen tv, things seem practically identical to the almost perfect forerunner, key word though, seem. SMS suffers from some nagging flaws, most of which could have been corrected by a simple check to see if the game actually worked. Camera problems abound, challenges are repetitive, the citizens feel like a bunch of mumbling idiots, the list goes on and on. Through all of that though, the game is lacking probably the most important thing that it should have had, that special feeling of uniqueness that characterized 64.

Even with that being said though, things may still rebound for our hero yet. It's summer break, Peach's safe, Luigi's off getting horrified by some ghosts (He had that coming)…..everything fits. Shame those good things have to end, or we wouldn't have a game to play, now would we. Anyway, graffiti seems to be the new problem, with a clone that doesn't even look like Mario spreading it out across what's supposed to be our new vacation spot. Darn, and I was hoping that we'd get to rest a bit before things actually started. Being dumb as bricks, the local villagers point the finger at Mario, (They all need someone to blame their problems on, isn't that life in general) and force our good friend to clean it up or stay on the island forever. Not much of a choice, now is it? Anyway, with the help of a water sprayer, (think spray cans) Mario sets out to clean up the mess that his doppelganger started, and hopefully clear his name for good.

That said, I actually thought the story of this game was of good quality. It had a respectable amount of twists to keep things attention grabbing, while not delving too deeply into it to actually make me forget why I'm playing the game in the first place. Now I'm not saying that it probably could have not included at least a tad bit more in the story department, but it was honestly a pleasant surprise to see the story come out like this, especially considering the track record that this series usually has. Mario, for once, is portrayed as someone who's ready to save the princess, or at least clean his record (Not saying that a free home on a tropical island is necessarily a bad thing…).

Nor is sliding down the lane on a slip and slide, or do you know what a slip and slide really is? If not, then it's basically a piece of plastic attached to a hose that sprays water across the plastic. You then dive head first into it and slide across. I have fond memories of one that I had when I was younger, very fond memories. In fact, those memories still plop into my mind to this day, mainly because I almost killed myself one time because I was too stupid to put it on level ground. You get the picture…rock in the way…slope… I'm diving head first….yeah. So how does that tie into SMS? With the inclusion of FLUDD, (The water pack thing) Mario now does his acrobatics with the inclusion of water. A controversial topic this is indeed, since while some say that it was used too much, others object with the excuse that it was innovative. How could something innovated ever be bad though?

Have you ever heard of the saying, “Too much of a good thing is bad”? Well, that same principle can be applied to innovation. The problem stems from the fact that while the whole idea of using water for acrobatics is good, they didn't stop at just that. Water is used for practically everything, from defeating enemies to spraying away the goop that covers the island. It's repetitive, it's annoying, and it makes the game far to easy for its own good. As an example, say you have a decently tricky plat-forming challenge to overcome. The panels are moving, the blocks are flipping around. In 64, you would have actually had to do that alone; this time around, you can hover around with your water pack. It's instances like those that make this game unmemorable, and they should have been avoided. They did include some levels in which you have to do it without, and those levels are where the game truly shines. Classic game play at its finest, shame that they couldn't do that always.

Yet, why couldn't they do that always? When this game was under development, critics were boasting that if it even copied some of what made 64 fun, this game would be a success. While they did choose to copy things, they didn't copy the good things. You all remember those great stars from 64, right? Well, they are back, this time in the guise of shines. Throughout the miserable array of episodes that take place (and are they miserable), you're forced to collect 50 before you can beat the game. Wait…50? That's right, you don't even have to collect half of them before you can opt to finish things, which is the real kicker in what happens to be an array of whoppers. Another smart idea on their part, don't know if I'm thanking them for choosing to end it or getting angry at them for killing any form of replay value that could have stemmed from the game itself. You do have the ability to collect the rest of the scattered shines, but the whole point is why? You've already beaten the game, why would you ever want to waste more time to collect the rest? I guess it's more of a collect freak thing than anything else.

As I stated in the last paragraph, the game takes place over several episodes spanning the many parts of the island. Each area is fantastically designed, no doubt about it. Like what the castle was as a central hub in the previous game, now we get an island. From that island, you have access to the eight or so other levels that the game has to offer, each of which has its own segmented episodes from which you can choose. I've never been a fan of the episode segmentation to begin with, but to a degree it does work. By splitting challenges apart, the developers ensure that you'll be getting the maximum amount of time in each area, and I can't blame them for wanting to do that. The problems occur when they aren't diversifying the episodes in which you can choose. Red coin challenges generally take up two episodes alone, let alone the fact that the others aren't much different than find something and you're done. I can look past that though, because each area is greatly designed. Enemies are fantastically done, bosses a joy to play, without water pack challenges actually fun (Yeah, if only they could always do that), and best of all, each world is big and great to explore.

On the other hand, not, because they actually didn't really do that many of them. They did a great job with what they did do, don't get me wrong, but the whole point is they didn't actually get to doing more than just a couple. To me, they were relying far too much on how many episodes were in each area, rather than actually making enough areas to satisfy my tastes. Granted, not everyone will necessarily have this gripe, because it is true in the fact that each area that exists is fun, but they made a grave mistake in making the player sit too long in an individual area. If you want to make it fun, then I can understand, but it wasn't.

Something else that should probably be mentioned is the camera. Simply put, it's very erratic. Sometimes it works excellently, other times it swings around like a merry-go-round. In a worst-case scenario, it will go behind a wall right at the time you don't need it to. Say you're hovering around town with that spiffy pack of yours and there just happens to be a building to your side (Conveniently placed for this demonstration, of course). You're going straight, so there's no way that the camera could ever rotate around you unless you move it. That's the problem, you don't have to move it for it to move on its own. Too many times it will, for no apparent reason whatsoever, swing around and possibly force you to make a game-ending mistake. It's things like these that force me to really ask the question, “Did they actually play the game?”

Now I really don't want you to think that everything is bad, because it isn't. The game definitely has its high points, like for example the roller coaster chase in the amusement park. The thing is, examples like that give me a glimpse of what could have been done with this game, not necessarily what was done.

As you would probably expect, sunshine plays a huge role in terms of how the game looks (It is called Super Mario SUNSHINE after all). Actually, it almost plays an indispensable role when you think about it. From the moment the game is turned on, sunshine is shown to the player. But it isn't, which is kind of confusing. From the start, the island is darkened due to the goop that is covering it. Tampering with a high point of the game, now that's a new one (Not to say that it hasn't been done before).

So that brings me to my one question, why did they hold the graphics back until then? They knew that it preformed best under the sunshine, yet they chose to put a damper on it. It all comes down to the solitary point of wanting to do something special. If they had chosen to make the game always look good, then there wouldn't be a reward for the collector who wants to actually get the rest of the shines after the game is over (Don't even know if that's worth it). It is a weird point, but isn't that good? Isn't it good that they wanted to do something out of the ordinary? Isn't is good that they wanted to reward the player that will put up with the appalling repetition? Those questions may not totally fit to this, but you get the main picture. It's because they decided to do something special with the graphics that people will play this game after it's over.

But then you're probably asking the question, “Well, that's all good and well, but how long would that really last?” I guess that's the main problem, while it is great to see the city lighted up, that special feeling really can only last for so long before you get tired of it and throw it to the wind. This all comes back to that same problem of depth issues that everything else in this game has to fight with, and it really shouldn't have happened.

So hello there, I'm Mister Music! I'm a happy person, at least when I'm not copying myself over and over again. I like to use repetition, plus lots and lots of harmonicas. Well Mario is Italian….you get the point. Joking aside, cheerful, fun tunes seem to be the order of the day, with a tad bit of doom and gloom reserved for those dreary boss fights and certain levels (Such as the end, when they go about choosing lava once again). While SMS is repetitive, it's also fun. You'd be surprised how much being fun can make a track stand out even if it is repetitive.

Not to say that it's perfect, because it's not. Some tunes (Particularly the ghost house) are boring, while others are great and fun. Why can't they all be fun, can one of you tell me that? I doubt it, because the developers probably don't even have the answer to that one sadly. They did go ahead and use some excellent harmonica solos, which kind of added to that whole Italian Plumber theme that was going on throughout the entire game. That was probably important to them, being as though the atmosphere was being maintained very nicely.

While SMS can be a ridiculously fun game at times, there were a lot of problems that held it back in the end from truly being special. FLUDD, which had such great promise in the beginning, was utterly abused to the point that it wasn't even fun anymore. The camera was poorly placed, levels were scant, and the challenges were boring. Notice what was said at the beginning though, the game can be ridiculously fun at times. SMS may not have the ability to constantly be a great game, but in the end it gives a glimpse of what the fans wanted, a fun game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 03/12/07, Updated 01/04/10

Game Release: Super Mario Sunshine (US, 08/25/02)

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