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Super Mario Sunshine: A Retrospective Review
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't constantly posting on Twitter about his excitement about getting new Nintendo consoles, Roberts likes little more than stomping on stubby men and people's pet turtles.
The last time John went to a holiday resort, he was drinking orange juice when suddenly he was jumped on by a fat man in dungarees and ridden around the hotel. Upon seeing a ghost, he spat juice at it and made it explode. He doesn't like to talk about it, but it was one of the best holidays he'd ever had. He never got a refund on his regurgitated Fanta.
Cleaning up one's act
I'll be straight with everyone reading this: I'm not a fan of Super Mario 64 and I never have been. I don't hate the game because I enjoy the concept and appreciate the tough leap into the 3D world. Add to that Nintendo's complete lack of 3D games before save for Star Fox with the Turbo GrafX chip, and it would be unfair to criticise the game because of a naïve developer. It's not as though the gameplay was bad but it suffered from so many issues involving slow to start up character control, some of my least favourable camera control ever and the visuals weren't up to much. I guess back in the day you could choose between blurry and pixelated, but Super Mario 64 is a mix of both its own developers and the Playstation 1. Yes, I'm criticising Super Mario 64.
But why? Why am I bashing a classic game that has changed the 3D aspect of Nintendo games since its release? It's because Super Mario Sunshine is an improvement in every single way, and yet my opinions on SM64 have not changed. This game has been a mixed bag since its release and is sadly one of Mario's most easily forgotten games, even more obscure to some fans than Mario's Time Machine and Mario versus Donkey Kong on GBA. Super Mario 64 'split the herd' as it were, bringing two kinds of Super Mario fan: those who liked 3D, and those who liked 2D, and it caused bitter arguments that settled down rather quickly, especially with the Nintendo DS' release of New Super Mario Bros. And despite what you may think, relations between fans only worsened with Super Mario Sunshine because it's made heavy changes to what fans knew in SM64! So why was such polish and shine dismissed easily, yet I embrace it and wholly recommend it? Find out in my retrospective review, based on experiences upon its release and right now!
"....this is such a break from the original Mario worlds we've been in ranging from Sarasaland to Rainbow Road, and it can easily throw you off."
A sequel to Super Mario 64 had been intended ever since the game's launch and this idea was in development Hell if such a thing existed for pondering. The closest names that producer Takashi Tezuka (no, not of Takeshi's Castle) had thought of were Super Mario 64 2 and Super Mario 128, neither of which in my opinion would be marketable. However in Nintendo Space World, an event similar to E3 where new consoles and games would be showcased, Super Mario Sunshine was unveiled to the surprise of thousands of Mario enthusiasts attending. The original ideas for the Nintendo 64 game's sequel were scrapped and started anew, replaced with the idea of Mario with a water pump of sorts. Despite 10 final candidates for the pump only one could be chosen, and while not favoured by the artists nor players, it was the most practical and fitting for the latest instalment of the franchise. This was FLUDD, who sadly didn't appear in future Mario games apart from Super Smash Bros. Brawl as an item.
Konji Kondo and Shinobu Tanaka had not only made the original soundtrack but had made their own renditions of earlier Mario songs, most notably the theme tune in the secret levels. While most of the songs are great they're easily forgotten and weren't worth putting on a soundtrack CD for purchase.
Thicker than Water
Rather than be a direct sequel to Super Mario 64, Sunshine starts a completely new adventure with a much more involving cast. The Mushroom Kingdom has managed to keep itself out of Bowser's sights for some time and Peach feels it's safe to let her guard down by relaxing on vacation. Taking with her multiple Toads and Mario, they set course for Isle Delfino - a magical holiday resort which is unlike any other Mario world we've seen before (OK, maybe some tracks in Mario Kart). However disaster strikes when Mario is framed for a crime he didn't commit, which was using an enchanted glue to graffiti the world and use it to conjure evil creatures native to the Mushroom Kingdoms. Mistaken for Shadow Mario, the real Italian Plumber must clean up his imposter's act with FLUDD, a powerful water pump.
It's hard to suspect Shadow Mario's intentions and origins, but it's later revealed that he is in fact Bowser Junior using Team Fortress 2 disguise logic (wear a mask and everyone thinks you're someone else). Junior wants to impress his father and does to no end thanks to his ingenious plan to get Mario behind bars, as well as cause more trouble in the isle. Bowser isn't the game's only antagonist as there are Boos, Piranha Plants, Bloopers and even enormous sea serpents which threaten Mario's life and the rest of the isle, all of which have some interesting boss mechanics that pay homage to the game's original inspiration.
Sunshine is often criticised for having really bad cutscenes and to be honest I don't see why. The animation is superb but that's only based on the little action there is in them, and I agree with most critics when they say the voice work is plain annoying. Mario has less language skills than he did before, and Peach's high-pitched squeal reminds me of my regularly dying ear hairs. As I say the cutscenes were well made and advance the story far better than the rogue dialogue boxes that appeared when you made progress in Super Mario 64 (but the sound accompanying them was legendary). They highlight the game's brightness and add more salivating to seeing the juicy Isle Delfino.
It's no exaggeration to say that Isle Delfino is so gorgeous you can taste it in your spit. The colours are possibly the best thing about the holiday resort, taking full advantage of the Gamecube's colour palette. Everything from the rooftops to the hills, the fruit to the very villagers themselves are highly detailed and no-one can deny that the art teams wanted to make this game the most visually impressive for the console. The isle itself is quite expansive and anyone who were to say it's too small for 12 or so levels clearly hasn't discovered the Easter eggs, hidden levels, shines and blue coins. Nintendo have not only made a large hub though: they've made a large interactive hub and I find this was missing in Super Mario 64. Peach's Castle had cryptic stuff everywhere varying from obvious things like pipes, doors and switches to the more rewarding finds like stained glass secrets and a magical bird cage. In fact, with there being so many hidden compartments it was hard to put on a brave face as you never know what could pop out and where! But the Isle in Sunshine has loads of parkour opportunities, jet-board races, hidden shines and blue coins and the locals' conversations change each time you make significant progress in the game. It puts games like Assassin's Creed to shame with the ways you can explore the city and how many things you can do, and we haven't even begun to talk about the levels themselves yet!
But there are some problems that occur within the isle. As IGN reviewer Fran Mirabella (the 3rd) correctly said, the vacation theme of the game feels like a vacation from the franchise. By this we mean, this is such a break from the original Mario worlds we've been in ranging from Sarasaland to Rainbow Road, and it can easily throw you off. Even things like the haunted Hotel Delfino, which is supposed to be a rendition of the original Boo house levels has so many differences you can point out and I'm not just talking about things you use with FLUDD. Most of the levels take place on beaches, and while I prefer sunshine over darkness any day with a 'y' in it, this goes too far. The sunshine aspect of the game isn't taken into moderation, taking up potentially good forest, wintry or fire based level concepts. You will have to face Bowser in a lava-infested plane of Oblivion, sure, but that's one of the three existing level designs in the game. The other two are underwater worlds and small port towns. As I say the colour scheme is spot on and the water effects are indescribably beautiful, yet Mario could be replaced by Crash Bandicoot, Croc or Chris Redfield, and you would still have the exact same game.
Your objective within the game is to recover the 120 Shines that act as the island's main power source and form of light. These were supposed to be a replacement for Stars but many players prefer the latter simply out of nostalgia. Plus, the new collectable didn't catch on that well because it only truly fitted in with Sunshine's theme, rather than other games like Super Mario Galaxy. Along the way players looking for a challenge will also be trying to obtain Blue Coins, and every 10 allows the collector to trade them in for a shine. Shines aren't just used in powering the island up, but literally increase the brightness. Should you get enough, Mario wears sunglasses for the rest of the game, which is a nice little bonus for those who are staying to the end!
Getting Shine Sprites is almost identical to how one would find them in Super Mario 64. The first one of each level simply involved getting to the end of the stage, cleverly allowing players to get accustomed to it as they'd have to get used to that level for some time. Afterwards Shines would serve as a reward for dealing with a certain boss, getting into races and dealing with nuisances throughout the level. There's a wide variety of activities in the game and very rarely will they seem repetitive, as there's a plethora of things for the player and FLUDD to get involved in.
It's very easy to dismiss FLUDD as a useless gimmick even though he plays a large part in taking out enemies, solving puzzles and temporarily pacifying bosses. I have to say that if FLUDD were removed, this game would just be another Super Mario 64, and that formula doesn't stick. If I'd played Super Mario Galaxy a tad more than I did, I may not be saying now that SMG wasn't just 64 in space, with all my original complaints. Thankfully there are missions where the talking water pump isn't required, but you'll find it easy to get into the habit of mucking around by hovering, doing somersaults and all kinds of things - you'd be surprised how useful Mario's newfound moves will be!
The silliest complaint I've heard about this game's combat is that water seems like such a silly weapon, and yet such comments come from player who loved shining flashlights in the faces of enemies such as Luigi's Mansion, Alan Wake and goodness knows how many hundred survival horror games do this. Though it does seem mostly harmless, especially when the game doesn't depict Mario's attacks like the effect of a fire hose in riot situations, the argument isn't plausible when people think beach balls and adult toys can be used to bludgeon people to death like this is Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Water not only looks good but it feels good too, making a nice change to laser guns and assault rifles we've come to see a lot in games post-Nintendo 64. I wouldn't turn down a napalm launcher, but somehow I can't see that working to clean an gargantuan eel's grubby teeth.
FLUDD makes boss battles all the more dynamic, and fun was something I don't remember from a lot of boss battles at the time of the N64. Sure there were a few highlights in Super Mario 64 and Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer's Gulp and Ripto had some variety to spice things up, but none of them made you think all that much. Filling up a gigantic man eating plant's belly with his two litres of water a day before bouncing on him was a moment I remember very fondly, or the rollercoaster battle with Mecha-Bowser, where one had to put out his flames whilst moving about in the theme park? There are so many interesting concepts but sadly Nintendo didn't expand upon them in future titles, which is a shame because they seem to love rehashing older formulas. Oh well, at least this game avoided Nintendo's "one step forward, two steps back" antics.
Sun, Sand and Seashells
As said before this is by far the most visually presentable Super Mario game to date next to epic titles like Super Mario 3D Land (and soon World), and I honestly said to myself upon playing the 3DS title, "this is the Sunshine for the DS I've waited for". It was my first 3DS title and I loved the gameplay and visual details, showing that Nintendo really can make heavenly graphics when they want to. To say that enemy details, character models, locations, particle effects and of course the water are 'high definition' is ludicrous. It has ascended far beyond the reaches of 'high' and I wished at the time I could've appreciated them more, whereas now I can only ask "why wasn't this done in later games?". Most of the levels are easy to remember but some like the Hotel Delfino where the Boos reside, and the water worlds, can easily become forgotten whereas so many Super Mario Bros. and World levels remain in my noggin for future reference.
My biggest criticism is the music, and even though it's good, there's so few familiar tunes. The original Mario theme used in the secret levels is done perfectly with the small vocal group and minimal instruments, but other than that, the lobby is the only track I seem to remember. Going back to the vacation analogy, the game feels so distant to the original Mario games with its soundtrack - it doesn't even sound all that much like a Mario game, let alone a sequel to the Nintendo 64 platformer. And I'm still annoyed by the lack of voices, and even Paper Mario suffers from this without any excuse.
Concluding my review, I have to say it's been nice to come back to this title and finally write about my experiences. The only time I ever did was in a recent article, Top 9 Favourite Super Mario Games, and even then I only covered a fraction of the reasons why this game remains my favourite of them all (next to Super Mario 3D Land). My experiences with Super Mario Sunshine have always been - and always will be - pleasant, despite some frustrations with difficulty to the point where I'd smack my pad against the wall, but quickly retry time and time again. It's a faithful and worthy sequel to the Nintendo 64 classic, and I am certain Nintendo couldn't do any better if they tried their utmost hardest to recapture the SM64 nostalgia.
Before I go though, I'd like to ask what you think of this game in the comments below! Have you played it? And if so, what are your thoughts on it? Until the next time I thank you for reading, and have a very pleasant day!