Email me for Advertising Opportunities, Review and/or Preview Codes, Hardware Reviews, & Story Ideas

kaleb@cvgames.com

Super Mario Sunshine

Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo
Players: | Release Date: 08/25/02 | Genre: Platform

After six long years, Mario returns in full glory, and boy do I mean it. Although I would argue that the string of great games started with Eternal Darkness, I'd say that with the release of Mario, we're finally getting the games the show us what Nintendo and GameCube are all about. This game is Nintendo. There's no better way to put it. For any Nintendo fan, buying Super Mario Sunshine is a no-brainer. They won't need to read a review. I'm here to tell you fence-sitters why Super Mario Sunshine is the best 3D platformer ever.

When Super Mario 64 arrived, Nintendo was still riding off of the high of the 16-bit era. Mario amazed and everyone wanted a Nintendo 64. Nintendo ruled the gaming world. After all, most gamers were raised on Nintendos. They never saw the PlayStation monster coming. Who could've imagined a game like Grand Theft Auto 3, or that it could be so fun, and that it would be so popular? Gaming is a lot different now than it was in 1996. Is Mario a has-been, or can he still captivate gamers as in the past? Mario has been called the Mickey Mouse of video games many times, but Mickey Mouse is nothing more than a mascot for Disney; he doesn't star in any cartoons anymore. I don't want Mario to suffer the same fate. Fear not though, because I can say is that after nearly 20 years, Mario's still got it. Miyamoto even said that because of the ease of GameCube development, we might even see Mario sequels on the same system, just like the good old days. I guess I'm getting ahead of myself though. We need to see if Mario truly is back, and whether or not we want him to stay.

Miyamoto has said several times that much like the progression from the Nintendo 64 to GameCube, going from Mario 64 to Super Mario Sunshine is like an evolution, not a revolution. Super Mario Sunshine could be described as a bigger, better Super Mario 64, which definitely says good things about it, but that doesn't give it enough credit. Nintendo has basically taken ideas first introduced in Mario 64 and has refined and innovated the level design and control. You might be thinking, 엨at's the big deal? It's just like Mario 64, only now, Mario wears a water pack.ell it's much more than that. There is much more to do and explore, and it is simply the most fun single-player game I've ever played. Of course, that may not be true for everybody, but nearly everyone will find this game worth a purchase.

Mario and company travel to a tropical island for a well deserved vacation. Of course, it wouldn't make for a very good game if someone wasn't causing trouble there. Making a short story even shorter, a Mario look-alike has been spreading poisonous muck all over the island with an unknown motive. Mario is blamed and is charged with cleaning up the town. The Shine Sprites, the island's source of energy, have scattered because of the mess and hostile creatures have been showing up. Mario must collect Shine Sprites, defeat the creatures, and clean up the island to return it to its normal, peaceful self.

I've heard several complaints about the shallow story and characters. I think this is simply a case of gamers who grew up. It's a Mario game; of course the story is shallow. I wouldn't have it any other way. At least the story is a little different this time. I am not bothered by the storyline at all. I was expecting it to be this way. People are annoyed by the character's voices, but I think they have to remember that Mario is not meant to be on a very mature level. I like the way it was done because it feels like classic Nintendo, and it helps bring out the kid inside me. Gamers who were once content with evil turtles kidnapping the princess are now asking Mario to be much more, and I think that's unreasonable. It would not fit the Mario universe. Anyways, at least everyone recognizes that gameplay is king, and Mario Sunshine gives you plenty of that. If you don't like the childish characters or story, don't worry about it. You'll only have to deal with it for a few minutes. Most of this game is pure gameplay.

But how does it look? Mario Sunshine does not look amazing in the traditional measure of graphics. The usual standard is to look at polygons and textures. Unfortunately, Mario Sunshine is lacking in these areas. Mario himself is made of sufficient polygons, but the rest of the environments leave much to be desired. The same goes for textures. They are simply not up to par with other games of this generation. Many people are wondering why Nintendo couldn't pull great graphics out of their own console when other developers have already done it. I think it's because Nintendo made the game impressive and beautiful in a different way. Before I get to that though, realize that this game is not ugly by any means; it's simply not impressive in terms of textures and polygons. The art design and amount of detail make up for this. All of the worlds look very lively, and as a whole, it looks quite beautiful. While the game does support progressive scan, Nintendo has not answered my prayers by including a widescreen option. Please! Heed my call! I know that not very many gamers can enjoy the widescreen, but it's not so hard to implement according to developers. Already games like Eternal Darkness, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Burnout support widescreen. You'd think that a Nintendo first party would be pushing to have full-featured games. At least they are adamant about using the Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound.

So where did the power of the GameCube go? I'd say it went into three main areas. Well, the most obvious thing people will notice is the water. Simply put, Mario Sunshine features the best video game water ever. It's beautiful. You could waste so much time just swimming around admiring the beautiful waters of Sirena Beach in the sunset. Nintendo has done everything right with the water, and perhaps that's where all of the polygons went. The waving water looks so smooth, and, well, wet. It reflects and is transparent at the same time. Its motion seems very realistic. It refracts images just the way you'd expect. In fact, that's one of the things Miyamoto has said about the GameCube. It is very good at doing distortion-type effects such as water refraction, hot air refraction, etc. The water is also bump-mapped with beautiful textures. Even the water that comes out of Mario's water pack refracts the light if you pay attention. You can even catch real-time reflections in puddles that Mario makes before they evaporate. The physics and visual effects of Mario Sunshine's water are something that future games will be measured against until someone does better. I can see it now, 씨e water in Star Fox Adventures waves and refracts images, but it's nowhere near as good as Mario Sunshine.î?Š

Another technically impressive thing that is often overlooked is the paint-like muck all over the island. In most areas of the game, you will find huge puddles of muck, which can be of various colors. What's so amazing about it is the way that it flows and is washed away. The muck is basically like a 2D animated texture across the ground. When Mario slides over it, he can smear it around even further. It all looks so smooth, convincing the player of its fluidity. If Mario steps in it, you will see ripples in the muck. If he sprays water on it, the muck washes away in a smooth fashion. It's just fairly amazing the way it can move and spread. Mario can even become covered in the muck. Watching him wash off in water, or spin it off is pretty cool. There is a neat ì´¥xture bubbleî ¥ffect that looks very convincing. The texture of the muck is distorted so that it looks like a bubble is coming to the surface. There are even other uses of these texture techniques in the game. Nintendo has basically found a way to take a texture and display only certain parts of it. For instance, you will come across a poster. The poster is made of one texture. Mario can rip a hole through the poster. The jagged edges of the hole are produced, not by a new texture, but by displaying only part of the poster texture. Another example is with a floating block made of sand. If you look at the bottom edge, you will see that it is rough and bumpy. This is look is not created by using hundred of polygons to created several jagged edges, but rather, by display only a selected part of the texture. The muck is also this way. In reality, there is one very large texture for the muck, but only part of it is displayed to give the puddle any shape desired. It's hard to explain; you have to see it for yourself.

Lastly, the other amazing thing that will get overlooked is the constant stretching, squishing, and morphing of polygons. Pieces of the ground will smoothly rise or sink and deform. Along with traditional animations, polygons of enemies may also stretch or bend to bring to life the actions they carry out. It really adds a whole new dimension to character animation. Not only can the bend and turn at joints, but now their bellies can stretch out when the drink a lot of water or their snout can quickly expand and then contract when they shoot some muck at you. I think this technical feat has been overlooked by nearly everyone. Mario Sunshine does a lot of this, but it's so subtle that most don't notice it.

The music really adds to the tropical atmosphere. Like most large platformers, not every track is going to stand out in your mind, but Mario Sunshine features quite a few songs that you may find yourself humming after playing the game. Mario Sunshine features great remixes of past Mario songs and a few great original compositions. None of the songs ever get annoying, which is usually the most important aspect of video game music. We all love great game music, but the very least we ask is that we can stand it. The only annoying thing is that when you are riding Yoshi, these annoying bongo drums (or something) play along with the music track. Of course, most of you will know that the same thing happened in Super Mario World for the SNES. So bonus points go to Nintendo for bringing back some old school memories, but I'll also take them back away since it was annoying in the first place, so it's still annoying now. As I mentioned earlier, people may get annoyed with the voices of the princess or the Toads, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Of course it's a little like a Saturday morning cartoon. This isn't Shakespeare. Everyone will agree that it's great to hear Mario's voice again, however. He has plenty of yells, 엯ohooî «s, 왩ppeeî «s, and much more to satisfy anyone. I've even caught Mario cursing, ì?²rivederci!î?Š

That may be charming and all, but is this the Second Coming? Honestly, I'd have to say 쮯f you're expecting another revolution. Some people were afraid that Mario Sunshine would not be a huge revolution like Mario 64 was. I think that that would be asking for too much. What Mario 64 did for video games is something we will likely never experience again. That game taught people how to use 3D. The whole game was a new idea. It changed the industry. Don't expect Mario Sunshine to do the same, because that's not fair. What you can expect is a really great game, a game that you will not be bored with, a game that is just really, really fun. Super Mario Sunshine is a great game. It is classic Nintendo. What I mean by that is it is exactly what Nintendo is known for: great level design, and great controls.

The pessimists had three main fears about Mario Sunshine. I'm here to dispel all of them. The first is that it would be a re-hash of Mario 64. They wanted something completely new and totally different--like Mario 64 was when it first came out. Well I've already explained that it's unfair to expect it to revolutionize games, but I can also tell you that it's not a re-hash. This is a sequel in a true sense. It offers new gameplay and innovations, while still basing itself off of the past game and playing in much the same way. Only this time, the ideas are much better. It's not enough to say that it's a better version of Mario 64. It's a true sequel to Mario 64. It's got a similar structure, only the level design is more advanced, and there are more moves ad items available to the player.

The second concern was that the water pack would just be a gimmick. Hey it's Mario, and now he can squirt stuff. People were worried that the water pack would not really add anything to the game. They feared that the only change would be that instead of jumping on enemies, you could squirt them. Well let me tell you that even if you exclude the extra nozzles, you can do much more than just squirt stuff with the water pack. The water pack is used in several clever ways, and it really does add to the gameplay. I don't want to spoil it for you, but I'll give you one example. Mario can hang from a horizontal rope and use the water pack to propel himself around and around and then he can let go and fly off of the rope to far off places. There are several other clever uses of the water pack. Don't think it's just limited to attacking enemies and cleaning up paint.

The third major concern was that the addition of the hover nozzle would make the game too easy. That was the most reasonable concern. It seemed likely too, given the fact that games have been getting easier these days. Using the hover nozzle, Mario can hover for a short period of time when he jumps. People feared that there would be no more tricky jumps and it would just be too simple to complete objectives. Well, ask anyone who's completed the game and they'll tell you that it was quite a challenge. The truth is, the game was designed knowing that the player has the water pack. They still made it challenging. In fact, this game is much more difficult than Mario 64, which is good for most gamers. More challenge means more fun and less boredom. There are even times when your water pack is taken away, and you must navigate without the ability to hover.

In the addition to the hover nozzle, there is also a rocket nozzle and a turbo nozzle. The rocket nozzle gives Mario an upward burst, which allows you to jump extremely high. The turbo nozzle propels Mario forward allowing him to move very fast. There will be a few times when you need to cross a large area in a short period of time. The water pack is fun to use, plain and simple. You can spend so much time just screwing around in this game. I've wasted at least a couple hours jumping around, or turbo-dashing across the beautiful waters.

The controls are extremely tight. Most of Mario's moves from Mario 64 are back. They even borrowed his spin jump from super Mario World. Wall-jumping and side-flipping have been made a little easier to execute because they are used a lot more now. Those who have played Mario 64 will feel right at home. Those who haven't won't take long to become acquainted. Jumping is assigned to the well placed ë?§ button, and squirting water is assigned to the comfortable 뒧 button. The button layout is perfect. You will have no struggles with the controls. Swimming is a little awkward. There's an interesting trade-off. In Mario 64, swimming was difficult to learn, but once mastered, it was easy to go in any direction you wanted. In Mario Sunshine, swimming is easy to learn, but it doesn't offer as much freedom. When swimming, you use the 낧 button to swim downward and the ë?§ button to swim upward. The control stick can only be used to turn left and right. This is awkward because you cannot swim in a straight line, and you cannot swim in any direction you want in 3D space. If you want to swim straight, you have to alternate between pushing ë?§ and 낧, which makes Mario kind of bob up and down, or you can just swim along the surface. This doesn't really harm the gameplay in any way; it just feels a little strange.

One thing people will struggle with is the camera control. Thankfully, it won't frustrate most of the time, but there are a few areas in the game that can get to you. Camera control has always been an issue with any 3D platformer. Most reviewers are fairly harsh about it, but I won't be. This is because I can't see it done any other way. In a 3D platformer, different players will want to look at things differently. There is no perfect camera angle because you can be coming at an object from any direction and you may be comfortable with looking at it from a certain angle, and I would be more comfortable looking at it from another angle. Sometimes you'll want to zoom out; sometimes you'll want to view things from a closer perspective. The developer has no choice but to give camera control to the player. Anytime the camera control fully controllable, it will not be perfect. I think this just has to be accepted in 3D platformers. The camera will occasionally become stuck on something and you may have to learn to quickly adjust the view. I have come to consider camera control as part of the gameplay. Although I do realize that it's something that is harder for casual or young gamers. What's important is that it does not hinder the gameplay very often. Most of the times you just need to take a second to re-adjust the camera and you'll be fine. Some people wish that they would not have to think about the camera at all, but I just don't think that this will happen in a 3D platformer. It is certainly not worse tan what has been done in the past. Of the 3D platformers I've played, Mario Sunshine has the best camera system. Camera systems in all 3D platformers have some problems.

The camera is controlled with the C-stick, and the analog control definitely helps. Now you can really look at the situation from any angle and any level of zoom that you wish. The camera moves very smoothly. To aid the gamer, clicking 댧 will center the camera behind Mario, and should the view of Mario ever be obstructed, Mario's silhouette is always visible. Other objects are displayed as question marks if they are obstructed from view, yet still close to Mario.

So now that you know about controlling the camera and moving Mario, what can you actually do that's so great? What makes the game so great is that there are seemingly endless amounts of things to do, and it's all fun. There are several new small additions to the formula that add a great deal overall to the gameplay. Things like bouncy ropes, chain link fences (the kind from Super Mario World), and more and new kinds of obstacles to the ideas that Mario 64 started. Even Yoshi's back. He has his own set of moves. Feed him fruit to make him spit juices of different colors, or use his long, sticky tongue to eat stuff. He is required for several objectives. The great thing about Mario Sunshine is that there are so many varying objectives to complete. Even if the objective is just beating the boss, traveling the path to get to him can be half the fun. For instance, in one objective requires you to defeat a boss that you've defeated before, only this time, you have to traverse a wall-jumping maze to get to him. There is such a large variety of things to do, that I couldn't explain them all. They range from rolling a big object a long way without damaging it, to using a leaf and your water pack as a make-shift power boat to collect red coins across the surface of deadly poisonous water.

The basic structure of the game is much like Mario 64. There is a main hub-world, Delphino Plaza, which connects to other worlds. Each world is split into 8 episodes. In each episode, something different is happing in the level. The goal of each episode is to collect a Shine. What you do to get the Shine varies greatly. As I said, it would be impossible to list all of the various things you must do to get a Shine. In addition to the 8 episode shines, there are 2 ì³¥cretî ³hines which are obtained by doing tasks that are usually not as involved as the 8 main Shines. There are also 30 blue coins in each level. 10 blue coins can be traded for a Shine in a shop in Delfino Plaza. The blue coins are collected by doing very minor tasks, but since there are 30 of them per level, it really adds a lot to the gameplay and gives a lot of incentive to explore. Some of the blue coins are in plain sight, but you'll have to do some thinking to reach it. Other blue coins take some good exploration skills. Delfino Plaza is in itself like a whole level. There are 17 Shines and 20 blue coins to get. I'm just trying to illustrate that there is a huge amount of things to do, and the variety and fun of each task cannot be stressed enough. That's what makes it so hard to describe. One level may find you surfing on bloopers as you try to collect red coins and another may have you navigating a hotel turned into a maze to find a Shine. You won't be bored. Trust me.

Some of my favorite parts of the game are the sub-levels. Fake Mario has set a trap in certain areas. When Mario enters a friendly looking hole or pipe, he is transported to a sub-level and the fake Mario takes his water pack away. These sub-levels have a very old-school feel, even though they are 3D. They'll remind you of the days when blocks could just float around in space for no reason and your goal was simply to get to the end. Why are these blocks moving around in a pattern? Who cares? It's just good ol' platforming. The designs for these sub-levels are surprisingly various and a whole lot of fun. They provide a refreshing break amongst the rest of what is now modern 3D platforming. The sub-levels are very challenging, and can even be frustrating. Thankfully, each sub-level has at least one 1-up so that you can die and keep trying. That was a good thought on Nintendo's behalf. Blocks and enemies will move around in various patters. Mario will have to use all of his skills to reach the Shine at the end. You can even return later to try to collect 8 red coins within a time limit. It's no easy feat, and this is only a small part of the whole game.

It's nearly impossible to describe Mario Sunshine to someone who doesn't know anything about 3D platformers, mainly because the objectives vary widely. It's easier to just show them. More or less, all objectives require navigating various structures and landscapes by running and jumping, but it's much more than that. You have to think about what you're doing, and where to go. I know that to most long-time gamers, getting a Mario game is mandatory, but I know that there are newer gamers that may not feel the same way because they just don't know. I encourage you to go play the demo at a store or rent the game. This is seriously some of the most fun you can have. Nintendo is about to have a huge string of games of this high quality, and I suggest buying a GameCube now. Mario Sunshine is that good, and there's plenty more in the coming year.

Mario Sunshine will last you a while too. Gamers who feel overwhelmed by the challenge will be relieved to know that you don't have to complete everything to beat the game, but you won't get the most out of it. I'd estimate that for your first time through, it would take 30-40 hours to complete the game with every Shine. You may even feel like playing the game again later. I have played through Mario 64 about three or four times. So while there is no multiplayer to speak of, the game is definitely lengthy enough to satisfy, and fun enough to play again.

When I started writing this review, I didn't know where to begin; Mario Sunshine is so fun, and so huge. Some of you may be able to tell that, now, I don't know where to end. Mario Sunshine is the kind of game that you won't want to stop playing. It's like Pringles for video games. You always want to see what you have to do next or what the next level looks like. I've said this a few times already, but I'll say it again. You will not be bored. There's too much to do and it's too much fun to do it. You've got great level design and great control. There's not much more you could do to make a fun game, and this simply is the best 3D platformer ever created. Mario truly is back, and he hasn't aged a bit.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 09/05/02
ESRB Details: Comic Mischief
Tags:

Screenshots for Super Mario Sunshine

Microsoft Buys Rare

Buffy the Vampire Slayer