Super Mario Sunshine
You can't hear his name without thinking of videogames. He's not just a mascot for Nintendo -- he's an icon for the entire industry. Recognizable around the entire globe, he is what Mickey Mouse is to cartoons. We haven't even mentioned his name, but you already know it. Mario. It's hard to own a videogame system and not know about one of the most influential franchises ever. Most gamers grew up with the Italian plumber and have come to respect the series for its consistent quality and defining traits. Where Mario goes, the rest follow. He led many into the side-scrolling world of 2D and ventured boldly without fail into the complicated realm of 3D. In brand names we trust, and Mario has always led the pack with this star power. Now, after nearly a six year absence, he's back again in a whole new adventure, debatably named Super Mario Sunshine for its vacation theme.
Since his revolutionary 3D debut, though, the industry's old friend has missed a lot. Next-generation technology and the usual evolutionary progression of game design have yielded a great deal of impressive software. From Konami's platinum-selling Metal Gear Solid series to Rockstar's explosively successful Grand Theft Auto III, the industry has changed. Nintendo's Mario series was responsible for breeding a thriving culture of gamers, and now, all grown up, many still can't unglue the controllers from their hands.
Bearing that in mind, we must ask, has Mario turned into an aging hipster or does he still have what it takes to captivate millions again? After spending innumerable hours with the new platform-based adventure, we have our answer. Mario Sunshine is simply the most entertaining and well-done 3D platformer we've ever played. It's not perfect by any means, but fun-factor rules all, and by our gauge Nintendo delivers up one of its best games in years.
- Nintendo's mascot finally makes his debut with a totally new adventure on GameCube
- Gameplay sends Mario on a quest to clean up an island and clear his name
- Basic controls are rooted in what was founded with Super Mario 64 -- wall jump, triple jump, and perform the classic butt stomp to smash enemies
- Totally new control mechanics and moves thanks to an all-new water cannon strapped to Mario's back -- float, jet, slide, and spray
- Last playable on the Super Nintendo, Yoshi is back as Mario's steed
- Visually unique with vivid 3D dreamscapes, and that classic Mario look
- Taps into the GameCube for visual effects including a huge draw distance, real-time reflections, water refraction, detailed particle effects, and slick animations
- Mario's multi-functional water cannon can unlock secret areas and is essential in defeating boss characters
- Lengthy 25+ hour game
- Collect up to 120 "Shines" for fantastic replay value
- Progressive scan 480p support for HDTV users
- Audiophiles can enjoy true Dolby Pro Logic II
Mario made his biggest leap in 1996 with his 3D debut on the Nintendo 64. Then regarded as the must-have platform title for many gamers, his side-by-side launch with the console sold millions. However, his change from 2D to 3D was cause for some disappointment with gamers tied to his side-scrolling ways. The Mario series focuses on jumping from one platform to the next, but the complicated camera control and then-intimidating 3D environments caused a splitting between fans. Most stayed by his side, but there were those that abandoned the franchise, save for some casual play sessions, nearly altogether. Depending on which side of the barrier you fall, there's something obvious, but required, to understand if you're interested in Super Mario Sunshine. It is a continuation of the Super Mario 64 style. Level design, control mechanics, and gameplay concepts have been nicely refined, but it is not a revolutionary product. As the legendary series' creator Shigeru Miyamoto constantly noted, it is "evolutionary," more than anything else. If this is your cup of tea, then Super Mario Sunshine is a vacation package you shouldn't deprive yourself of. If not, there's still a chance the Italian plumber's charm will win you over, but you'll want to thoughtfully consider its strengths and weaknesses.
The concept behind the latest adventure is that Mario and Peach are taking a much-deserved vacation from the so often troublesome Mushroom Kingdom. Only, they quickly find out that there is trouble amuck at their island destination. A culprit has coated the world with goop and paint. Even worse, he just happens to look like Mario according to the locals. The would-be vacation instead turns out to be another day on the job for Mario. Mistaken for the true offender, he is convicted of the crimes and ordered to clean up the world with a water-spewing device that straps to his back, which just happens to add a whole new layer of depth to the usual platforming action. The vacation idea is novel, but with it have come some sacrifices. The characters and defining art style we've all come to love are mostly removed. Instead, we have a lot of new, fairly unmoving character designs and beach-themed visuals. Some might argue that this should be well received as injection of something fresh, but we would not. Mario is very much about nostalgia, and while that element is still present, it isn't so in spades. The mix of forest, water, ice, and lava themed worlds is sorely missed. Nintendo still hasn't quite returned to the greatness of Super Mario World in that regard.
What we do end up with, though, is a totally convincing vacation spot. Starting in the town, Mario soon finds that it is a hub world to other parts of the island, including a mountainside beach, a bay with towering cliff walls, and even an amusement park. The Caribbean-themed locales, big and beautiful, are so well designed that an ear-to-ear smile is often produced.
The first true level that you can indulge in introduces you to a fairly low-lying world that strings together windmills and housing developments with tightropes. The addition of the elastic wiring is one of the strongest ideas present. The bouncy wires are everywhere, and encourage you to use them as much as possible. Once you get a taste of it, springing yourself high into the air, you won't want to come down. This is only the beginning of the new additions to Mario's world. By far, his backpack plays the most innovative roll in the game. It has simplified the entire concept of platforming, while simultaneously adding all-new control depth. No longer will you have to cross your fingers and jump to the next platform, lining up Mario's shadow with the flooring in a one-chance situation. The backpack has several different functions and one of them acts to propel Mario upward, allowing him to hover as water jets out below him. So, you're able to stop your fall in mid-air and attempt to float Mario onto the platform correctly. The catch is that the jet stream only lasts for a short time. You'll have your opportunity to correct your wrongs, but it still requires skill.
Equally notable is that while the first level puts you in a bit of a comfort zone, the difficulty quickly ramps up with later levels. Once you get used to bouncing on tightropes and lying low to the ground, Mario Sunshine thrusts you into platforming heavens that tower vertically into the air. Just reaching the highest point without an objective provides you with a sense of accomplishment. If you worried about gameplay objectives, fear not. Mario has a big list of to-dos. There are six main worlds, not including the hub world or final seventh stage, that contain eight different stories apiece. With each story complete, Mario is rewarded a "Shine," basically equivalent to the star system we've become so accustomed to in past series installments. The end goal is to capture enough shines to restore some light and, ultimately, peace to the quaint island. The tasks of each story vary greatly. You'll face off with huge bosses, overcome obstacle-ridden platforming nightmares, and even spend some time washing the land down with gallons of water.
Of course, with the eight-story setup come a few standards. There are the red coin collection missions, which usually have you doing some pretty incredible maneuvers, as well as the long-lasting quest to catch the fake Mario by spraying him down as he runs all over the level. One of our favorite standby components is the secret world that Mario finds hidden in almost every stage. As he jumps into a seemingly harmless pipe or hole, he often finds that it's a trap designed by the fake Mario. With Mario's backpack stolen, the cushion of hovering around is removed, and you must platform the good old-fashioned way for a little while. The toy-box themed stages are adorably nostalgic and retro. They even feature the classic Mario music a cappella. Also quite satisfying is that they present a pretty big challenge. So much that each stage is packed with at least one hidden extra life that you're going to need to pick up with each try. There are about a dozen or so of these secret stages, and you'll even find some cleverly hidden in the hub world. Thanks to their retro-style and straight-up platforming, the experiences will become some of your favorite in the game.
Beyond all the stellar level design, Nintendo has again outdone itself and the rest of the industry with some of the strongest control mechanics around. The company realizes the all-too-important link between the user and what they see on the TV screen is the control. The sense of momentum, friction, and precision control tied to Mario is incredible. Complimented by more moves than ever before, it's very easy to entertain yourself by jumping around the worlds. It just feels good, and no matter what your understanding of the attention to detail, you can appreciate it because it's a tactile element. The wall jump, triple jump, backflip, and butt stomp have all returned from Mario 64, but with the addition of the waterpack and its two add-on functions there are many more moves to discover as you progress through the game. Some are there just for fun, but mostly they're all useful in one way or another, allowing you to improvise in any situation. The sheer diversity lets you play Mario Sunshine in so many different ways.
Sadly, enjoying all of the aforementioned can come to a screeching halt when you consider that Super Mario Sunshine does not have a revolutionary camera system, if even an evolutionary one. Nintendo has designated the camera control largely to the user. Players can center it behind them with the L-button in most situations, but a large part of the design calls for using the C-stick constantly. The camera can be zoomed in and out and panned around Mario in 360 degrees. Essentially you must become your own smart camera, and it's probably the biggest learning curve that gamers face. Savvy gamers will be able to manage the camera, but we fear that it will require a great deal of practice for the casual gamer. This is a very big roadblock and it's rather disappointing that Nintendo, who pioneered this 3D frontier over five years ago, hasn't found a better solution. The only clever addition is the ability to see Mario's shadowed silhouette when he moves behind objects. It absolutely helps, but it's more of a temporary solution to keep track of him while you adjust the camera than anything else. Even more disappointing, Nintendo has designed a few objectives where the camera is absolutely, frustratingly horrible. You almost feels as if no one play tested a few of these areas, as you'll find the camera flipping out as it gets caught on and trapped behind walls. On the upside, the good far outweighs the bad. With practice, you'll be able to setup more than enough intelligent camera angles to aid you through your adventure. Only rarely does the camera get so bad you can't navigate yourself.
When all is said and done, we can't help but love Super Mario Sunshine. Certainly it has its disappointments. It really does feel like a "vacation" from the series in theme and the camera poses numerous problems, but overall it is just full of fun content. Sitting down with the game, it's very easy to get lost in it for hours. No matter if you're chasing down 100 cleverly placed coins or beating down a boss ten times your size, you won't be easily bored. Even after you travel through the final stage and defeat the last boss, you'll find there are still a lot of cool side-quests on your way to gathering all 120 Shines, which, incidentally, isn't particularly easy. Summed up, we think you're going to love it. If there was one GameCube title that everyone should own, it's this.
Graphics and Technology
The phrase "for the sum of all its parts" comes to mind when trying to describe Super Mario Sunshine's graphics engine. It has a style all its own. Vibrant almost to the point of blinding, the art style and texture designs are unlike anything we've seen before. There's no mistaking it for a Mario game. The engine runs at a mostly smooth 30 frames per second, and is a mixed bag of good and bad technology.
Starting with the good, Super Mario Sunshine's draw distance is awesome. You can see clear across every world in the game. Everything from the trees and enemies is visible. It's not just for bragging rights, either. When you're on the hunt for coins or a certain item you'll be able to see it even if it's what seems like a mile away. Above all, this is probably the engine's best strength.
Second to it are the water effects. It should come as no surprise that a title based on a tropical island has stunning water. Almost everywhere you turn you'll see a stretching sea of sparkling water. Notably, it is not flat or boring. Nintendo has mastered the physics and "glitter." The rolling waters feature several texture layers that provide a near-perfect shimmering effect under the bright sun. It is exactly the effect that Wave Race: Blue Storm was missing. Refraction, which bends the images behind water, is also done nicely. You'll see plenty of it as you spray water around the worlds. The reflections on still water are also a pleasant touch. If you create puddles below Mario, you'll see his reflection appear before it evaporates.
There are many subtle touches on the visuals. The goop and colored paint that is scattered throughout the world will stick to Mario, causing him to leave behind footprints or a murky cloud if he rinses off in the water. And, if you prefer, you can spin Mario around quickly to shake off the paint and watch as the particles go flying about.
Unfortunately, Mario's biggest issue lies in texture design and quality. There are a lot of ugly textures stretched across the worlds, and it doesn't help that Mario is a high-contrast game. It's filled with very bright colors -- some to the point of blinding. It's unique for sure, intentionally made to feel like a playground, but is bound to turn away those with finicky tastes. Thankfully, it does support progressive scan, which shows off some crisp textures on occasion. As we noted, you have to take a look at everything the engine offers up to appreciate it. The stretching draw-distance, relatively smooth framerate, and incredible water effects will offset some of the negative.
One thing gamers have come to expect from Mario titles is a catchy soundtrack. Koji Kondo has always brought something memorable to the series, but going back to the "vacation" analogy, Super Mario Sunshine feels foreign in audio too because of its island theme. Kondo and a new composer have drawn inspiration from vacation spots like Hawaii and Italy. Not surprisingly, the soundtrack is still catchy, and we find ourselves humming the main hub world theme out of habit. There is also an incredible a cappella remix of the original Mario theme, which is featured in the secret worlds. In particular, these two tracks are great. However, there are also a lot of plain, mood-setting tunes for some of the other worlds. They just don't stick in your head. Even after countless hours with the game, it's mainly the hub world theme we can remember more than anything else. Another sour note is that Nintendo has overdone some of the interactive audio. It's great to enter into different areas and hear the music pick up or die down, but at times it feels out of place. Even worse, there's a few Yoshi tracks where dissonant bongo drums will overpower the rest of the music, so much that it gets annoying. Having said that, you're going to love a few of the tunes in Super Mario Sunshine, but with most you just won't be moved much.
On the sound effects side, Nintendo has recorded a good number of Mario phrases and reaction statements. You have a lot of repetitive audio, such as when Mario jumps around, but you also have a few samples that surprise you. Touching something fiery might produce a laughably said, "Hot, hot, hot!" On the other hand, there are also some pretty ridiculous voiceovers by the islanders and Mushroom Kingdom visitors. Anyone in the Toad family sounds very silly, and the islanders are almost as bad. Beyond voices, though, the sound effects are pretty well done. You'll hear your waterpack clinking and clanging as it performs its various functions, water splashing everywhere, enemies chasing you down, and, of course, the dings of every coin received. It even supports Dolby Pro Logic II. Speaking of that, though, the use of surround sound is minimal. The audio sounds fuller, but it doesn't compare to that heard in Eternal Darkness or Star Wars Rogue Squadron II.
source IGN Cube
Number of Players