The game I’m going to be talking about today is Super Mario Sunshine. In many ways this review is a milestone. I say this because Super Mario Sunshine is one of the first games that I purchased after a long stint away from console gaming. I’ve told this story before, but for that sake of explaining why this game is so important to me, I’ll summarize it again. I grew up with Nintendo. As a kid I owned the original NES and Super NES and there wasn’t a Super Mario title that I didn’t know like the back of my hand. Then, as I entered my teenage years, my focus shifted from video games to music. The Nintendo 64 was released and even though I knew it existed, I didn’t pay much attention to it. From about the age of fourteen until I was maybe twenty-three, all of my gaming was restricted to the PC (and even then, it was fairly casual). Then things changed. I got married and my wife and I moved into our own apartment. Eventually, she became pregnant and the two of us too a trip to Toys R Us to scope out some baby stuff. It was there that we encountered a display for the newly released Nintendo GameCube. After discussing our childhood nostalgia for video games, we decided to purchase the system and bring it home. Among the handful of games that we purchased that day was Super Mario Sunshine.
Admittedly, I never finished the game during its original release. For starters, there were simply other games that captured my attention. But I think another reason I never completed it was the fact that it was so radically different from any other Mario title I had played. Keep in mind, at this time in my life I had never experienced Mario 64, so a 3D Mario game was something completely new to me. When I started this website and began compiling my backlog, Super Mario Sunshine was a game that I knew I had to finally conquer.
For many years, if you wanted to play Sunshine you needed to find a copy of the original GameCube disc. On top of that, you also needed either a working GameCube or the original Nintendo Wii. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Super Mario Sunshine is now available on the Nintendo Switch as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. A few years ago, I sent my original GameCube copy of Sunshine to a fellow gamer. So, for this review I played the Switch version.
If you’re new to this game, it’s likely that the Switch version is the one you’ll be playing. But before you do, you should know that the controller you use is going to heavily affect your experience. Sunshine was originally designed with the GameCube controller in mind. Playing this game with the Joycons, while possible, isn’t recommended. If you actually have an old GameCube controller that still works, there’s a number of accessories available that allow you to hook them up to your Switch. Also, Mario 3D All-Stars has been updated to support the original controller. This is a pretty big deal, because the GameCube controller supports features like pressure-sensitivity, which are actually pretty important to Sunshine. There’s no dispute that the GC controller is the best way to play the game. But honestly, unless you grew up playing on the original hardware, it’s probably not worth the trouble of tracking down an original controller and buying the adapter. The solution that I recommend is to purchase the Switch Pro Controller. Sure, the layout is very different from the old GameCube controller. But, it has all the buttons you’ll need and its a comfortable and well designed option. In fact, unless you’ve played the game on the original hardware, I doubt you’ll have any trouble adapting to the new layout.
Super Mario Sunshine is a departure from other games in the series. For starters, it takes place outside of the Mushroom Kingdom. In this game, Mario and his entourage are taking a vacation to the tropical Isle Delfino. Upon arriving, Mario discovers that areas of the island have been vandalized with a strange paint-like slime. Eyewitnesses report that the perpetrator looks exactly like Mario! Mario is arrested for the crime and sentenced to clean up the island using a special water-cannon (aka: F.L.U.D.D). Mario agrees to clean up the mess, but also commits to uncovering the real identity of the vandal so he can clear his name.
The game itself is very similar to Mario 64 in a number of ways. Aside from being a 3D title, it also features a hub-based level system. This time, instead of the Princess’ castle serving as the main hub, it’s the Delfino town plaza. The main goal this time around, is to complete levels and earn “shine sprites”. Earning fifty sprites is enough to complete the game, but there’s plenty of optional sprites to uncover (a total of 120). Aside from shine sprites, there’s also Blue Coins to look out for.
Like Mario 64, each level in Sunshine has a number of episodes. For example, the first time you visit a level, the goal may simply be to defeat a boss. After that’s complete, you can re-enter the level again. Only this time, your task is different. Maybe you have to find a number of red coins, or perhaps uncover the location of a secret course. And yes, there’s plenty of secret areas in this game.
In many ways, Sunshine is an interesting combination of both old 2D concepts and the 3D gameplay and level-design of Mario 64. But there’s actually plenty of new ideas in the game as well. First and foremost is F.L.U.D.D. This water cannon accessory is something completely unique to Super Mario Sunshine and you’ll either love it or hate it. F.L.U.D.D. serves as both a weapon and a tool that Mario can use at will. You can use it to squirt and damage enemies, clean up paint, and even shoot water at the ground to create a rocketpack-like effect. All of this makes for some pretty versatile gameplay.
I can appreciate how F.L.U.D.D. incorporates new ideas into the game. But I loathe the playcontrol behind it. Regardless of the system and controller you might be using, controlling F.L.U.D.D. takes quite a bit of getting used to. Personally, it took me a good portion of the game to master it and even though I finally got the hang of it, I just don’t like the implementation.
In fact, the playcontrol in general is my biggest gripe with the game. Many people slam Sunshine because of the visual design. I’ve heard complaints that the island aesthetic doesn’t really suit Mario. I have no problems with that at all. For me, the playcontrol is my biggest pain point (especially the camera). This was also my chief issue with Mario 64. Now, I will concede, we’ve come a long way since then. The default controls in Sunshine are much more intuitive. And the camera is also considerably better. But, there’s still plenty of instances where the action on the screen can become obscured by clumsy camera angles. This resulted in more than a few deaths during my time with the game and it’s absolutely infuriating.
Still, You have to remember that 3D platformers were fairly new back in 2002. Developers were still trying to figure out the best way to implement things like camera controls, so I suppose it’s forgivable. After all, there’s so many things about this game are absolutely praiseworthy. The level designs are brilliant and the visuals were nothing short of stunning for their day. I like it when game developers take risks and you can tell Nintendo wasn’t afraid to think outside of the box with this title.
Is Super Mario Sunshine my favorite Mario game? No. It’s not. But it’s certainly one of the most unique entries in the series. Not to mention it’s an absolute blast to play. I applaud Nintendo for stepping outside of their comfort zone and providing players with a game that’s filled with new ideas.
Version Reviewed: Switch
Difficulty: Very Hard – The first thing someone new to this game should know is that Mario Sunshine is no walk in the park. This game was released during the cusp of an era where video games were shifting from insanely difficult to mind-numbingly easy. So you might consider this one of Nintendo’s final forays into rage-gaming. The game itself is difficult, yes. But this is only exacerbated by playcontrol that is iffy at best. That being said, anyone with a high degree of patience should eventually be able to complete the base game. If you intend to go all out and collect 120 shine sprites, be prepared for a downright brutal experience.
Story: Mario games are not exactly known for narrative. But, they’ve gotten better with each entry and this game is no exception. Here we have a pretty solid set-up that introduces a new environment to explore and a situation that actually puts Mario in a bit of peril. I give high praises to Nintendo for taking the time to put some thought behind the story this time around.
Originality: Mario Sunshine takes the basic 3D platforming concept that was introduced in Mario 64 and adds a slew of new and unique elements. While the format itself is not new, the inclusion of things like F.L.U.D.D really helped to make this game stand out from the rest.
Soundtrack: This game features of a mixture of both old classics and new compositions. The soundtrack has that classic “Nintendo” sound to it – which is a good thing. The tunes are catchy and this time around presented in full CD quality. Excellent stuff.
Fun: This is one of those games that you’ll either love or hate. The controls are wonky at times and some parts of the game are downright unfair. This can easily affect the experience. But that aside, the game certainly has its moments. If you’re able to shake off the rage, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had here.
Graphics: The graphics are a step-up from the 3D presentation in Mario 64. Everything is sharper and the colors pop. Of course, modern games look considerably better. But this game holds up quite well, even today.
Playcontrol: This was my biggest issue with SM64 and it persists to Sunshine. Some playcontrol complaints can be contributed to the controller you’re using, but not all. For the sake of this review, I’ve cast aside any controller related issues and I’m focusing on the game itself. The biggest issue with the playcontrol comes from the camera. The auto-cam often has problems deciding which angle to focus on and occasionally players are not able to see their character at all. The game tries to compensate for this by letting players see an outline of Mario when he’s behind walls, but it’s not really the best solution.
Downloadable Content: N/A
Mature Content: N/A
Value: Super Mario Sunshine is available as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection for Nintendo Switch. $60 will get you three games (Mario 64, Sunshine and Galaxy). This is actually a pretty good deal. If you’re trying to find an original GameCube copy, be prepared to spend anywhere from $30-$60 for a preowned disc.
Overall score (1-100): 90 – Overall, even with the playcontrol gripes, Mario Sunshine is a pretty solid title. It may not have the same level of nostalgia for some players as Mario 64 does, but it’s actually an improvement on almost every level. It presents a unique setting, with new challenges and its lovely to look at. It might not be my favorite Mario title, but I can’t deny it is an excellent game.
Original System: GameCube
Available today on: Switch* (*Super Mario All-Stars 3D) – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Best Experience: Switch – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Other Reviews In This Series:
SMB – SMB Lost Levels – SMB 2 – SMB 3 – SM World – SM World 2– SM Land – SM Land 2 – SM Land 3 – Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World – Super Mario Odyssey
Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star – Color Splash
Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Luigi’s Mansion 3
Super Princess Peach – Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker