Title  : Super Mario Sunshine
Platforms  : Nintendo GameCube
Publisher  : Nintendo
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 9.5
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Mario, a more recognized icon than Mickey Mouse, was absent at the launch of the Nintendo GameCube system, allowing Luigi to capture the spotlight. Now, finally, our hero arrived to eclipse his brother with Super Mario Sunshine. 

Mario is on Delfino Island for a holiday — as is a look-alike responsible for the resort's graffiti! His vacation ruined, Mario is on a mission to clean up this town and capture the culprit by restoring the island's stolen Shine sprites. 

Players help Mario in his quest to clear his name through use of a new gadget. FLUDD, a water pack, allows Mario to shoot a stream of water or hover for brief periods. This added apparatus melds smoothly into Mario's controls. One controller button switches between the pack's nozzle and hover modes, while another activates it. In the middle of a mistimed jump, it's easy to switch to the hover mode and squeeze the extra second of hang time necessary to make a safe landing. Mario's more standard maneuvers, including jumping on enemies' heads, work as easily as ever. 

Lest anyone think this a kiddie game, Sunshine is challenging — often frustratingly so. Each level has multiple layouts and objectives. Collecting the first Shine is only the beginning, as new and old enemies may appear holding other Shines hostage. Sunshine gives little quarter, for the simple mistake of pressing the wrong button may send a mountaineering expedition back to the base. As minor an infraction as not collecting enough coins within a time limit can reduce Mario's lives by one. 

This variety of challenges will tour Mario through many beautiful landscapes. The all-new levels are more detailed than his last 3D adventure. Towering mountains spill waterfalls down hundreds of virtual feet, while amusement parks are rampant with activity and tourists. Though each individual world is small, the various configurations it can take and the secrets players will find in each make it very large for its size. Almost anywhere players can see in a distance can be ran or swam to, though coins and other items may not appear unless nearby. 

The camera perspective is relatively passive, allowing the player to take control. With one thumb on the analog stick, directing Mario's movements, another thumb on the C-stick can coordinate to change the angle. It's a painless process that players quickly master. Should tight quarters obscure an important item or person, its silhouette will be displayed through any obstacles — a fair compromise. 

Complementing this tropical paradise is a suitable soundtrack. The tunes are simplistic but fitting to Mario's journeys, consisting of samba and maraca accompaniment. There is minimal voice acting — just enough for kicks. Strangely, the printed dialogue is displayed at an angle, causing an uncomfortable tilt of the head for speedy reading. 

Perhaps it is the evolution of the 3D genre, but Super Mario Sunshine's many worlds do not seem as large as those in Super Mario 64. Each world is crammed with obstacles and activities, for sure, and though you may never uncover every secret, there will rarely seem to be places you haven't already visited. Again, there are 120 different objectives to accomplish, and though I found each one when playing Mario's Nintendo 64 adventure, I stopped playing Sunshine after finishing with just 70. 

Super Mario Sunshine does not represent the innovative leap its predecessor, Super Mario 64, did; nor is it a refinement on that game. Rather, it is an extension of all that is right and good with gaming. Whatever magic our mustachioed plumber is privy to, no other 3D hero can hop, skip, and jump his way through fantasy like Mario can. It's about time the GameCube became a must-own system, and the return of Mario signals that era.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 02-Sep-02