Almost certainly the most maligned of the 3D Mario games, Super Mario Sunshine was a personal favourite of mine on the GameCube, and one of only a handful of games from that time I’ve kept hold of. Presumably inspired by my recent playthrough of Super Mario Galaxy 2, James has been watching YouTube videos of various boss encounters from earlier Mario titles, and this morning he asked if I had Sunshine. Naturally, we then spent a good couple of hours this morning playing through the early stages of the game.
It must be the better part of seven years since I first blasted through it, with Mel remembering this morning just how much she enjoyed watching me play. At the time I absolutely adored it. Playing it after both Galaxy and its sequel shows up some of its faults all the more, but there are aspects of Sunshine that are extremely interesting, and it explores territory Nintendo simply hasn’t ventured into since.
For my money, it has by far the best hub of any Mario game: Delfino Plaza is simply great fun to mess about in. It’s amazing how few people at the time realised that Sunshine was quite a radical experiment in the way it attempts to redefine what a Mario game can be. It’s almost a pointer towards an open-world Mario adventure. Perhaps Mario is the wrong character for such a game, but a similarly agile hero given gigantic playgrounds to run and jump around, and even explore, would perhaps make people more forgiving of Sunshine’s foibles.
I also find the sunny, tropical setting extremely attractive. The locations make me happy even when the gameplay doesn’t. I’d like to see Isle Delfino return in some form in the future, even if it’s perhaps outlived its usefulness as a location for platforming. That said, some of the stages are great fun to explore: the aforementioned plaza and Noki Bay being particular highlights. Gelato Beach has some really interesting stars (or Shines as they are here). Weirdly, I managed the Sand Bird level – my former bête noire – on my first attempt this morning.
I didn’t remember having as many issues with the camera during my first playthrough, but it’s clear that the complaints at the time weren’t as wide of the mark as I originally thought. It’s hopeless in places; it seems to have a mind of its own during the chase Shines and anything involving an interior location is just horrible. It struggles with the mesh fences of Ricco Harbor, too. But controlling the camera while guiding Mario is part and parcel of getting to grips with this rather unique Mario game. For the most part, it’s flexible enough not to cause too many problems, leaving the player to move it if and when necessary.
It’s true that there’s too much filler – the blue coins are a nice idea, and they certainly encourage thorough exploration, though there are too many of them – but I think if Nintendo attempted a similar Mario again that wouldn’t be the case; certainly if the Galaxy games are anything to go by. The void levels, whether you’ve got FLUDD – Mario’s controversial water-pack – or not, are all great, even though their inclusion at times feels incongruous.
Though it has to be said that I don’t mind FLUDD too much. It arguably makes more sense as a temporary power-up – it’s not too hard to imagine it as a pick-up in a handful of stages in Galaxy, is it? Either way, I think Sunshine has plenty of ideas that warrant further exploration, and while it’s certainly not the best Mario title, it’s still an excellent and hugely enjoyable game in its own right, that perhaps only suffers when compared to the legendary platformer it followed and the two it preceded.