Review by The Hellbound Heart
"An Iconic Character Returns............"
For me, Mario and co. will always remain my fondest gaming memory. The game 'Super Mario Bros' for the Nes was the first game I played, and the first game that I became completely addicted to! Simplicity and perfection are keywords for the Mario series in my opinion, as well as being a constant marker for innovation in the gaming industry. I rushed home from school and the first game I played with my Dad was this. Easy to pick up, slightly harder to master and complete, especially the testing levels later on. They were a challenge that rose in difficulty but never so much so that you merely desired to give up. With all this in mind, and not one of the Mario games disappointing me over the years (even the much maligned Super Mario Bros 2!), evolution had to take place. The industry and public demanded that 3D was the way forward, and so all eyes were on Mario 64 for the N64. That game, simply put, was a revelation. Groundbreaking. In my opinion there hasn't been a better 3D platformer since, only Banjo Kazooie came close to stealing Mario's deserved crown, and the throne from Shigeru Miyamoto. The man is a genius, as his other creations like Zelda have proved.
It has been a long six year wait for the sequel to Mario 64, or as it appears not to be the direct 'Mario 128' sequel, any 'proper' Mario game to be released for its eager fans. Forgive me if I pop open the champagne when a new 3D Mario platformer appears, because it feels that special and worth celebrating given the wait endured. A wait that long exudes a sense of quality. So much is the faith in Mario's creator that we don't mind waiting, we know that it will be something quite near to perfection, if such a thing can be achieved.
So, six years later and on a brand new Nintendo console called Gamecube, we finally have our game. 'Super Mario Sunshine'. But just how much better can it be from the near perfect Mario 64 all those years ago?
The graphics look truly stunning. The clarity and preciseness is amazing and really shows off the capabilities of the new hardware. All characters, including Mario look clear as crystal and are a huge leap from his N64 origins. As with most Nintendo games, the colours are vibrant and bright, yet not in such a way that would cause eye aching revulsion. The levels are beautifully designed, with wide open green hills like in Bianco Hills occupying some level borders, while in others there is the open sea which glistens in the sun. There is simple but very effective use of shadow, given that the new game is set on the sunny holiday hotspot of Isle Delfino. Staring up at the sun with the first person perspective causes a lens glare, used in most games today but still as stunning with the heavy sunlit levels. There are other levels which are set at different stages of the day, namely dusk at the Sirena Beach level. The orangey-red hue that envelopes the beach is awe inspiring, witnessing the slight silhouette of the roller coaster ride at Pinna Park, which was a previous level. These types of levels, especially the grand scale of Ricco Harbour really portray the hugeness of the island and the 3D world that has been created for you to explore. Pianta Village at night, with the glistening stars gazing down upon your high platform (and low fence grappling) exploits is a magical feeling. Once again, like in Mario 64 and I feel Nintendo do this the best, the water effects (which play a huge part in mostly all the levels due to your unique FLUDD contraption) are very realistically done. Witnessing rippling or spraying water, the waves crashing against the beach and the general physics of the game in relation to your character is very well done. Scenery pop up is relatively non-existent too.
Nintendo are renowned by the gamer for very catchy theme tunes for their games. Mario perhaps, has the most well known and since Super Mario Bros 3, has become firmly cemented in the mind. Unsurprisingly, the production team decided to reuse a few of the old songs for the retro 'secret levels' without the FLUDD where you have to traverse across many platforms, albeit in a new mix to sound more contemporary. These songs are good and makes the nostalgia within you bubble to the surface. Other than that, there are not that many new memorable tunes. Many sound too alike, and with all of them generally being influenced by the 'holiday resort' atmosphere, can become a little dull.
Game play: 9/10
This is the cream of the crop for the Mario games. The controls since Mario 64 have remained the same, that brilliant fluency of moves, the acrobatics and sensitive, responsive control from the intuitive analogue stick. Mario still tip toes when you want him too, and can break out into a run with the slight push of pressure by your thumb on the stick. What we have in effect, is that his moves have been enhanced and finely tuned.
The two biggest inclusions for this game is Mario's robotic companion FLUDD, who is essentially a big backpack water tank with a nozzle that sprays water, and the lovable Yoshi!
Yes, finally you can ride Yoshi in full 3D unlike the teaser cameo appearance at the end of Mario 64. The strategic puzzle element to his inclusion however, is that there are different coloured Yoshi's that hatch from their eggs depending on the type of fruit they desire. This element is needed to solve certain puzzles at times, where one particular Yoshi is needed so that you can progress in a level, or even access a level (the secret ones). Also important is the dinosaur's abilities which come in useful for accessing parts of levels too high to reach as he can jump higher than Mario, and is the only one able to digest ghosts!
FLUDD is the biggest inclusion. With the island polluted by an unknown enemy posing as you, he becomes your companion during your community service of cleaning up the island. He sprays the muck away. Yet more than this, unlock FLUDD's two other upgrades and you can use his water tank and nozzle as a rocket pack and as a speedy propeller! Some of these functions are integral to completing the levels, as this is the new main feature and difference from Mario 64. You will rarely not be using FLUDD, the controller's shoulder buttons activate spraying while another button flips his function and gives a neat first person view to get up close to the action, like against a piranha plant boss! I found this to be a dramatic departure from the series, and while it was fiddly for some time but thankfully becomes second nature with practice, it still and me pining for the classic platform style of Mario 64. That is why, alongside the usual levels of platform acrobatics, spraying very pretty gloop pollution, solving puzzles and collecting gold coins, the secret levels take away the FLUDD and resort to a retro classic platform leaping style. These levels break up the action, but are very challenging at times. Indeed, Super Mario Sunshine appears to be the hardest Mario game I have played when it comes to 100% completion. Concentration is the key, and some fans may find this new game slightly inaccessible or boring after a while. Indeed, I stopped playing it after the second level for three months and then came back to it from the beginning. Only with a little perseverance did I beat complete it and truly appreciate its greatness. I was hooked near the end (though Noki Bay rattled my patience occasionally!). Camera angle control the game is easily manipulated and works like a dream.
The blue coin collecting, there are 240 in total and you need them to trade for Shines if you want to attempt to get all the Shines, is the most challenging aspect. I'm pleased I finally did it, but it was tough, annoying at times and NOT the future for the series I hope. Likewise, FLUDD is innovative and well crafted, but the variety of the levels in Mario 64 rather than sunny levels and without a robotic sidekick (relying merely on yourself) is what I prefer. So to some up, the new setting and FLUDD feature are excellent but not the future of the series. It seems obvious that it won't be, so enjoy Mario with a difference.
Completing it with the minimum requirement of Shines is fairly easy. But this would be depriving yourself of a great game and its many challenges. Collecting all 120 Shines and consequentially all 240 blue coins is quite some feat, and even with a guide will take you some time depending on how eager you are to complete it. I found the blue coin aspect to be very challenging. After completion of the game however, there is little incentive to return to the Isle of Delfino once more. Extra items such as shades and fashionable holiday wear clothes for Mario to wear is not brilliant, nor does it enhance the game in any significant way (like any new levels or tasks).
There are seven levels, and these are all accessed from the main hub of the game, Delfino Plaza like the Castle in Mario 64 before it. With the inclusion of blue coin hunting, exploration is very much the theme.
Not as groundbreaking as Mario 64 which is to be expected, but it is a finely polished sequel that improves tenfold. The FLUDD and holiday resort is an interesting new angle, but you cannot help but miss the variety of Mario 64's levels. Still, this is the best 3D Platformer that money can buy and up there with all the rest of the Mario games. There is no better 3D Platformer out this hardware generation.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/20/03
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