With summer waning and September upon us, I have yet to take a real vacation. Visiting a lush tropical island hasn’t been on my agenda this summer and with the holiday season fast approaching, it doesn’t look to be happening any time soon. Yet, I need some avenue of rest and relaxation and in searching for some way of getting my fix of sun, surf, and sand, one game delivers. This year Nintendo has given me a vacation by proxy in the first original Mario game to hit shelves in over six years, Super Mario Sunshine. Toted by Shigeru Miyamoto as the “properly evolved version of Mario 64,” Super Mario Sunshine is the GameCube’s first Mario game and one of the most important GameCube titles of the year. Coming nearly a year after the GameCube’s successful launch, Super Mario Sunshine is the reason why I, along with many people, bought a GameCube. Although supported by a cast of colorful characters, Mario is the identity of Nintendo and to a point of gaming; for the gaming industry and fans alike, it has been a long wait for the newest iteration of plumber.
Super Mario Sunshine takes Mario and his friends to the tropical paradise of Isle Delfino, far away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Intending to take a well-earned vacation from the rigors of keeping the kingdom safe from Bowser, Mario unfortunately arrives when the island is thrown into disarray by a mysterious fiend. The perpetrator has been tagging the island with sticky paint, vandalizing the island’s main attractions. To make matters worse, the perpetrator looks exactly like Mario; consequently, the island’s citizens blame him the moment he steps foot on their island retreat, demanding that he clean up the mess. Once the citizens are finished blaming you for the island’s mess on the airport tarmac, it’s up to you to help Mario restore the island’s beauty and sunshine.
If Super Mario Sunshine is the properly evolved version of Mario 64, it is evident foremost in graphical quality. Beginning with its cute prelude FMV, the game takes advantage of the GameCube’s sleek architecture. Mario, Peach, Toad, and the rest of the game’s cast are rendered with a generous amount of polygons; in addition the environments are detailed and clearly executed. At points, some textures in the game are low-resolution and not very detailed, but overall, the game’s environments look good. Another minor flaw was a lack of collision detection with Yoshi’s tongue; when Yoshi sticks his tongue out near walls, it will go through the walls.
The lighting effects used in the game’s various levels are spot-on and beautiful. In the game’s central hub, Delfino Plaza, the sunlight is bright and illuminating, casting shadows appropriately on characters and objects. In other levels, differences between day and night are strikingly rendered; in particular, one level, Sirena Beach, displays a stunning sunset that casts an orange light on everything in the level.
The most appealing part of Super Mario Sunshine’s graphics is its excellent special effects. Simple animations are made to look amazing—transporting Mario to one of the game’s levels causes him to break apart into small balls of paint-like liquid and float into the level. When major areas of the island are cleared of gooey paint by Mario’s squirt nozzle, the animation depicting the restoration of the area is spectacular. Nintendo’s rendering of water should also be noted; it’s remarkable. Water is every where in the game and it looks and behaves as real water would. When Mario squirts water from his pack, it travels realistically; moreover, certain bodies of water in the game aren’t crystal clear and the water behaves accordingly. It’s very apparent that the development team spent a great deal of energy in perfecting the use of special effects and animations in the game.
Lastly in regard to graphics, Super Mario Sunshine returns to the cute style found in Yoshi’s Island and other Yoshi-centered games. Although Yoshi is only a secondary character in the game, the world Nintendo has created for Super Mario Sunshine is exceedingly cute—almost too cute. Everything in the game, save for the final level and boss battle, is painted in bright colors lending the game a very cute, happy atmosphere. The variety between levels wanes in comparison to Mario 64; but, they are engaging and pleasing to play in. Overall, it is apparent that Super Mario Sunshine is the next iteration of Mario in taking a traditional franchise and introducing new visual elements that succeed.
Complimenting the game’s wonderfully colorful and cute graphics is a soundtrack that is traditionally Mario. Although mostly forgettable, the game’s musical soundtrack is light and cute perfectly matching the game’s graphical style. A few of the tracks are remixed versions of older Mario themes—a nice touch that gives fans a treat.
The game’s sound effects are also of the traditional Mario stock; moreover, Yoshi’s “Yippie!” Mario’s jumping sounds, etc. All of the sounds are well done and cute. I often found myself just jumping around with Yoshi to hear him say, “Yoshi!” Even more entertaining is the sound made when the adorably rendered dinosaur spits out juice.
The only real downfall to the game’s sound is the voice acting. Some of the voices are exaggerated. Mario does say anything of real substance; Peach has very high-pitch ditzy voice; and the main villain’s voice doesn’t seem to go with his character. Nonetheless, there isn’t very much dialogue so it never becomes an annoyance, just a little quirk. Overall, the game’s sound is above-average, just not memorable.
Super Mario Sunshine plays exactly like Mario 64 with some minor changes. The controls remain nearly the same. Mario controls in the same way as he did in Mario 64 except for two changes. First, in Super Mario Sunshine, Mario has F.L.U.D.D., his water pack. Using it is simple and intuitive; Nintendo has done an excellent job of incorporating this unusual element into the game. Secondly, swimming is not as simple as before. In order to swim, you must press the A button to move forward and B button to dive. It is not overly difficult, but isn’t as smooth as the controls used in Mario 64. Mario still has his trademark jumps (excluding his long jump) and stomps. New to the series is the inclusion of Yoshi in 3D. Using Yoshi prevents you from using your water pack, but allows you to spit juice and unlock hidden areas.
Delfino Plaza acts in the same capacity as the castle did in Mario 64 as the game’s central hub between levels. Once in a level, you’ll be instructed on completing a particular “episode,” or on how to get a specific shine. Shines are Super Mario Sunshine’s equivalent of stars; the game boasts 120 shines spread over Isle Delfino. In addition, each level, along with Delfino Plaza, contains a number of blue coins that can be traded in, when you have ten, for shines at a local shop. Scattered throughout the island are gold coins that Mario can collect to recover health, gain extra lives, and unlock shines.
From appearance alone, it could be said that Super Mario Sunshine is a game only for kids; nonetheless, picking up the controller will school you into learning that the game is anything but child’s play. In the version I played, after acquiring a good number of shines my neighbors no doubt heard me exclaiming “Frustration Get!” due to sheer aggravation at some of the game’s episodes. Certain shines are extremely difficult to acquire; consequently, the game becomes frustrating. In many instances the camera is at fault; however, in certain episodes, the design is extremely difficult. Each level has one shine that involves a “secret” area within in the level. When you pursue these shines, Shadow Mario takes your water pack away forcing you to complete the episode without it. These are by far the most difficult and curse-inducing parts of the game. I became so angry at the game one evening that my neighbors felt it necessary to bang on my walls, a sign that I was slightly too vocal about my disdain for the game’s difficulty. You, as I have, will dread episodes such as these.
In the rest of the game, the camera becomes a reoccurring problem. Large environments don’t exhibit camera problems since there is ample room to view Mario and the resulting action; but, in smaller environments the camera gets caught on objects and walls, obscuring your view. As any good platforming game should, Super Mario Sunshine enables you to control the camera; albeit, at times you will receive little control over where the camera is placed. For me, this resulted in Mario’s untimely demise from tall heights and my ultimate cursing of the camera.
Pushing the camera issues aside, Super Mario Sunshine is an essential gameplay experience for gamers of all abilities. The difficulty of retrieving certain shines makes actually getting them a rewarding feat. It is an incredible amount of fun to exclaim how impossible a particular episode may be, only to successfully complete it five minutes later. Like any Mario game it’s filled with vibrant characters and new platforming ideas that are well executed. There is good variety within the game’s level from simple platform jumping to racing against time on a blooper squid. Super Mario Sunshine is a fun game. Period. Despite the game’s artificial difficulty inspired by the camera and the real difficulty provided by the “secret” levels, the game is a modern classic. Super Mario Sunshine is the properly evolved version of Mario 64 and it has evolved well.
Although my vacation made possible in Super Mario Sunshine wasn’t flawless, it was an experience that I will retain as a gamer for time to come. No vacation, or game for that matter, can be perfect; but, that doesn’t prevent them from being fun and engaging. After put in a massive amount of time into beating a modern classic, I think I need a vacation—I hear Isle Delfino is lovely this time of year . . .