A Less Than Relaxing Island Adventure
Super Mario Sunshine
I know I've said it before (back in my review of it a month ago) but Super Mario 64 is a masterpiece. With this one game Nintendo managed to redefine platform gaming. That's no easy feat considering Big N had to take a format they essentially defined once already, with the original Super Mario Bros., only to then refine it time and again over the years. When it came to platforming, Nintendo knew how to do it right, but in 1996, before Super Mario 64 came out, no one had managed to break the code on how to make that genre work in three dimensions.
Nintendo did it, though, crafting a 3D adventure that both broke all the conventions on the Super Mario SeriesHe's the world's most famous plumber and the biggest face in Nintendo's stable, a character so ubiquitous you already knew we were talking about Mario even before we said his name. series while still feeling perfectly of-a-piece with all the games that came before. This was still Mario, and while he moved in 3D, and now collected stars, you still felt like you were hanging out with an old friend. It would take years for other companies to break the formula on translating their old series to the new 3D realm, and even then not every company could do it as well, or as gracefully (or at all) in comparison to Nintendo.
Because of that there certainly were expectations about how good Mario's follow-up would be. Could Nintendo just release the same kind of game again and call it Super Mario 128? (A name they actually did experiment with even before ditching that and going in another direction.) Just what could fans expect from the eventual sequel to the game that defined 3D game play? As it turned out, Nintendo both made a direct sequel, and didn't, and the resulting game was more mess than adventure for the expectant fans.
Released in 2022, one year into the Nintendo GameCube's lifetime, Super Mario Sunshine does appear, at first blush, like a proper sequel to Super Mario 64. You're once again playing as Mario from a behind-the-back perspective, entering worlds and collecting stars... er, I mean, "shines". Mario has his jump, his butt-stomp, his triple-jump, and controls just as smoothly as ever. Well, at least when he's on the ground, and that statement alone is where the trouble begins.
See, for whatever reason Nintendo didn't trust that a simple sequel, doing similar things, to the first Super Mario 64 was good enough. You couldn't just run and jump and do Mario things in Sunshine, despite the fact that running and jumping and being Mario were the defining traits of every Super Mario game up to that point (and many of the predecessors before those games, too). No, it wasn't good enough that you ran around the worlds and jumped on things, now you had to have a squirt gun as well.
In the game, Mario is framed for destroying Isle Delfino, a sunshiny paradise that he literally just flew to via plane. Charged with the crimes of spraying inky paint all over the island, Mario is give F.L.U.D.D. (Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dousing Device), a squirt gun that sprays water, cleaning up the mess that "-ario" made. The point of the adventure is to run around and find the fake -ario that framed you, discovering how Bowser was behind all of it (because of course Bowser is behind it) and then saving the day. In practice, though, it's just a lot of squirting water.
Despite running and jumping being in this game, much of your time is going to be spent spraying water. You're cleaning up messes so you have to get water, spray water, and use water everywhere. You can hover with water, you can power-squirt that water, and you can even get attachments that let you rocket around with water, but water is your primary mechanic. It's water, water, everywhere, and the game basically won't let you do anything without it.
To be frankly honest, this is awful. The game doesn't trust you be -ario, to run and jump and do all the things you did in the previous game, just with a gorgeous graphical upgrade (and, in fairness to the game, it does look great). No, everything in the game is built around FLUDD, to the point that it's more about FLUDD than it is about -ario You're always strapped to the water, forced to use the water, and can never really enjoy the -ario bits of the game because you're stuck doing dumb things with the squirt gun.
As if to rub this in, the few times you don't have FLUDD (because the evil -ario temporarily steals it from you) the game then punishes you with the most obnoxious, difficult little stages possible. "Oh, you wanted to just be -ario?" it seems to ask. "Then suffer for your insolence." The game actively hates you just doing the things that -ario does best, making one wonder why -ario is even in the game at all. It could be any other game -- "Sunshine, a Startropics Adventure" perhaps -- and it would feel less out of place than slapping the -ario name on this misbegotten adventure.
Seriously, when this game came out I absolutely hated it. While the squirt gen mechanics were interesting occasionally, I didn't feel like they were enough to build a whole game around said mechanics. If the game wanted us to have a -ario adventure it should have put -ario front and center for most of the game and then, only occasionally at best, give us a squirt gun to use for a couple of key "clean up the island" shines. Everything about FLUDD gets in the way of what makes -ario -ario, and it sucks. I hated it at the time, quitting the game after I was only halfway through it (this despite playing Super -ario 64 religiously through and through), and the few times I've revisited the game over the years have only reaffirmed everything I disliked about this adventure.
Now it is true that the game has developed a following over the years. Younger fans, those that come to the game without the expectations of what it could have been, have found a weird little -ario adventure that can be enjoyed its own way. I can respect that. The game doesn't appeal to me in any way, and I don't find even the basic mechanics enjoyable, but if someone can eek out fun from what Sunshine actually is, the game as its presented, then more power to them. The game I wanted wasn't here, and I couldn't even find anything enjoyable about the experience I was given (even when I try to play it with fresh eyes and without expectations). Whether -ario or not, this game just isn't fun for me.
I have to think Nintendo understood that they might have veered too far off the mark, too, because the mechanics of Super -ario Sunshine were dropped altogether after this adventure. The next game in the series, Super -ario Galaxy did its own weird experimentation, to be sure, but it put the emphasis back on the things -ario does best: running, jumping, and just being -ario FLUDD had its chance, and it rocketed too close to the sun(shine). Some may have liked it, but for the rest of us there were better Super -ario games off on the horizon.