Super Mario Brothers. It's the top-selling video game series of all time. Some of the industry's most memorable adventures have come from the world's favourite plumber. The original Super Mario Bros. was the first video game I ever played and opened my eyes to a world that would change my life forever. And most people cannot deny the masterpiece that is Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES. Super Mario 64 was a revolutionary expansion of the Mario universe into the third dimension. Heck, even Mario Tennis kicked a fair amount of gamer butt (and I'm not a sports person by any definition). I had many great times with so many Mario games in the past, it's hard to remember every instance. great fun with all of those. So why did I find Super Mario Sunshine so irritating? I used to think that Donkey Kong 64 was the ultimate video game irritant (definite honourable mention going to Spyro: Year of the Dragon), but as soon as I dove deep into Super Mario Sunshine, I discovered that there was another player on the field. Irritating controls and almost equally irritating missions made this game seem more like a chore than a joy. But let's look a little closer at the one Mario game that made me frown and curse repeatedly.
This time around, there seems to be an organized group vacation away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, Princess Peach, and a variety of other mushroom folk need to relax from their busy schedules. So they head off to a wonderful resort at Isle Delfino, home to a bunch of strange overweight blob folks with oversized noses. It's a relaxing locale with lots of delicious seafood, pools and beaches all over the place, and the crispy sun beating down every day. But upon their arrival, they discover that something is not right. The entire island has been covered with goopy graffiti at the hands of a Mario lookalike (well, okay, they're too stupid to notice that the fake Mario is a translucent blue, unlike the real Mario). So when they arrive on the airstrip, Mario is arrested and found guilty by a court judge. He is then ordered to clean up the island. Also, the island's source of power, the Shine Sprites, have also gone missing, resulting in a huge shadow hovering over Isle Delfino; Mario must recover these, too. Some vacation, right? He acquires FLUDD (Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dousing Device), which is basically a talking squirt gun with a few extra capabilities. Luckily, it doesn't say much during the game. The story gets even deeper as you progress through the game. It turns out that this mysterious "Shadow Mario" is actually none other than Bowser Jr., son of Bowser himself! Bowser Jr. kidnaps Princess Peach under the impression that she is his mother. Yeah, trust me on this one: Bowser Jr. doesn't look ANYTHING like Peach. I'd be more inclined to believe that Bowser is a hermaphrodite and impregnated himself. (And doesn't he already have seven kids? This is just like that woman in the news who purposely tried to have children and ended up with octuplets, in addition to the six she already had. Bowser needs to put a few up for adoption. He doesn't even have a steady job, and his Employment Insurance is probably dried up by now.) Now Mario has to clean the island, gather some Shine Sprites, and rescue the princess. He's a busy man.
Sounds like the setup for a pretty fun Mario game, right? Well, it would be, had they actually perfected the game before releasing it. Something tells me this game was on a tight schedule; things that I thought were well-implemented in Super Mario 64 six years earlier were fumbled in Super Mario Sunshine. This is one of those "collect everything" types of games, along the same lines as Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Crash Bandicoot. Instead of 120 missing stars, it's...120 missing Shine Sprites! Wow, what a big difference! They're both star-shaped anyway, and even have the Starman eyes on them. Maybe they even copied the basic code. Some Shine Sprites require you to collect 8 red coins in an area -- just like Mario 64! Huh. The only big difference is that you also need to collect Blue Coins to trade in for Shine Sprites. Now those suckers are a pain in the neck to find. There are 240 of those. That's too many of anything to find. Maybe I don't want to find all 240 of them! Take that, Nintendo. But you'll have to go looking for them in a variety of different locales, including Ricco Harbour, Gelato Beach, and Pinna Park, the craziest amusement park ever. But instead of hopping through paintings like in Mario 64, you jump through... portals painted by Shadow Mario. What a stretch. Each area is unique in its own way, although some are clearly more dangerous than others, as you'll come to discover when you progress through the game. Each area has eight different missions for Shine Sprites, plus two secret ones, a certain number of Blue Coins, and a Shine Sprite for collecting 100 coins in one trip. Are you willing to get them all? I stopped at around 108; I didn't feel like wracking my mind and completing some nearly impossible stunts just to get a few Shines that won't make a big difference in the end. I finished the game with 79 Shines anyway, so it's no skin off my buns.
The biggest addition to the series would be the implementation of FLUDD, the water pump. This has single-handedly changed the entire mechanic of the Mario series, though I would not declare that it's for the better. Mario has always been known for stomping on enemies (or occasionally using his dinosaur pal, Yoshi, to handle the tasty bits). Having to spray down enemies just doesn't feel natural for our top plumber. You'll be able to knab up to three different attachments, in addition to just your regular spray gun, although you can only hold one of them at a time (c'mon, put the others in your pocket or something). You have to find a coloured box in the area to grab the attachment you need, which is a bummer, especially when you have to unlock it first. There is the hover nozzle for...hovering around for a short time, the rocket nozzle for shooting yourself straight up into the air, and the turbo nozzle for moving around at top speed. They're fine, I suppose, but sometimes a bit difficult with accuracy -- sometimes I miss my target landings when I try to get places. Ah well, that comes with the 3D platforming territory, although the level design makes it a bit challenging to ensure that accuracy. One other nozzle-related trifle I have is a certain boat you have to control by spraying in the opposite direction to make it move or turn... well, it SHOULD be controlled by spraying in the opposite direction, but sometimes, it has a mind of its own! I found this to be frustrating, and because it is an absolute requirement in order to complete the game, using the boat should be much easier. I hate that stupid boat. It lightly taps a solid object and immediately tips over, dropping me into water or, worse yet, scorching hot lava.
But it has to be said: the jumping mechanic is flawed. Very flawed. Although it was tolerable enough in Mario 64, it has taken a nose dive. Sometimes Mario does some wacky high jumps when you don't want it, and doesn't quite get the right height just when you want him to. Wall jumping is also a bit difficult, as Mario doesn't always hop off walls in the exact opposite direction, instead opting for just going to a parallel wall. But the most annoying new style of jumping is the backflip. Mario used to be able to crouch and then pull off a nice flip. That was fair. Now you have to run in the opposite direction, do a quick 180°, and then jump immediately. That's a bit more difficult to pull off 100% of the time, and needs improvement. Combined with the fact that Mario always feels like he is sliding around on ice, getting Mario to pull off some classic platforming is more of a chore than a pleasure. This is especially true in the "secret" stages where you have to get through obstacle courses that require extensive leaping capabilities (fail and fall to your doom); with poor jumping controls, you might as well just walk away. There is a pinball-like stage that is particularly frustrating in regard to controls -- oh dear goodness. I'd rather like to forget having to bounce around that stage, failing 49 consecutive times. But the controls make those stages torture. Torture!
As an additional sidenote, I also miss Mario's ability to punch from Mario 64, but that's just something I'll have to live with. To balance this negative point out, the designers put Yoshi to slightly better use this time around. Now you can actually hop on his back, run around and slurp up enemies to his delight. That's great; he has his classic Yoshi sound effects from Yoshi's Story, and is quite cheerful. But having to bring a special fruit all the way to a Yoshi egg (depending on what the egg is "dreaming" about) just to free Yoshi is a pain, especially when you have to do this EVERY time you want him. Plus, he can't handle any swimming, so if he gets wet, he disintegrates and you need to reclaim him from an egg that has respawned in the area. Also, depending on what fruit he eats, he will become orange, pink, or purple, and he can squirt stomach juice that has various effects on things, such as washing away special yellow paint or transforming enemies into platforms for hopping on. What? ...WHAAAAT?! That's not the Yoshi I know! He could never do that! And you can't even get a classic green Yoshi anymore! Damn, Nintendo, you might as well plant a tutu on the poor creature!
Graphically speaking, Super Mario Shine is a tad on the simple side. Mario games have never historically been a detailed series, keeping more on the path of basic textures and focusing more on the gameplay (except for this one). Aside from a select few textures here and there, it's most solid textures, shaded a bit from the sunlight. All of the characters and objects are more detailed, but again, their overall design is far too cutesy and simplistic than I'd hoped. The non-playable characters all look the same and repeat far too much -- those Piantas are everywhere. From the Nintendo 64, this would be blown everyone's mind. From the GameCube... I think they could do a little better. Still, it's an improvement over anything I could have conjured up. Everything has that coastal feel to it, and the water effects look neat. The camera isn't always cooperative; sometimes it gets stuck behind walls. Nintendo knew about this, so you can see a shadow of yourself, and every other item or character appears as a question mark. It's a thoughtful gesture, but... um... could they not have just tweaked the camera system first?
The music in this game is actually a bit catchy, although there is a bit of a tendency to reuse the same melody in several locations, just in a different musical style each time. There is a general theme of island rhythms throughout the game. Of course, this is not the first Mario game to try this out. Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES had a few tropical tunes as well, and they turned out superbly. I suppose such is also true of Super Mario Sunshine. They even kept the extra drums that accompanied Yoshi when you hopped on in Super Mario World. Nice! I am far from displeased with the soundtrack, although it does feel like a bit of a stretch from typical Mario fare. I can live with it, and hopefully you can, too. Sound effects are cartoony but fit the vibe of the game. The voice acting is a bit limp, though; I don't know where they picked up a few of the voice actors, but they should have been replaced with someone more vibrant (particularly the judge at the beginning of the game and whoever provided the voice for FLUDD -- yes, I know it's a machine, but seriously, that's the worst nerd impression I've heard in a long time). Mario's wacky voice can become ear-grating over time, though; the Princess sounds absolutely bimbo-like, too. Beware.
Is Super Mario Sunshine the worst video game I've ever played? Absolutely not: there is actually plenty of fun to be had, as long as you're willing to undergo bouts of frustration amidst that joy. Is Super Mario Sunshine the worst Mario game I've ever played? Well, it will not rank as my favourite, that's for sure. I much prefer the classic 2D platformers of olde, with the noted exception of any edutainment titles he was forced into. The strange thing is that I feel as though the GameCube editions of some of Nintendo's top franchises have been relatively disappointing. For example, I love the Legend of Zelda series, but Wind Waker was the first game I wouldn't recommend to people. As for the Mario series, I feel somewhat similar about Super Mario Sunshine. It's a alright game in its own right, but it certainly did not evoke the high spirits that other games have done in the past. Or perhaps I am just picky. ...No, it's definitely the game. Try it out if you wish, but don't expect another Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario 64 out of this experience.