Alright, since my writer’s block’s set in horribly this week, you’ll avoid reading my incoherent ramblings about something you don’t care about and be treated to a retro review of a ten-year-old game that half of you hated. After that horrific run-on sentence, I probably ought to explain that this is a very special Cubed Gamers review of Super Mario Sunshine. Why? Because I want to, that’s why.
Mario fans had been without a purely plumber-based platformer for nearly six years when Super Mario Sunshine was released in 2002 and were hoping for the GameCube installment to offer up a next-gen upgrade to the solid Super Mario 64. What they got was a radically different experience, containing the core elements of the previous game while updating and expanding them with new water-pack mechanics.
This seemed to throw the fans somewhat, with good reason. Imagine flicking through the newest issue of Nintendo Power and discovering that Mario can now hover, squirt and launch himself through levels like a plumber possessed. You’d have leapt out of your seat – and they did. The surprising thing about the premise is that it actually works brilliantly, the FLUDD device feeling more like an extension of Mario’s existing moveset rather than a separate entity and while you’re flipping through the beautifully realized levels you’ll really appreciate the precision of control you’re given by the very comfortable GameCube controller.
The story goes thus: Mario and Princess Peach have taken a vacation to the beautiful Isle Delfino, but their plane nearly crashes on arrival due to some foul-looking sludge covering the airstrip. It turns out that the sludge is infecting the rest of the island as well, and it seems the perpetrator happens to look just like Mario! Framed for a crime he couldn’t have committed, our portly plumber is tasked with cleaning up Isle Delfino and bringing the real culprit to justice.
The evil sludge doesn’t detract from the graphics, which are easy on the eye, with nicely detailed levels spread over a large area. There’s an emphasis on showing off the water effects, which feature gorgeous ripples and reflections that still hold up well today. Mario’s animations are at times a little choppy, but you’ll be so distracted by the environments that you probably won’t notice. The fire and smoke effects might look a little ropey by modern standards, yet it’s quirky and cartoonish in a way that’s really rather endearing.
The game is full of the chirpy little Mario tunes you’ve come to know and love, and just as perfectly suited to the levels as ever. Unfortunately, since there are only ten or so levels total and a few extra stages, you really won’t be hearing too much variety. That said, there are some wonderful standout pieces, such as the incredibly catchy vocal rendition of the Super Mario Bros. theme that will have you nodding your head for hours.
You’ll need to be nodding your head too, since that theme plays over some of the most fiendish puzzles in the game. For a few minutes in these special stages, your FLUDD is stripped away and Mario returns to his platforming roots, leaving you to tear out your hair and Nintendo to cackle evilly.
Super Mario Sunshine is one of those rare games that manages to delight and challenge in equal measure. It’s tricky without becoming frustrating, fresh without alienating the old crowd and still stands up well in its presentation today. Well done Nintendo – you’ve earned our approval with a fantastic 9/10.