Super Mario Sunshine — Review
A complete wash.
Super Mario Sunshine came out for the GameCube in 2002. Recently re-released on Nintendo Switch via Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the title received upscaled visuals to 1080p.
When Nintendo released Super Mario 64 in 1996, they created a revolution. This 3D platformer set the standard for other 3D games to follow. Not only did they create the formula for the 3D platformer, but they created one of the greatest games of all time. How did Nintendo follow that act? Stuck a water cannon on Mario, sent him on a tropical island, and failed to polish the experience.
Super Mario Sunshine does a fantastic job of building a new world apart from the Mushroom Kingdom. The gorgeous, colorful visuals and animations accompany a wonderful tropical soundtrack. Unfortunately, aside from controlling Mario and using his new jumps and FLUDD techniques, the game suffers from tremendous stage design issues. The ugly side of Delfino rears its head during a number of stages and, thanks to terrible physics and camera issues, 3D All-Stars reminded us that Super Mario Sunshine is nowhere near as good as we remembered it 19 years ago.
Super Mario Sunshine takes place on Delfino Isle. The story offers a little twist at the beginning by introducing Mario’s new rival, a shadowy clone, and how he frames Mario for polluting the island. Naturally, only later does it involve Mario rescuing Peach from Bowser’s clutches. However, what Mario Sunshine does excel at is world-building.
Isle Delfino makes its own history with its new races — Piantas and Nokis — and the lore behind the world. The guidebook offers notes for each world. Plus talk of history and mystery in worlds like Noki Bay really give it a flavor of depth behind it. Each world feels like its own identity.
Unfortunately, the worst of the game’s story elements come from its atrocious dialogue and voice acting. Nintendo was experimenting around this time to try full voice acting for Mario. I cannot stress enough how unfitting Bowser Jr. and Bowser sound. The cheesy dialogue when Bowser Jr. introduces himself as well as the ending will introduce enough cringe that you will remember long after Nintendo abandoned them.
As mentioned earlier, Super Mario Sunshine is a treat for the eyes and ears. The level aesthetic all offers a tropical environment but each area manages to differentiate from the other. Bianco Hills features white buildings with a village while Ricco Harbor takes place on a seaport filled with Bloopers. Sirena Beach excels with its gorgeous sunset and Noki Bay features beautiful, mystical cool colors. The reflection effect from the water is understated and absolutely not implemented in other games even today. It’s one of my favorite things about Sunshine.
Similarly, both Sirena Beach and Noki Bay offer some of the best music in the game. I love hearing the island guitar jingles or the cool sound of the shore. The Secret Stages even offer the Acapella remix of the Super Mario Bros. theme. Speaking of Secret Stages, each one offers gorgeous colored backgrounds. You’ll get the color book theme, the 8-bit Mario animation, or my favorite, the Hotel Delfino Casino secret with the sunset. I am especially fond of the hidden stage theme as well.
One thing, however, that bothered me greatly was the replacement of classic enemies. Similar to the Zelda series, Nintendo wanted to experiment with changing up the enemy designs for a new generation. Unfortunately, the Boos look disastrous and do not sound like what you expect from Boos in any other Mario game, both before and after Sunshine. Goombas and Koopas were replaced with Strollin’ Stu and Electrokoopas, respectively. While it’s no problem to add new designs to a game, replacing the beloved classics felt like a violation.
Sure, it takes place in a new world just like Super Mario World took place in Dinosaur Land. Super Mario World also did not replace Koopa Troopas, Boos, and Lakitus in favor of these weird designs. The game’s “Goombas” were later renamed Galoombas and even appeared alongside Goombas in Super Mario 3D World. Super Mario Sunshine just felt like deviating from the enemies we knew and loved and Electrokoopas just didn’t feel the same. Safe to say, the Sunshine designs didn’t age well and have not been showcased in a Mario game since.
At a first glance, Super Mario Sunshine plays and controls like 64. Sure, Mario is equipped with FLUDD and can water-spray enemies and paint off of surfaces. He can even use the Hover, Rocket, and Turbo nozzles to change up his mobility options. He has his triple jump, the return of his Spin Jump, a slide, ground pound, somersaults, and wall-kicks. Even the wall-kicks feel improved from 64 since Mario slides down the walls now to give you more time to hop off.
The stage designs also involve your usual platform elements as well as tightrope hopping, swimming for coins, and fighting bosses. Yoshi even joins up with Mario for several missions. Plus, you’ll enter the secret stages where you lose FLUDD and must rely on skillful platforming. At a first glance, it seems like an experimental but enjoyable Mario game. Mario controls well enough and the stages offer both challenge and aesthetic. Unfortunately, this is exactly where the game falls apart.
The Ugly Head of Mario Sunshine
The camera is the first and foremost issue of Super Mario Sunshine. While the camera in 64 was restrictive and sometimes angled itself improperly while crossing narrow surfaces, it rarely impeded your ability to move or see what’s in front of you. In Sunshine, the camera obscures your movements many times forcing you to guess where you’re going.
This camera work was inexcusable and heavily flawed. Sometimes it also zoomed out too much on Secret Stages. Zooming in even a little bit, on the flipside, would also obscure your destination. Overall, the camera was an absolute mess throughout the game.
This made the already difficult secret stages more of a hassle. When I say hassle, I mean if Secret Stages weren’t in the game, it would have been better. While a few of the secret stages offer a legitimate and enjoyable challenge, most of them are bugged. The Chuckster Piantas will lob you in the wrong direction no matter how well you aim the camera.
The slopes also cause you to fall off. Yes, Mario can just run up the ledge of a slope to save himself but this is also not a fail-safe as he may just careen off the platform anyway. I’ve also fallen through the rotating platform in one of the Sirena Beach stages.
The physics themselves are atrocious thanks to the amount of falling you’ll do in the game. It’s not as easy as canceling your jump with a Ground Pound as sometimes that’s just not possible. Attempt to catch your fall or dive to cancel the momentum and you’ll just careen off the edge and die.
Sometimes Hover is unresponsive due to the way you fell. Even Yoshi will just not even hover jump properly and you’ll die from falling and activating it too soon. All of this could be solved if the slopes were implemented properly to allow you to time your jumps well without punishing you just for landing.
The stage design itself also features some of the worst levels in Mario history. Sirena Beach’s Hotel Delfino features an exploration element where you grab a fruit, get Yoshi, and then go up. This isn’t Zelda or Luigi’s Mansion, so why am I not hopping on platforms and running around a hotel instead? If you enter the wrong room, you’ll have to abandon Yoshi, exit the room, wait for him to die, and repeat the whole process. Repeating from the start is not uncommon in Super Mario Sunshine or any of its stages. Speaking of which, Yoshi’s water solubility, as well as his time limit with Fruit juice, completely deviate from Yoshi’s mechanics in any other Mario game for the worse.
Stages like Pianta Village have you trekking across one part of the stage to another just to grab a fruit, awaken Yoshi, and open up a secret world. Miss one jump and you’re back to square one. Later games like Galaxy at least implemented checkpoints. Then again, later games like Galaxy were also pure platformers that felt like platformers and not hybrid adventure games. Even Odyssey, which spawned from Sunshine as an open-world title, balanced out the platforming and exploration challenge perfectly without restricting you or sending you on errands.
While it might sound unfair to compare a 2002 game unfavorably to its sequels, let’s not forget that Super Mario 64 was released in 1996 and also featured much better-paced platforming action, more polished stage design, and much better physics to boot.
Also, for any veteran Sunshine player out there, let’s not forget about waiting for the boat to get to the detestable leaf secret stage. 5–10 minutes, rinse and repeat if you fall once, and the boats are glitched too. If that’s not irritating enough, then I have three words: The Watermelon Festival. Just one of the most unfitting stages for a Mario game as well as one of the most irritating and repetitive in any game ever. If you’re new to Super Mario Sunshine, it’s probably worth looking up this level to decide whether you would ever want to actually play this game or skip it entirely. I will not blame you for picking the latter.
Also, let’s not forget Corona Mountain which involves half of the stage on a boat and, if you bump once, you’re dead. The amount of time it takes to collect the Blue Coins within is absurd. But as a stage design itself, it fails miserably thanks to deviating from the Mario platforming formula and the absolute frustration it takes just to control the boat.
If Super Mario Sunshine was not a Mario title, it would not have been lauded as a classic but as a failure. Even described as the black sheep among Mario fans, some people remember it fondly and forgive some of its flaws. However, as far as more challenging and deviant titles go, I would much rather play Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels since it was meant to be challenging but also a fair challenge. Super Mario Sunshine shoehorns these challenges and offers the most frustrating possible experience in Mario history.
It’s almost evident that the game was rushed. Had Nintendo given more time to polish it, we could have had properly working platforms, better physics, and more enjoyable stages. Unfortunately, what makes it even worse is Nintendo chose to re-release this title on 3D All-Stars without polishing anything about it. Unlike Wind Waker HD, where they remade the title and fixed several of its flaws, they simply released Sunshine as-is: a broken, unfinished game.
I give credit where it’s due. It’s a gorgeous game with a beautiful soundtrack and controlling Mario just feels like fun. It feels disappointing to lash out at a game I grew up on as well as a title in one of my favorite series. But I cannot stress enough that if you’re not ready for the frustration of finding 240 Blue Coins hidden arbitrarily, secret stages, and endless repetition, skip this game entirely.
If you have 3D All-Stars, 64 and Galaxy will more than offer you some of the best experiences ever. You can tell the difference in polish among the games and see where Sunshine completely fell off. I replayed this title to get a feel for it and to collect 120 Shine Sprites for the first time. I can safely say I have no desire to ever play it again and would not recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable title. You will find many better games to play both in and outside of the Mario series.
And don’t forget that Nintendo’s releasing Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury in February 2021! As someone who will recommend to you that 3D World is the best Mario game out there, you don’t want to miss this one!
I also recommend this video! This person explains well exactly why Super Mario Sunshine was buggy and flawed and not just because it was challenging.
Product Release: Super Mario Sunshine (US, 08/26/02)
Originally published at https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com.