Review by Internet Nomad

"I guess I need a witty pun about the sun..."

As August 2002 approached, an enormous amount of hype was surrounding Mario's first true adventure in six years. The pimpin' plumber was coming out of retirement, giving up frenzied tennis matches, relaxing days at the links, and those insane parties for some more conventional Bowser ass-kicking. But did the aging Italian have enough gas left in his tank? Had his extended time off left his ever-protruding belly even rounder? Was Super Mario Sunshine going to be worth a damn?!

The answer to these questions is a somewhat murmured yes. In its own right, Super Mario Sunshine is one of the best platformers for any console currently on the market. But when compared to older games in the series, the sun doesn't shine so brightly on Mario's latest adventure. Super Mario Sunshine is, essentially, more of Super Mario 64 in a somewhat less appealing state.

If there's one area that Sunshine 1UPS (formatted for nostalgic value) Mario 64, it's in storyline. Sunshine weaves a deep and involving tale of Mario, the heroic and hefty warrior, taking a well-deserved vacation after the bloodied battles he witnessed during kart racing and golf. But alas, it's not all fun in the sun for Mario and his girlfriend (wife, ho, whatever) Peach, as Mario is thrown in jail almost immediately after arriving on the tropical Isle Delfino under a false criminal charge. What terrible deed has Mario supposedly committed? Murder? Rape? Worse...pollution.

Apparently the EPA sponsored the development of this game, since one of Mario's main goals throughout is to clean up a gratuitous mess he didn't even make. Why the big M didn't make a jailbreak and take off in his jet is beyond me. I guess Mario's just too nice a guy. He instead agrees to clean up the entire island, restore peace amongst the people, and hunt down the scoundrel that has attempted to steal his identity and give him the beatdown to end all beatdowns. And so the adventure begins.

Super Mario Sunshine's basic design is almost identical to that of Super Mario 64. Delfino Plaza serves as the hub area through which you can access other areas. Mario has access to but one level at the beginning of his quest. Upon entering the level, you're given a mission (called an ''Episode'') to accomplish in the level in order to acquire a Shine, the life force behind Isle Delfino and its residents (very similar to the stars you collected in SM64). There are eight episodes in every level, and a total of 120 Shines scattered throughout the game (only about 60 are needed to beat the game).

Each area is immense, dwarfing all of Mario's previous ventures. As the camera pans out over a new level, curiosity will likely overwhelm you as you try to decide which area to explore first. You'll find yourself not even trying to accomplish anything many times in Mario Sunshine, simply jumping gleefully about the environments. Most of Mario's arsenal from his last 3D adventure is back, such as the wall jump, triple jump, and the beloved butt stomp. But Mario's lost his ninja punches and kicks. Instead, he's taken a page out of Adam Sandler's book. Mario is the Waterboy.

At the beginning of the game you'll acquire the FLUDD water device, a backpack water gun of sorts that makes those old Super Soakers look like toys (er...more toyish toys). FLUDD can be used a weapon, a cleaning agent, a hovering device, a speed inducer, and a propulsion mechanism! It's like a Swiss Army Knife on your back. The numerous functions are applied to FLUDD through the use of nozzles sprinkled lightly throughout the levels.

FLUDD becomes an integral part of Sunshine's gameplay, taking a huge role in almost all of the mission objectives. Fill up a huge, walking Piranha Plant's belly with water; douse rabid Chain Chomps in water to weaken their flames; sail across a contaminated lake on a lilypad using the force of the water pack's spray nozzle to propel yourself forward. Mario and his beloved talking backpack (Mario passed realism long ago with damsel-stealing turtles) are rarely separated, but that's not necessarily a good thing. Though FLUDD is a very relevant part of the game, it comes off as a cheap gimmick used in an attempt to differentiate this game from its predecessor. It's pretty fun to go lay the smack down on enemies with the help of Mother Nature at first, but the novelty wears off fairly quickly. FLUDD seriously downplays the platforming aspects of the game, making the game feel oddly separate from past Mario games, with exploration taking more of the spotlight.

Sounds like a good thing, right? Maybe if it was implemented correctly. If there's one place Super Mario Sunshine falls flat on its ass (presumably in a pit of lava, with Mario yowling while grabbing his hiney), it's in some of the mission objectives. A good number of them are the enjoyable, creative things you'd expect from a game so similar to Mario 64: stop a group of rabid chain chomps, defeat an ever-multiplying manta ray, destroy a maniacal Bowser robot at an amusement park, etc; but quite a few Shines revolve around collecting coins. In most levels, there are two ''Collect the eight Red Coins'' missions, which generally just demands that you go on a miniature fetch quest finding the coins spread throughout the level. To have one in a level is an acceptable, albeit grating, change of pace from Mario's usual objectives, but having two is downright angering. Blue coins are hidden throughout the levels also, and can be used to buy Shines in a Delfino Plaza shop for ten coins a pop. This means more annoying collect-'em-all gameplay, and there's very little chance you'll feel compelled to hunt down the blue currency. With all this collecting, there's very little room left for the usual mission objectives of completing odd tasks around the levels, meaning Mario's expectedly gargantuan adventure has been shrunken to a mere seven or so areas.

The setting doesn't help either. While the tropical atmosphere might seem like an interesting deviation from the usual expeditions in the Mushroom Kingdom, Isle Delfino actually makes the game feel wholly lacking in variety. The over-the-top, inventive worlds of Mario 64 have been replaced with beaches. They're very pretty beaches, yes, but like any oceanic locales not involving girls in bikinis, they get old fairly fast.

Sunshine practically redeems all of its shortcomings with the inclusion of hidden ''old school'' levels. In such levels, Mario loses his waterpack and is forced to revert to the use of his plain ol' feet. He must dodge obstacles and make timed jumps in classic platforming fashion to reach the goal and gain a Shine. There are more than a dozen of these areas strewn throughout Sunshine, each one more complex than the last. Some of them are eye-gougingly difficult, but you'll never find yourself loathing them, even after you've hurled your WaveBird against the far wall. These levels are undoubtedly the high point of the game.

Sunshine looks surprisingly nice. Its visuals are bright and colorful, as a Mario game should be. The levels offer a fair amount of detail, the water being particularly impressive. In fact, Sunshine probably has the most impressive water effects I've seen in a video game, a pretty odd feat for a Mario title. Nothing else is really jaw-dropping, but graphical splendor isn't usually expected from a Mario game.

Sunshine's music, however, is mediocre. There's nothing to grate your eardrums, but there are no memorable tunes either. Even the hub world's music will fade from your memory pretty quickly. All the songs have a tropical feel to them that goes along with the theme of the game, but they just refuse to stick in your head. Sound effects are much better, with Mario retaining all the ''woo''s and ''YAHOO''s of his N64 adventure. There's also a good bit of voice work for everyone except Mario himself. Most of the voices fit the characters relatively well, with Peach sounding like the airhead we all know she's been following her Super Mario Bros. 2 outing.

Sunshine was mildly disappointing, but only because my expectations were incredibly high. It's still one of the best games to be found in the extremely weak platformer genre, and when at its highest points, it's better than the great Super Mario 64. This is the Super Mario 64 2 that everyone wanted. Now let's see Nintendo come up with something original.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/24/03, Updated 06/24/03

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