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Super Mario Sunshine: 20th anniversary

Today is the 20th anniversary of the U.S. release of Super Mario Sunshine, the Super Mario game of the Nintendo Game Cube.

Super Mario Sunshine follows the formula laid down in the tremendous Super Mario 64. Mario's move set is largely unaltered, so if you've played that game, you'll be able to dive right in. Each level is a large (yet contained) play space in which Mario must find and collect Shine Sprites (the equivalent of Stars in Mario 64). Each stage contains eight "episodes." When Mario finds a Shine, he exits the level, thus completing an episode (unless it was one of the two secret Shines in each stage). He may then either re-enter the level to play the next episode or move to another level, if one has been unlocked. Each episode changes certain aspects of the level (same as in Mario 64). For example, in one level you are tasked with removing enemies from giant mirrors in order to dislodge an enormous Wriggler, then in the next episode you must defeat the rampaging Wriggler.

The game also re-uses Mario 64's organizational mechanic by which Mario accesses the different levels through portals painted on walls. The central hub of Mario 64 was Peach's Castle. Here it is Isle Delfino, a beautiful island resort inhabited by the gelatin-like Pianta, who have trees growing out of their heads. Just as Peach's Castle housed several hidden Stars, so too does Delfino Plaza hold Shines, effectively making it the second level of the game (after the quick opening stage at the Delfino Airstrip). A new feature is that Mario can purchase Shines by spending ten blue coins. Some blue coins are in open air, like yellow coins, but most are uncovered by spraying graffiti. Some of these cause the coin to appear elsewhere on the map next to a matching graffito, and Mario has just a few seconds to race over and collect it. As for the yellow coins, they work exactly as they did in Mario 64. Each one heals him a damage from his life meter, and 100 gets him a Shine.

Besides the island-resort theme, the only major difference between this game and its predecessor is the FLUDD: Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device. Throughout the game (except in the difficult jumping-based bonus areas) Mario wears a water-shooting device akin to a portable firehose. He can refill it in any body of water or sprinkler (of which there are many). Bowser Jr. is introduced in this game, and he has contaminated Isle Delfino with an oil-like goop that Mario must clean up. Mario has been falsely accused of creating the mess himself, because Bowser Jr. disguised himself as Shadow Mario. (The Pianta are apparently too stupid to tell the difference between Mario and the translucent, ghostly Shadow Mario.) FLUDD lets you wash away the goop, as well as graffiti left by Bowser Jr. on walls. You also can attack enemies with the FLUDD, many of which cannot otherwise be hurt by Mario. Importantly, Mario can pick up different nozzles for the FLUDD, one of which (Hover Nozzle) lets him hover for a few seconds. This allows you to access areas that would be very difficult or impossible for Mario to otherwise reach.

FLUDD is a huge departure from other Mario games, and the general consensus (which I share) is that it's only all right. It's creative and can be fun, but it can also get tedious washing away goop. It makes for a style of gameplay that feels un-Mario-ish (for lack of a better term). On the other hand, with so many fantastic Mario games available to play at this point, it's not a bad thing to have something else on offer. No doubt there are people for whom this is their favorite Mario game (especially if the Game Cube is what they grew up on). I remember watching a college roommate play the game, and my main takeaway was that the water-spraying was weird and that some of the bonus stages looked difficult because of the precise jumping required.

A downside of the game is the small number of levels. Mario 64 has nineteen levels, including Peach's Castle and the three Bowser stages. Super Mario Sunshine has only ten, including Delfino Airstrip and Delfino Plaza. Both games contain 120 Stars/Shines to find, which means the seven per main stage of Mario 64 is now a whopping eleven. As a result, the game can start to feel repetitive. I already thought replaying the same stage seven times was a bit too much in Mario 64. Fortunately, neither game requires you to collect all 120; you need 70 in Super Mario 64 and just 50 in Super Mario Sunshine. As a result, I would recommend moving to a new stage once you've collected five Shines from it.

The game, as expected, looks and sounds great (especially if you're playing the HD remake on Switch). Graphically, it's a huge step up from the blocky polygons of Super Mario 64, though you can still tell it's an older game (even in HD). The camera controls much better than in Mario 64, too, though you still can't turn it upward, which can be frustrating. In tight corners, the camera often hides Mario behind a wall, and you have to rotate it until you can see him again. Even if Super Mario Sunshine is a bit weaker than its predecessors, it's still a great game. Super Mario games are so good, even the lesser ones are well above average. For my part, I'm enjoying the game.

Grade: A-

Linked Review
"Though it's not exactly the Mario game everyone was thinking of when it came out, it's still a classic Mario title that's definitely worth having in your collection."
— Brad Long, Nintendo Life, 9/10

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