Super Mario Sunshine GameCube Review

Ahhh Mario, probably the most famous games character in the world, and the one most synonymous with quality. Certain casuals may snigger at the thought of a computer game staring a moustachioed plumber eating magic mushrooms; fighting 20-foot tall fire breathing lizards and rescuing Princesses only for the reward of a cake and a kiss (sans tongues). But we know far better, the people like me who have been brought up with Mariosan, speak about Mario in hushed tones as if he is an incarnation of God himself. But even God needs a day of rest, and that lends nicely to the shocking new development with Mario Sunshine, this Mario has (gasp) A PLOT!

After a hard few years of adventuring Mario decides to take a long deserved holiday on the tropical paradise island of Dolphino, to soak up the rays and recharge his batteries and maybe have some fun with Peach. Now that alone would sell copies, but as with all other Mario games something is amiss. Because not long after touching down, Mario is arrested. After a night in the cells and a unpleasant incident in the showers with ‘Big Roy’ Mario learns that an individual matching his description has been going around the island spreading graffiti and stealing the island’s precious Shine sprites, now of course mazza is innocent, but the mildly retarded inhabitants are not aware of this and charge Mario with the task of cleaning up the island with the FLUDD (a talking backpack that shoots water folks) and maybe clearing his name in the process.

Now I must admit that I felt a cold sense of impending doom when I heard about this, would this game live up to the 16 years of Mario tradition, has Mario had its day, has the Mario franchise burnt out? All those fears were dispelled by merely pushing the joystick. There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe the sheer childish joy of moving Mario about the screen; delivering a physics knackering somersault to reach a rooftop; smashing your posterior into a enemies face or diving 200 feet off a cliff in to a clear blue bay: when you play, Mario is not a faceless character on the screen, he is an extension of your thumb, your eyes and ears in this magical cartoon world. There are few games that manage to capture that basic human emotion called fun, and Mario delivers time and time again, never mind playing the game, just the sheer joy of the freedom the game gives you is fantastic.

The basic layout of the game is very similar to Super Mario 64’s you run around a main hub, in this incidence a very picturesque seaside town, and travel to different tropical themed areas to collect shines, sunshines equivalent to Mario 64’s stars. But to call it a basic copy of Super Mario 64 would be judging it very harshly. Yes the gameplay mechanics are quite similar to 64’s but you have to remember that with Mario 64 Miyamoto san created a game so brilliant, so perfect, that it is almost impossible to change the formula seriously without making a worse game as a result; as a result Miyamoto sensibly opted for an evolution instead of revolution, with one difference, the fabled backpack.

The game thrusts you into the main new gameplay feature from the very start, and it never gets any less entertaining to sprayaway that goopy mess that permeates throughout the game, from the electrified paint of Sirena beach to the firey lava like mess in Pianta village using your FLUDD will become a joy. Then there is also the case of shadow Mario, the individual behind this mess and an entire shine of each of the seven levels is dedicated to chasing this celestial kleptomaniac. Add to this the fiendishly difficult ‘old skool’ challenges, a refined and improved red coin hunt and those darn blue coins, as well as the return of our dino pal Yoshi and you have a Mario that, while not a drastically different venture, is certainly showing that Mario isn’t hanging onto the coat tails of past success.

Graphics

One of the more controversial parts of the early Mario Sunshine screens was the seemingly poor Graphics, many people complained about the seemingly appalling textures and sharpness, well you shall not be disappointed. Those who criticise Mario for lack of realism and sharpness are missing the point, the graphics of all Mario games (and in-game graphics in all other games as well) are not about showing off and flinging polygons around like some awful townie flashing his godawful £200 trainers, it is meant to convey feelings and emotion to convey a state of emersion: and with this Mario delivers in bags.

The whole game delivers a surreal viewpoint as your hero jumps and yahoos across paint soiled hills and haunted hotels full of boos, as he fights 100 foot long Manta ray shadows and giant flying piranha plants you get a feeling of near psycadilia as if you are playing one great big acid trip. This is what Mario is all about, from Super Mario Brothers to Mario 64, if you want to see 10 trillion polygon textures go and pull out a copy of Splinter Cell or Rouge Leader as graphics tarts can never fully appreciate the true greatness of Mario’s visuals.

That being said, while the wall textures of SMS may not be up to everyday standards. The infamous ‘gloop’ is anything but; it is an inviting almost delicious viscous mess, the sheer act of sliding through it and covering Mario in all its sticky goodness is hilarious and when you watch the paint just slide around and taint and merge as Mario frolics through it shows where the games designers really concentrated their efforts, and all this without ever dropping below the magic 60fps mark.

Gameplay

As I said the crux of all Mario games, the tight sharp controls mixed with the classic moves we’ve come to appreciate with Mario games, Mario oozes class, but another large change that I haven’t mentioned is that the difficulty of the game has changed from Mario 64’s relatively easy challenge; and been set to.. well ohsh*t.. because that is what you will be saying time and time again as you send Mario falling off a ledge down a bottomless pit hurtling to his doom at a rate of 10g. If anyone has played the Japan only Super Mario Brothers: The Lost Levels will see a similar difficulty leap a similar prequel. The aforementioned ‘Old Skool’ sections dotted around every level where evil Mario callously strips you of your FLUDD are probably where the game reaches its cruellest zenith of hardness, when you first see the camera pan over the SMB style obstacle course you will think it looks awfully hard and guess what, you would be right. The challenges are a strange parallel universe where split second reactions and trigonometry teachers rule, where you will wish you had listened during those lessons on angles at school: where the elation of finally reaching that shine is unparalleled in all human experience, and it is a sign of the games quality that for all the times that you sent Mario screaming to a bloody death you know deep down in your heart that it is YOUR fault, and not the games.

The other main gameplay feature is the FLUDD, and Miyamoto implements this superbly. I must admit I was unsure about this feature at first, coupled with the removal of the basic punch it seemed like a backward step, but the backpack is so versatile and well used that it gives you even MORE options, for instance it gives you more offensive options, to spray, to jump, to pound and there are so many ways to clean the goop, will you run and spray, will you go into first person and spray around you or will you spin 30 feet into the air spraying water like a human sprinkler, and then there are the attachments, the Hover to cross longer distances, use the Turbo to pick up speed or the Rocket to jump to new heights there are so many options and there is very rarely a single ‘right’ way to go about things, and that freedom is what makes the gameplay of this game so great.

But of course, no games are faultless and Mario Sunshine does have them, and as many have pointed out beforehand as with ALL other 3d platformers there are some camera problems with this game. A particularly shame-faced offender is the Pinna Park level, while it is understandably hard to get accurate camera physics on fairground rides you do have the feeling that perhaps certain parts of the game should have been playtested a tad more to iron out these problems.

Another problem is the implementation of Yoshi, while it is great to see our green (or not so green) dino chum back I believe that he is woefully underused and could have played a larger role in the game.

Finally, while the blue coin hunt and old skool challenges are fun in my own opinion the lack of Shines by the mere carrying out of tasks and completing episodes was rather disappointing for me, and the inclusion of two ‘secret’ shines on each level is no substitute for an extra level or some more episodes. But really if you play Mario Sunshine just to pick holes in it you are missing the point, imagine buying a classic book just to check for typos, you may find a few but you are MISSING THE POINT. Mario is all about fun at 200mph and in that box it gets a big fat tick.

Sound

Mario games are always famous for their classically hummable tunes, the original theme and Yoshi’s Islands xylophone plinkity plonkity beats immediately spring to mind, do Mario Sunshines beats live up to these past triumphs in aural excellence? Yes and No. While there is nothing essentially wrong with the tunes in Sunshine, if anything the laid back melodies suit the game well, but you get the feeling that they just aren’t as catchy as earlier musical scores. However saying that it is nice to see Nintendo giving more than just a little nod to the past with the underground music from Super Mario Brothers when traversing the pipe system, and best of all when entering the backpack free ‘old skool’ challenges you are confronted with a jazzy remix of the classic theme which when first witnessed had me putting my controller on the floor and humming. All together now do-do-do-do-d-do, do-do-do-do-d-do..anyway while not a classic theme it more than does it’s job and is a great blend of tracks.

While the music may not be stunning, the sound fx are spot on, the YEHAHS! And WOHOOS! And of course the HERE WE GO’S are all present and correct along with the classic Yoshi bongos, tasty.

Lifespan

While the gameplay is top notch the question still remains. How long does it last, the fear that Nintendo has decided to stop making longer games and adopt a more ‘short and sweet’ policy has troubled many gamers so it is a relief to find out that Mario is not another Luigi’s Mansion. But is it as long as Mario 64? Again, yes and no. While the overall collection of 120 shines in similar, if not longer in length to Mario 64 (mainly due to the Blue Coin hunt) it does take less time to reach the final boss of the game and complete the individual ‘episodes’ of each level. This is rather disappointing as while Mario 64 had a mammoth fifteen worlds, Sunshine has only seven, albeit much larger activity filled ones.

And the other main question. ‘Will I play it again’? Well I can’t answer that, but I can safely say that if you played Mario 64 Again and again, you will probably do the same with sunshine.

Overall

While maybe a little too similar to Mario 64 for some tastes Sunshine earns the right to be considered its equal. Mario Sunshine is brimming with that special intangible, that X-factor, that indescribable ‘it’ that makes Mario games so superb, that for six whole years games companies have tried to emulate, but have never quite managed, well the is only one man who can equal Mario 64 and he wears a red cap and dungarees. An essential purchase.

9 out of 10
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