Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 07/18/2018 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Super Mario Sunshine is, for me, for the Mario IP what Majora’s Mask is for Zelda; it’s that one game in a series that I adore and that most people seem to love but that I just absolutely detest. I’ve got a couple of friends who also didn’t enjoy Sunshine, but the general consensus seems to be that this game is fantastic, and I just don’t see it.
My most immediate issue with Super Mario Sunshine is that it just feels awkward. Like, maybe it shouldn’t, but so many things about this game make me just uncomfortable. Mario’s short sleeves. Peach in a short sleeve dress. The fact that Peach, Toadsworth, Bowser, and Bowser Jr all have fully voice acted dialogue. Like, maybe I’m just a crotchety old man who’s stuck in his ways, but that stuff just made my skin crawl. The game’s mechanics themselves and the setting aren’t bad, but the whole thing just felt a little off, and I think that mostly stems from FLUDD. It was a cool gimmick for a while, but it started to feel like it took the emphasis off of the platforming somewhat to focus on that gimmick.
When I think of a Mario game, I think of a platformer that has interesting power-ups that, while extremely helpful, are all completely unnecessary to complete the level. Sure, some level specific gimmicks are great, but that’s a level built around a gimmick; the game itself remains pure platforming. Sunshine seemed to replace some of the platforming with the FLUDD gimmick, and nothing highlights that better in my opinion than the complete lack of power-ups. Sure, you can swap between a hover, rocket, and boost nozzle for FLUDD, but those didn’t even come close to feeling like actual power-ups. A lot of the levels also felt more like the focus was “squirt this thing with water until this one thing happens” rather than “do this platforming.” There are some totally straight up platforming levels, and I loved those even though they got really tough, but most of the game just felt like it had lost its identity.
The game does, at least, look absolutely stunning. It’s obvious that they were showing off the Gamecube’s hardware prowess with Sunshine because this game looks better than some PS3 and 360 games I’ve played if you take into account the difference in resolution. The presentation is bright and colorful, aspects that are core to Mario’s identity, and the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. It’s just a shame that the game mechanics fell short of the audio and visual performances. Well, the voice acting was also a major negative mark for me because was just creepy and uncomfortable, but that’s much more subjective an assessment for me.
I really tried to like Super Mario Sunshine. I played it years ago and hated it, so I let some time pass before trying it again because I really WANTED to like it. I wanted to say “Wow, I was crazy years ago! This game is great!” But it’s not. It’s definitely not a bad game, but with a pedigree like Super Mario, this isn’t up to par. The gimmick takes the emphasis away from the platforming, Mario’s controls feel less responsive and tight than both past and previous titles, and the bizarre choice to have every major character minus Mario himself fully voice acted with dialogue just comes off as awkward. I think it’s a game that every dedicated Nintendo gamer has an obligation to play at least once, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it.