Super Mario Sunshine – The Overlooked Middle Entry

We’ve been really busy fleshing out our amiibo training guides, so it’s been a whole month since we’ve typed up an unrelated essay! Back in September, we covered the Super Mario 3D All-Stars version of Super Mario Galaxy. Now we’re moving backwards a step and covering Super Mario Sunshine on Nintendo Switch! Out of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, Sunshine is the one I’ve personally had less experience with. I owned it as a kid on the Wii, but never made the connection that you needed a Gamecube Memory Card to save progress. As you might expect, I didn’t get very far!

You often hear about 64 and Galaxy, but you hear about Sunshine much less — in my experience, at least. Still, going into Sunshine mostly blind was really interesting. The game has sort of a bizarre essence about it, and it’s one I don’t think the Super Mario series has been able to fully capture since. Sure, smacking question mark blocks and stomping enemies is bizarre, but Sunshine’s overall aesthetic takes it to a new level.

Introduction

Super Mario Sunshine was released in July 2002, making it almost twenty years old! Mario and Peach head to Isle Delfino to take a vacation, only to find that a Mario imposter has trashed the entire island! Delfino’s locals assume Mario is the one at fault, and task him with cleaning the place up with a portable water-hose thing called F.L.U.D.D.. Compared to the original version, Super Mario 3D All-Stars makes a few interesting changes.

First, the game now runs in widescreen. This means Super Mario 64 is the only game that doesn’t run in widescreen, but we’ll talk about that another time. Sunshine’s textures have also been upscaled, which is a welcome change! The original game’s textures looked a bit crusty at times, so they’ve been nicely cleaned up for the Switch re-release. The cutscenes have been upscaled, too, but the left and right sides have been cut off a bit (the entire cutscene has been zoomed in to fit the Switch’s widescreen display). And hey, this is the first time Sunshine has ever been re-released. Meaning it’s currently the only legal way to play the game without paying a ton of money for the Gamecube version.

Let’s talk a bit about the actual game, though. It set quite a few standards for the Super Mario series, and actually introduced quite a few relevant characters! Sunshine is also known for its versatile movement and jumps, as well as its somewhat-frustrating difficulty. There are a grand total of 120 Shine Sprites (the game’s equivalent to 64’s Power Stars), tons of unique levels, and a lot to talk about! Let’s get started.

Story & Presentation

Of course, Super Mario Sunshine’s presentation isn’t quite on par with Super Mario Galaxy’s, but it does have one thing going for it: uniqueness. Seriously, Sunshine’s character and enemy design is really wacky, and we haven’t seen anything like it since! From Pokeys to Strollin’ Stus to Cataquacks to even King Boo, everything looks totally wacky. You can tell enemies in Super Mario Sunshine are from Super Mario Sunshine. This blends really well with the fact that Mario has never visited Isle Delfino before.

The game’s story is a bit different than other main series Mario titles. As mentioned before, Mario and Peach visit Isle Delfino in hopes of taking a vacation, but those hopes are dashed when they find a shadowy version of Mario has covered the island in toxic goop. And all 120 of the island’s Shine Sprites have fled Delfino Plaza and are scattered about! Of course, Mario has to not only collect these Shine Sprites and restore light to Delfino Plaza but also clean up the mess. He meets a water pump named F.L.U.D.D., who can talk for some reason, and can use it to spray or even hover with water.

Here’s something interesting: aside from Peach in Super Mario 64, Sunshine is the first main series Super Mario game to incorporate voice acting. And every character is voice acted, too. Mario, Peach, Toadsworth, Bowser, you name it. And… it’s horrible! At least in my opinion. It’s the kind of voice acting you’d only want to hear with headphones. Bowser’s voice – in the English version – sounds like somebody doing a bad impression of Bowser. Some players might find that charming, though, and the voice acting definitely lends to Sunshine’s wacky atmosphere.

Speaking of which, a lot of the game’s plot points are pretty silly, too. Mario gets tossed in jail at the beginning of the game, and just sits there looking completely content. Later on, Mario encounters Shadow Mario, who reveals he has a tongue that’s at least two feet long. Why? No reason. “No reason” sums up a lot of Sunshine’s aesthetic, but I’m personally all for it. These goofy details make the game kind of endearing, in a way. It’s a shame this style was scrubbed out for later Super Mario games, but it does at least help Sunshine form a strong and unique identity among the lineup of 3D Mario titles.

In terms of the actual visuals, I have to say that Sunshine looks pretty good for its age. As I mentioned earlier, the textures have been upscaled. If you’d like an example, this tweet from Supper Mario Broth shows just how smooth they are. The updated textures make the game look so much better! The levels are bright, colorful, and vast, giving you a bunch of room to explore. Certain special stages have cool, psychedelic-looking backgrounds that reference games like Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Pretty neat! Overall, I really like the game’s aesthetic. It’s not quite up to snuff with Galaxy’s – and certainly not with more recent 3D Marios – but it’s got a unique and memorable flavor about it.

One more note I’d like to mention here. Super Mario 3D All-Stars changed a few lines of voice acting, particularly in the beginning section where F.L.U.D.D. explains the controls. The developers didn’t get the voice actor to record new lines, so they hastily chopped up the existing lines. Yes, it was lazy, but I personally don’t think it’s a big deal. The game also runs at 30 frames per second, just as it did on Gamecube. Which is actually not too bad for a game like Sunshine. It’s just disappointing that it doesn’t run at 60 FPS like Galaxy does (on Nintendo Switch).

Gameplay

Sunshine’s gameplay is – in my opinion – the most versatile in terms of movement. Mario controls kind of loose, so you’ll need to be precise with your joystick movements. If your Joy-Cons are drifting, some of the game’s levels are going to be really difficult if not outright impossible. Of course, Mario can jump and run, but he can also slide, backflip, and triple jump. And then there’s F.L.U.D.D., who quite literally changes the game. You can spray forward with ZR, and press X to toggle between different nozzles. Nozzle types are unlocked as you progress through the game, and include the Hover nozzle, Turbo nozzle, and Rocket nozzle. The Hover nozzle is equipped by default, and lets Mario fly in the air for a short moment. This is especially helpful if you mess up a jump, as you can adjust your momentum with F.L.U.D.D.’s water jets. The Rocket nozzle is sometimes difficult to control, but it launches you straight up into the air! And then the Turbo nozzle lets you dash forward and move fast underwater.

Between Mario’s base moves and F.L.U.D.D.’s versatility, players have a lot of movement options. There’s not quite as many moves as in Super Mario 64, but the ones that are available allow each player to develop their own play style. Which is pretty impressive for a 3D platformer! A lot of these moves are not clearly stated in-game, though. For example, I just recently learned that you can do a midair spin jump and mash the B button to perform an instant triple jump when you land. I never learned that in-game, though I suppose I didn’t really talk to many Isle Delfino residents, either.

Yoshi is also in the game! It takes a few Shine Sprites to unlock him, but… Yoshi’s kind of strange in this game. For one, if you’re riding him and he touches water, he dissolves and dies. Ouch! So that means you can’t use Yoshi to swim, which is a disappointment. He also runs on a timer, which in this case is something called a “Juice Meter”. When Mario rides Yoshi, he can’t use F.L.U.D.D.; instead, Yoshi squirts some kind of juice from his mouth that damages enemies and melts certain projectiles. Of course, Mario can get off of Yoshi at any time. But the juice meter serving as a Yoshi timer is kind of strange to me. Yoshi doesn’t really make the game much easier, honestly, so why have a timer? In fact, Yoshi controls a bit more loosely than Mario. Personally, I had more trouble successfully landing jumps even though Yoshi can Flutter Jump (which isn’t as versatile as F.L.U.D.D.’s Hover nozzle).

Similar to Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine takes place in the hub world of Delfino Plaza. It starts out dark and depressing. It’s day time, but the sky is cloudy and the whole place looks kind of drab. This is on purpose, though, because things quite literally lighten up as you collect more Shine Sprites. Mario can access other stages through graffiti, warp pipes, and cannons. Once there, he can select a Shine Mission just like in 64 and Galaxy. Some of these missions include special stages, where Mario is forced to run through a challenging gauntlet without F.LU.D.D. Some of these are pretty difficult, but I didn’t find any of them all that frustrating. Despite the aforementioned loose controls, I did still feel in control of Mario, so when I died I felt that it was my fault.

Sunshine’s world feels very cohesive. Not just because of its cohesive aesthetic, but because you can actually see other parts of Isle Delfino from each level! So if you’re in one level, you can sometimes see another from far away. Though you can’t actually get there unless you’re in Delfino Plaza. It’s still a cool detail that helps bring Super Mario Sunshine’s world together.

Here’s an issue I have, though: every time you get a Shine Sprite, you return to Delfino Plaza. That’s fine. But you’ll often find yourself being forced to watch a short cutscene before you can move again! Delfino Plaza also has quite a few special stages. One special stage in particular takes five to ten minutes to get to (from within Delfino Plaza), and if you fail the stage, the warp pipe at the end takes you back to Delfino Plaza, where you have to go through that long process again and give the level another shot. I understand why 64 boots you out at the end of every level – it was one of the first-ever 3D platformers, after all – but I don’t really understand it with Sunshine. Most of the missions have you following the same path and fighting the same bosses over and over again, so getting kicked out of the level often results in repetition that didn’t need to exist.

If you’re an avid user of Twitter, you’ve probably seen a bunch of clips of ridiculous glitches in Sunshine. And they’re definitely here! It’s possible to fall through the floor sometimes, which can be simultaneously funny and frustrating. Not sure if the game was rushed, but you might encounter one of these glitches during gameplay. Again, not a huge deal, just a small problem. Sunshine’s camera is sometimes tough to work with; it would lock in place when I wanted to move it, for example. Worst of all, though, your vision is often completely obscured when navigating tight areas, such as in the town section of Delfino Plaza (near the Shine Gate).

Most of my main points have been wrapped up, so let’s quickly go over the last ones. First, it’s tough to keep track of which Shine Sprites you have. Delfino Plaza’s collection menu doesn’t tell you a whole lot, so you might find yourself looking up Shine Sprite collection guides. It would take ages for us to write those, so you’ll have to look elsewhere. Sorry! Another note is that I didn’t find the finale particularly impressive, but to be fair, disappointing endings are sort of par for the course in Mario games (especially the 2D ones). There’s also hundreds of blue coins scattered throughout the levels, and they can be exchanged for Shine Sprites. You have to collect every blue coin to get every Shine Sprite, and some of these are really well-hidden. Some of them can only be accessed in certain missions, too. You’re definitely going to need a guide for those! I know I did.

The Verdict

I’m really glad I was able to play Super Mario Sunshine officially! It’s got its fair share of minor flaws, but it’s overall a very enjoyable experience. I personally prefer Galaxy over Sunshine, but I also prefer Sunshine over 64. Super Mario 3D All-Stars values Super Mario Sunshine at about $20, which I think is kind of fair (if a few dollars too expensive). If you’re interested in 64 and Galaxy, I’d definitely recommend picking up the collection, because Sunshine is fun too!

Sunshine’s impact on the Super Mario series is undeniable, though. Staple characters like Petey Piranha and Bowser Jr. made their first appearance here, and Isle Delfino has gone on to appear or be referenced in future Mario titles. Sunshine has a lot going for it, and if you decide to play it, you’ll find its essence very memorable, and well worth its spot in the 3D All-Stars collection.

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