Show Some Love

Posted on Sep 1st 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (Crabmaster2000)
Posted under Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo, Mario, Gamecube, Platformer, Delfino, Bowser Jr

Lately I've been digging deep into the world of Super Mario, from the 1985 NES release and working my way towards Odyssey, leaving no Goomba unstomped. Many of these games I've played many times, but there are several I hadn't played before and I got to experience them for the first time. Currently I'm 15 games into my project and got to revisit the GameCube staple, Super Mario Sunshine. This game has always stuck out in the series to me, but I haven't quite been able to articulate why. Having so many Mario experiences in such a short time I feel has finally given me the perspective I've always lacked and may allow me to better discuss why I think Super Mario Sunshine feels so out of place as a Super Mario title.

I think the obvious place to start is Mario's movement. In every Mario game up to this point I'd argue that the best part of the game is simply controlling Mario. It's always a bit different, but right from Super Mario Bros' (1985) forward focused momentum, to Super Mario Land 2's (1992) floatier gliding jumps, to Super Mario 64's (1996) vast array of jumps and flips, these games are all fun to play because Mario is fun to move. Each game is designed around it's specific power-ups as well to enhance these movements. Hitting that run speed in Super Mario Bros 3 (1990) or Super Mario World (1991) to take to the air with a Raccoon Tail or Cape is an unparalleled feeling, as is stomping through the bottom of an underwater level with the Metal Cap in Mario 64. It's pretty challenging to find Mario in any form up from 1985-2001 that isn't fun to be in control of no matter the stage, the power up on hand, or the platform you're playing on.

Now the movement in Super Mario Sunshine does borrow much from Super Mario 64, but misses a few key moves including my personal favorite, the long jump. These in themselves wouldn't be a big deal if they were replaced with something equivalent. Unfortunately, the F.L.U.D.D. pack that they.strap you with from the get go is a poor replacement for the pure joy of previous games that actually let you feel the heft of Mario's moves. Instead your default two newest moves are a sluggishly slow moving Hover Nozzle (that negates the whole idea of this being a platforming game) and a Squirt Nozzle (that encourages Mario to spray targets and enemies while standing still or strafing). The Hover Nozzle behaves like a crutch and disincentives players from having to get better at the game, as any missed jump can simply have you arc around and safely land on the platform that was missed. The Squirt Nozzle can be used to make Mario slide which admittedly does feel fast and fun...  until you quickly crash into something and lose all that momentum with a slow painful crashing and getting up animation. This is really only helpful on clear straightaways as it has next to no cornering abilities. Not much of the game is not designed to take advantage of this mechanic and it seems lost on anyone outside of the speed running community. If that was it it would be bad enough, BUT on top of these less enjoyable mechanics the developers thought it would be a good idea to make you refill your F.L.U.D.D.'s water supply so you'll occasionally run out of water and not even be able to use your new skills. This isn't much of a problem on most stages, but when it is you've usually climbed or traveled a fair distance and are close to your target and are then forced to back track to find a refill if you wish to proceed. Not a fun mechanic.

Late into the game you can unlock 2 new Nozzles; the Rocket and Turbo Nozzles. Both of these make Mario's movement quite a bit more enjoyable, but unfortunately most of the game is not designed to take advantage of them and you'll often find yourself in situations requiring one of your initial 2 Nozzles with the 2 newer ones only used for a handful of Shines and challenges.

Up to this point in the Mario series, with the notable exception of the 2 Super Mario Land titles for GameBoy, every time a new cast of badguys has been introduced they have been pretty fantastic and enduring. Goombas, Koopas, Shy Guys, Chain Chomps, Wario, Wart, Bowser, Koopa Kids, Bullet Bills, Hammer Bros, and on and on. Mario has never lacked a good cast of villains. Mario 64 may have introduced mainly forgettable new ones (other than Unagi, Big Boo and Whomp I'd argue), but it also had excellent 3D interpretations of many of it's important classic characters. Mario Sunshine on the other hand, introduces an entire cast of duds which is crowned with the king of duds, Bowser Jr. The few throwback enemies either have ugly remakes (Bullet Bill, Bob-omb) or behave like a different type of bad guy completely (Blooper, Piranha Plant Cheep Cheep).

Mario has consistently had a small, but endearing cast of allies. With the exception of Daisy in Super Mario Land, Mario has a solid core cast of himself, Luigi, Toad/Toads, Peach, and Yoshi. The end. It's a tight cast considering how many games just that small handful have appeared in. Yoshi was a big deal when introduced and had an impact and a game that was designed to highlight him that was much needed when joining the others as a recurring character. In Sunshine your new additions are Toadsworth... and Piantas. Aside from the fact that Piantas could also be considered antagonists, let that sink in for a bit. First new ally since 1991 and you get Toadsworth? Why bother?

Mario has always been extremely light on the story and that has never been a bad thing. Super Mario Sunshine tries really hard to push a narrative into the game and while that goal is admirable, the end result is simply terrible and even leaks it's way into the games progression, which I feel hurts it substantially. The earliest Mario games are straightforward and linear, no question about it. Starting with Super Mario World, then followed by Super Mario Land 2 and Super Mario 64 the games really start to allow the player more freedoms with which levels to tackle. Super Mario 64 has my favorite progression to this point in the series, where you simply need to beat X number of stages to unlock more stages. You choose which challenges to tackle and in which order and you can even obtain Stars in a stage that is not the one you selected when you entered the stage. Simple and genius progression system. With Super Mario Sunshine's ambitious story progression system you are locked into a single Shine at a time, no variance. On top of that as you progress through the Shines in each stage the game attempts to tell a story in that particular stage, with usually at least 4 Shines being completely irrelevant to that story out of the 11 available in each stage. Some of the Shine's don't even make sense story-wise, such as Shadow Mario stealing your F.L.U.D.D. for certain challenges, only for you to have it back for no apparently reason afterwards? Also the Piantas, which you are helping clean up their island and return their Shines, seem to be in possession of at least a quarter of the Shines you have been tasked with obtaining. Why push a narrative if you don't make it a logical narrative? Now the game never explicitly tells you that you need to reach the 7th Shine in each of the main stages to open the final battle with Bowser. I had 80+ Shines and hadn't seen any game progression in ages because I didn't realize this. Just kept plugging away until something hopefully happened. That's bad design, but also not my biggest issue with this style of progression. Because each Shine has can have a different stage layout this makes it impossible to achieve the 100 coin Shine on most of the stages; you have to trial and error them until you find the Shine that actually allows you to complete this challenge. That's a mess. And on top of that certain Nozzles and hidden blue coins are also locked away in very specific Shines on every stage. Maybe all of this would be forgivable if that story was great (spoiler alert, it was not). The cutscenes are some of the most painful even for the era this game was released. Unskippable as well!

Mario games to this point have done a great job of giving the player a good variety of level types: Castles, Overworlds, Underworlds, Underwater Stages, Cloud Stages, Ice Stages, Pipe Worlds, Little Big Worlds, Outer Space, etc. All you get in Sunshine is Tropical Island so you'd better like it. The Haunted Hotel that you unlock after clearing yet another beach is a bit of a change of pace, but everything else offered feels very samsie. Super Mario World also took place on an island, but it felt so much more diverse than Sunshine. You know what else Super Mario World did better? Yoshi! The Yoshis in Sunshine are devastatingly disappointing. One drop of water and he is gone. Did I mention this was a tropical island covered with and surrounded by water?

To say that all previous Mario games are without technical issues and glitches would be a lie. But it is true that running across one is far from the norm. Even in the ground breaking Super Mario 64 it's quite rare that I run into any technical problems that can briefly distract me from my platforming bliss. Oh baby is Sunshine littered in common issues, though. From the camera getting stuck or passing inside of objects, to falling through the stage completely, to regular game freezes, it can really start to grate on a player. And the final fight, that moment you've been working your way towards, is unforgivably broken. When Mario falls through the giant target that he is meant to smash into in order to advance the fight, 25% of the time what should be a tense and triumphant battle turns into a teeth gritting test of patience.

This next part is far more subjective, but I've found that I love playing every dang level in most Super Mario games. In Super Mario 64, which has a whopping 120 different challenges for you to complete, I find 10-12 of them not overly fun and the rest are incredibly satisfying experiences. I'm not saying Super Mario Sunshine has no fun to be had. I like quite a few parts of this game, but when stacked up next to pretty well any other Super Mario title it's quite joyless. From a ridiculous Pachinko Machine Shine to slowly traversing boats travelling at a snails pace with a Yoshi, who can't make one misstep with his slippery controls or face defeat, to walking around spraying every F*#$ING slightly out of place bit of scenery and grain of sand in the game's many many beaches in hopes of stray Blue Coins or the occasional Shine, there are just so many moments that are far more monotonous or frustrating than fun. It's pretty telling that the most universally praised parts of this game are the Secret Shine Stages in which the game strips you of it's main mechanics and themes and even music. Carrying fruit is not fun. Spraying inanimate objects with water is not fun. Cleaning pollution off the ground is not fun. Getting 80-90 coins in a stage and realizing you have to exit to try the next Shine to get the full 100 coins is not fun. Buying Shines from vendors with the cruelly hidden blue coins is not fun. Waiting for birds to fly back towards you when they get out of range so that you can spray them is not fun. There are so many parts of this game that are not fun, but they are not one off experiments they are repeatedly reused as if they are supposed to bring the player some sense of accomplishment.

You may have noticed in the last paragraph that I took a small jab at the music in Super Mario Sunshine. That was very intentional. This game also has one of the least memorable soundtracks in a Super Mario game. It's largely forgettable. Not much more the elaborate on there.

Secrets have always been a big part of the Super Mario experience. From the simple beginnings of Coin Heavens and Warp Pipes to the far more rewarding Star Road players are always rewarded for exploring or mastering levels in Super Mario games. The reward for 120 stars in Super Mario 64 I'll admit is quite anti-climactic, but when you finish the Star Road levels in Super Mario World you are rewarded with both a message from the developer, as well as a great new look to the game and many of it's enemies. After what is a quite grueling experience of getting all 120 Shines in Super Mario Sunshine my hope was that effort would be paid off with something more akin to the Super Mario World experience as opposed to the Super Mario 64 one. What you are rewarded with is simply a post credit postcard with a picture to remind you just how forgettable this entire new cast has been. It was without a doubt not worth the effort to obtain.

I know I've been pretty hard on this game, but that's just because I love the Super Mario series so much that I'm likely being overly critical. There are very few Super Mario games I'd recommend someone interested in the series to skip. I'm kind of torn on this one in that regard. It really didn't do anything that another game hasn't done better, either before or since and looking back it doesn't feel like it hit any important milestones for the series that a player could benefit by seeing it's place in the evolution of Super Mario. The one thing that used to stand out to me was it's attempt at a narrative in a Super Mario game, but I'd rather direct players to Super Mario Galaxy which did a better job telling an interesting story in the Super Mario universe by magnitudes. It is as of this writing the ONLY game in the series that I feel requires a player to go to outside sources in order to 100% it. Every other game gives you the tools in the game to achieve that goal. When racking my brain to end on a positive note the best I can do is that the Secret Shine Stages are awesome and it's colorful.

I know this game has it's defenders and if you've read this and are one of them please speak up. Have I stated anything that is inaccurate or did I overlook some of the positive qualities of Super Mario Sunshine. What are your favorite parts of this game and why? I would love to have a discussion about where this game fits into the Super Mario Bros scale in terms of it's quality. I don't think it's the worst game in the series, but I do think it's quite close to it.

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At first I wanted to rebut your claims on Sunshine, then I really thought about it.  Then I sat down and played Sunshine a bit.  On many points I agree with you, Crabby, and some I don't think I realized until this week.  I bought this game on launch day (typical for me back then) and played the heck out of it.  I really dig the island atmosphere of the game, and loved riding in the boat that takes you around the island (something relaxing about that). I also really loved the the acrobatic nature of some of the levels, not just the Challenge levels.  The Shadow Mario chase in Ricco Harbor was a lot of fun at the time.  Finally, I think the game looks really good out of component on a traditional television.

But there are a lot of problems with this game, and I think you touched on them pretty well.  The repetition of the stages in each world is the most noticeable now (though I don't know why not then), with the weirdly grainy (non-skippable) cut scenes being a close second.  I didn't mind the new characters much, though I guess at the time I was just happy to have a new Mario title to play.  Maybe that was the reason the game didn't bug me back then.  Kind of like when you are super hungry and pretty much everything tastes wonderful.  That, and cleaning up the island really touches the OCD part of me.  Playing it now I know I won't be able to force myself past the first few levels, much less as far as I did back in 2002.  I kind of fizzled out when I realized how terrible the first Shadow Mario chase was.  Yuck.

On another note, I've always avoided the Galaxy games because of my "waggle" prejudice, but maybe now is the time to play them.

Thanks Crabby.  Not a fun revisit of the game, but it was a fun read.
@bombatomba: I didn't mind the atmosphere at first either. After several hours of it though it just wasn't diverse enough to keep me interested in it try as they might. The boats were at first neat little bits of flavor to the island feel, but after trying to navigate a timed, one-hit-kill yoshi across them they got old REAL quick.

Any particular levels stand out to you in terms of acrobatics? None pop to mind immediately. I'd be happy to revisit some and see if I overlooked them.

One shadow Mario chase would have been enough. 7 or 8 was just too much. Several Mario games have lame bosses (Reznor, Boom Boom), but unless you can soak him super early before he starts leaping across the level the amount of time you spend on that boss is too much in my opinion.

How does your OCD handle the in game checklist, especially with those blue coins? Wink

This was the first new Super Mario game released in 5-6 years so I can totally understand that hunger for more Mario. And like I tried to point out I don't think this game is worthless. I just don't think it's up to the lofty standards of the series.

Thanks so much for reading and the comment. I really want to have more discussions about this game so if anything else pops to mind please toss up another comment.

PS - I'd highly recommend Super Mario Galaxy 1/2. The "waggle" is fairly minimal and nearly everything else about the games are masterpieces. If you want to see Mario's possibly best attempt at a story driven game give the first one a try and if you just want to enjoy some of the best 3D platforming of all time skip right to 2. Both games are solid though and if you do end up giving either a try I'd love to hear about your experiences with them.
Definitely agree. This was one of the fist games I bought when I picked up a Game Cube, and even then the experience felt like "Mario 64 but everything's worse".  The progression system irked me in paticular because choosing which Stars to collect was one of the best things in sm64, as the game became a lot less linear.  This was made worse because most of Sunshine's "boss" fights were annoying -- especially mecha Bowser. 
@Raidou: Definitely agree with the boss fights not being very good in Sunshine. I think most Mario games have at least one stinker of a boss, but this one has weak boss fights across the board.
Preach it!

This game is where I lost the love for Mario. It just was not fun to play at all. Sadly, it soured me for future games, and I've never finished a Mario since 64, even though I have played most of them. I still love going back to the old ones, but I think Mario and I have just gone our separate ways.
@Duke.Togo: That's so sad to hear. Still lots of solid Mario games being put out these days. Have you at least tried Mario Maker? I feel like that would be the most up your alley from the post Sunshine era.
I agree with prettyuch all these sentiments. Sunshine is possibly the only Mario game I actively dislike (unless there's one I've forgotten about at the moment). I was just as excited for a Mario game as anyone, but I didn't find the F.L.U.D.D. enjoyable to control AT ALL. I gave up on the game fairly early on and only now own a copy of it for completionist sake. Even the wonderfully creative Mario team of developers aren't perfect.
@zophar53: I'm with you there. I'll pop in a Mario game from any gen occasionally and have a blast, but Sunshine hasnt made that rotation since my initial play until now. Just no desire which feels odd because I see a lot of value in pretty much every other game.
@Crabmaster2000: No, although I probably should.
That's it!  I spent some more time trying to dredge up the love that I had in 2002 when it first came out by playing my old save, but I think my original Wii (the one with all my VC games) just died!  What a terrible coincidence, and it all happened while trying to prove to myself that Sunshine is at least a little bit fun. Nope!  To heck with that game!
@bombatomba: lol. That's too funny. Must be a sign that it's time to move on!
@Duke.Togo: Some day, Peach will find you; break those chains that bind you!

Great article. I've not played Sunshine yet, and only just acquired a copy within the last couple years. I always hesitated to buy it, and I think that may have been partially because I didn't think the classic Mario mechanics could work well in 3D. Galaxy (thankfully) proved me wrong, and that game is lots of fun, but Sunshine just didn't ever pull me in enough with the concept, to where I wanted to dive in. I may eventually give it a whirl, because the game has its fans, but if/when I do, it will definitely be with tempered expectations.
@MetalFRO: That's probably a wise mentality to go into this game with. I'd maybe even go so far as to say don't worry about even trying to beat it. Just play until you find a point where it stops being fun for you and shut 'er down. That's a very uncomfortable thing for me to say as I often feel compelled to finish everything I start regardless of enjoyment, but Sunshine really wears out it's welcome at points.
You know, it's really too bad you can't just unlock the Challenge stages from the start.  Outside of lazily trolling around the harbor at the front of that boat, this was my favorite component, I think.  They also get veeery hard near the end.
@bombatomba:  Agreed. They are quite fun. After you beat bowser you can revisit them for a timed run to collect 8 red coins too. This time you can use FLUDD though, but because of the short timer it makes you optomize your movements so you actually have to be pretty precise with your movements. Was a pretty fun challenge as well.
I'll just say one thing and move along. The hidden Pachinko Stage... UGH

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