Review by Ashley Winchester
Reviewed: 02/18/03 | Updated: 02/18/03
Not Enough "Light" To Brighten My Day...
There is something wrong with this picture: I did not care for Super Mario Sunshine. There is something wrong indeed, as since I started playing videogames (back in the days of the original Nintendo), I have never encountered a Mario game I disliked. While that fact remains true to this day, Super Mario Sunshine stands as being the first Mario game I felt stands vastly inferior to its predecessors. Please note that although I am writing this review post-Valentine’s Day 2003, I did in fact purchase the import the day it came out back in August of 2002.
Before I begin with my critique most proper, I should establish the excitement and anticipation leading up to my acquisition of Mario Sunshine so as to perhaps give readers a bit more insight in why I don’t care for this particular game. I loved Super Mario 64. Hands down, without a doubt. For all it’s worth, Mario 64 was reason enough to buy the Nintendo 64. Naturally, when illegitimate screens and talk began appearing on the internet about Super Mario 64 2 (which supposedly would let you also play as Luigi) I got quite excited. Furthermore, I recall reading in Nintendo Power magazine that Miyamoto himself stated that he had a running build of Mario 64-2 on the computer at his desk. Sadly however, that game never materialized.
Fast forward 6 years into the future where Nintendo’s previous console is nowhere to be found, instead replaced by the “revolutionary” disc based Gamecube. It is now August 2002, and despite the Gamecube celebrating its first year anniversary in only a few weeks (note that this review is based on the imported game and hence the Japanese Gamecube, which released in September of 2001), there is STILL no “system launch” title out; still no Mario game. Naturally, the advent of Mario Sunshine got me going insane. The thought of playing the successor to Super Mario 64, a game that my parents got sick of videogames altogether (as I made them drive me to Toys R Us day after day to play Mario 64 in the weeks before the game released) was indeed driving me mad. I remember literally getting into arguments on Final Fantasy XI [import] over who played it first (as one user claimed he got the game almost a week early). Naturally, I was excited. So excited was I, that when news arrived that the import store I ordered the game from would not get their shipment in until the NEXT day (a Saturday), I did nothing short of go to New York City’s Chinatown and buy it right then and there, spending far more money on gas and tolls than had I simply waited until Sunday and incurred the Express Mail (Next Day Delivery Sunday Drop Off) fee. But it was all worth it, so long as I could play Super Mario Sunshine NOW, and not wait any longer. Yes, it was all worth it…or so I thought. In truth I am not sure what went wrong with Super Mario Sunshine. Considering that it is the follow up to arguably one of the best games ever created, if not the most emulated, there is no logical reason as to why it could actually be worse than its parent. And yet it is; for all intensive purposes-to me at least-Super Mario Sunshine is quite possibly one of the largest blunders in Nintendo’s game producing history.
Gone are all the whimsical fantasy worlds and creative quests that littered the world of Mario 64. Instead, the player finds a tropical island paradise, Dolfino/Dolphic Island, which is covered in graffiti by some unknown deviant. While this delinquent behavior (topped off by an “M” insignia that oddly resembles that of a certain popular fast food chain) is indeed a new element of style and problem for Mario to solve-especially since he’s accused of causing the mess-it seems that somewhere along the way, Nintendo and Miyamoto lost sight of what it was they actually wanted to do. In Sunshine, Mario receives a special water pump backpack called “FLUDD”, built by none other than Professor E. Gadd (see Luigi’s Mansion) and needs to clean up all the graffiti from the island in order to bring peace back to its inhabitants and restore balance to the environment. FLUDD, or Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dousing Device, has the typical Nintendo “charm” in that it of course talks, thus making the adventure even more bizarre. This brings into play the concept of jet propulsion and other types of transportation (all water based mind you) and adds a new dimension to the game play that was indeed not present in Mario 64. Back from Mario 64 is the collection task, this time in the form of magical Shine Sprites.
Unlike Mario 64, which featured countless worlds all of differing environments, Mario’s tropical clean up adventure is restricted to a measly 7 worlds (8 if you count the hub main world, and 9 if you TRULY want to stretch things and count the almost non-existent final area). That’s right, seven worlds. This is not to say the worlds themselves are badly designed, however it’s what they don’t have that leaves the player disappointed. Gone are the complicated workings of a giant clock, gone are the physics defying machinations of a Big/Small world, gone are the chilly breezes of an artic wonderland, gone are the scaling heights of a colossal stone tower, gone are the whimsical breezes of a world in the sky. Of course, since Sunshine takes place on a tropical resort, one can’t expect all of these things to appear. Oddly enough however, the one thing a tropical resort *would* have, namely water, is hardly even present itself! Whereas Super Mario 64 had THREE complete water worlds, there is not even one in Super Mario Sunshine. This is just appalling if you ask me, especially when you consider that Sunshine truly revolves around water. This is where I believe Sunshine fails the most: in its stages. Far too many of the areas in Sunshine feel just like the ones before it, and even the few that are “new”, such as Pinna Park, are hardly fleshed out enough to create any feeling of true enjoyment. I can not stress enough the massive disappointment I felt upon reaching the end of Sunshine and realizing that there were no more worlds to experience; that the uninspired seven areas where all that laid waiting in a game that was six years in the making. Again, this is *not* to say that the areas in Sunshine were poorly designed or such, just that they are too few and too plain. I *wanted* to soar on floating carpets and pirate ships again; I *wanted* to scale the insides of a clock, I *wanted* to wander through caves filled with poison gasses and spiders. I *wanted* to climb a giant snowman or race a penguin down a icy path.
Adding to the disease that plagues Sunshine is the sheer lack of creativity the developers put into it. Whoever concluded that finding hundreds of blue coins constitutes a fun product seriously needs to reconsider their own ideas of bliss. Proponents of Sunshine will argue that the challenge of finding all the coins (used to buy Shine Sprites; 10 coins yields one sprite) is a task in and of itself, but I offer them the conclusion that it’s simply an excuse used to try and cover up the fact that Sunshine truly lacks any real creativity. The game’s reliability and completion factor should not rely on performing menial tasks that serve no real purpose whatsoever, but should rely on finding the carefully hidden, ingeniously concealed shines. But it doesn’t even manage to pull that off well. With a limitless amount of things that can be accomplished with the power of the Nintendo Gamecube as well as the storage power of a DVD medium, it boggles the mind why the developers of Sunshine decided to reuse the same premises in every stage. Yeah, chasing Nesei Mario (“False Mario”, Shadow Mario in the USA release) can be fun, but when you consider that 16 of the main shines are obtained in this fashion (i.e. the event occurs two times per stage) it becomes quite a different story. Adding to this is the fact that each stage contains 1 (or more) races with Ill Passimo, an odd looking masked island inhabitant (the only “humanoid on all of Dolfino) who has a flair for racing, races that often provide no challenge to the player, and truly serve to be nothing more than a wasted shine requirement. It is a complete mystery as to how Super Mario 64 managed to have so many original star (the precursor to shines) requirements, but its purportedly massive sequel does not. It is *truly* disturbing to consider that after six (plus) years after Mario 64’s release, not only does Nintendo get less creative in making the follow up, but actually does LESS work entirely. Mario Sunshine truly seems to forget that the Mario series is all about diversity (i.e. many different stages) and not about bland simplicity and generic designs.
Graphically, Mario Sunshine is quite an accomplishment. The casual player may indeed be mystified at the ability to stare far out into the distance and see everything in crystal clear clarity. Everything from far away enemies to other areas on the island are all visible and with no noticeable graphical hindrances whatsoever. Even the water effects are remarkable, and indeed so too, are the ground ones. I would find it impossible to believe that anyone could stroll around Mama Beach (Gelato Beach in the English version-one of *many* questionable name changes Nintendo of America made) and not be blown away by the sight up top of the giant mirrors that adorn the area. Truly graphics are the one area where Sunshine radiates a considerable improvement over its predecessor. Of course one needs to be fair in making that statement: Mario 64 came 6 years prior and released on vastly inferior hardware, thus it is hardly to blame.
The music of Sunshine also caused much disappointment for me. Whereas every Mario game in the past always managed to yield at least *one* catchy tune (save for the original where each tune proved to be permanently embedded in society’s collective psyche), in truth I can not recall even one music composition from Sunshine. This is not to say the music is bad per se, just not anything special. When compared to the scores of games like The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, or even Star Fox Adventures however, the music of Sunshine is vastly eclipsed in every way possible.
The control of Sunshine is at times both good, and bad. Despite what some people claim is one of the best camera systems ever envisioned, I feel that Sunshine’s camera operations leave quite a lot to be desired. On various occasions I missed jumps or movement simply because the camera decided to change perspective all of a sudden, or because I could not see what I was doing well enough. Additionally, the “translucent walls” innovation employed truly did not save any annoyances whatsoever.
If it has not already been made clear to the reader, the fun factor of Sunshine is truly not a redeeming factor. In my honest opinion, Mario Sunshine plays exactly the same as Mario 64 did, just with less/different moves. Gone are some of Mario’s most quintessential skills from his castlequest, instead replaced with shenanigans revolving around a water pump. Additionally, many of the shine quests proved to be simply down right annoying (such as rolling watermelons) and caused more annoyance than they were worth. Even collecting all the shines was hardly a worthwhile task considering the horrendous reward the player receives for doing such. (Yeah, the reward in Mario 64 was hardly anything to write home over itself, but then again 64 didn’t have the player collecting hundreds of coins.). Heck, I think that the fun of being able to launch onto Peach’s Castle in Mario 64 was more excitement than doing almost anything in Sunshine. Even the bosses in Sunshine aren’t exciting, mostly because you essentially fight the same two throughout the game. Even events that would normally be considered fun (such as the first shine quest in the amusement park) are rendered anything but when you factor in the questionable control.
Finally, the story of Mario Sunshine is anything but exciting. Granted the story of Mario 64 was clichéd beyond belief, but get past the initial exposition of Sunshine’s “plot” and you will begin to find more confusion than you thought possible. To say anything more would be a spoiler, but let’s just say that Nintendo apparently ignored two entire Mario games worth of “details” in creating the character of the evil bandit of Sunshine.
Thus as one can easily tell, Mario Sunshine let me down, bigtime. While some believe, and indeed argue, that Sunshine will be heralded as one of the greatest games ever made, I truly beg to differ. In my mind, the only thing to credit Sunshine with is holding the title of being one of the biggest disappointments ever created. In truth, I would have had more fun playing a graphically updated port of Super Mario 64 than I had playing Sunshine. Indeed that wish hardly even one of complete surprise either, given Nintendo’s extreme penchence of porting games lately…
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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