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Super Mario Sunshine

Review By:  Christopher Coey

Developer:  Nintendo
Publisher:  Nintendo
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Platform
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  1-9-03

Let’s face it, as far are most avid gamers are concerned, Nintendo was always at a disadvantage. Ever since Playstation exploded onto the scene about 7 or 8 years ago now, the big ‘N’ just hasn’t been as competitive. Not to mention that PS2 came out a full year ahead, AND Xbox was released the same week as Nintendo’s new system. But sure enough, I bought a GameCube. Why? Because I have a history with Nintendo. Some of the happiest gaming moments of my life have been with Nintendo systems. And I know that although they don’t produce the volume of games that other system may have, they do produce the quality. The reality of most systems is that the majority of games suck. But if you throw enough, um, mud at the wall, some of it will stick, right? Out of the almost 300 PS2 titles on the market right now, how many are truly great titles? Well, I bought a GameCube because I know that Nintendo cares about the overall quality of the games released on their systems. I bought it for the "must have" games, like Metroid, and Zelda. I bought it because I knew that Super Mario Sunshine was coming out.

It was worth the wait. The first thing I’ll say about this game is that it is everything any Super Mario fan would want. And I happen to be a huge fan of the big nosed little Italian fella. It looks, sounds, and feels exactly like it is supposed to. Which leaves me to wonder if it couldn’t have been improved upon a little. This is a question I’ll leave open: Is it better to make a game that is everything anyone could expect? Or should the developers have tried to go in another direction, and possible take the series to new heights? If we examine the past, Super Mario 2 looked nothing like Super Mario, and neither played anything like Super Mario 3. Yet, they were all incredible games, and all for the same system. Again, I’ll leave the question open, because it doesn’t change the fact that Sunshine is tons of fun.

What Mario Sunshine does right, it REALLY does right. The controls, in my humble opinion, are fantastic. Of course you don’t have the control that we all felt way back in the 2D side scrolling games. Platformers are now three-dimensional. But since we are playing them on a 2D surface (the TV panel), there are obviously some inherent problems. I get kind of sick of hearing people (and hearing myself, I must admit) complain about control schemes in 3D platformers. We are not playing on a 3D system, so just deal with it. The controls here are probably the best that can be managed. Yes, the camera occasionally gave me a little grief. Yes, it was sometimes difficult to get the exact timing of some jumps. But that’s all part of the game design now. The programmers are aware of the limitations that moving to 3-Dimensions imposes on players, and they are working around those limitations.

The best thing about this game, and it’s been the staple of the series, is the superb level design. That fact becomes even more impressive when you consider that in reality, there is somewhere around 50 levels or so that I can think of, more if you include separate areas of each larger level. Of course, that includes smaller ‘bonus’ levels. But as far as sheer playtime, and diversity of challenges, this game is unmatched. Overall, as with Mario 64, the goal is to collect stars. This time around there are a total of 120 stars to collect. If you thought getting all the stars in Mario 64 was difficult, then you’re in for a shock. First, there are 8 distinct levels, plus another smaller level. Each of the 8 levels has at least 10 ‘challenges’, some of which warp you to other sub-sections, or ‘bonus’ levels. Then there is the usual ‘collect 100 coins’ task for each of the levels. But on top of that there is the ‘collect blue coins’ task. Collecting blue coins in a level can sometimes be easy, but some are near impossible to find or collect. Trading in 10 coins awards you a new star. There are a total of 240! blue coins. Roughly 30 per level. Now, the big problem here is that the game doesn’t really track which coins you have or have not collected. They no longer appear in the level, and you know how many coins you have collected in any given level, but there is no telling where the others might be. Plus, you may have to be attempting a certain ‘challenge’ for a specific blue coin to even appear, so it’s not a matter of simply wandering the levels. Basically, with 240 coins to collect, there is pretty much no way a player could hope to locate them all without some help (either in the form of a list of locations printed off from somewhere, or a players guide, with checkmarks for all the coins you’ve already found.) If you don’t track your blue coins right from the beginning, you’ll have a lot of backtracking to do later on if you are really attempting to collect them all.

The 8 levels themselves are beautiful. They, of course, contain the usual: Ice, Fire, Water mix. These seem to pop up in every platformer, no matter the quality of the game. But let’s face it, Super Mario practically invented the genre. It wouldn’t really be a Super Mario game without those levels. Thankfully, there is less of a showing of actually ‘underwater’ levels. I have always preferred Mario jumping, rather than swimming. Basically the levels follow a "vacation" pattern. There is the airstrip, the beach, a small village, an amusement park, the harbor, and a tropical bay, among others. Each is level lush, and colorful. If you know anything about this game, you probably know about Mario’s new piece of equipment: the FLUDD. It’s his new backpack water gun, and it is your main tool, and weapon. So Nintendo obviously spent a lot of time on impressive water and particle effects. [Although, not quite as impressive as the smoke effects in Luigi’s Mansion.]

Despite what I said earlier, and despite the fact that this is a Mario game, the settings and gameplay are mostly new. That being said, what I enjoyed most were the subtle references to past Mario titles. The short rifts in the music from past games. Like every time you move into an underground tunnel, the familiar ‘cave’ music starts up, but with a new flavor to it. Some of the later fire levels (and I’ll try not to give any of the story away) are almost a complete 3D version of older 2D levels, which works extremely well in the context of the game, and with the new gameplay elements.

I LOVE the music. I know how repetitive, and sometimes brain-numbing the music of past Mario games could be. But now that the years have past, some of those familiar tunes are absolutely ingrained into my memory bank, so that it’s a treat to hear how they have revised and updated them for the new generations. After playing Sunshine, I often found myself wandering about the rest of my day absent-mindedly whistling the Mario theme. On top of those, however, is a full new score, that varies with each level. Overall, the music is incredibly well handled. Everything in this game is incredibly well handled.

Highs:

  • Everything you would expect from an outstanding series
  • Graphics, sound, and music are stellar
  • Deep mix of levels and challenges

Lows:

  • Not overly innovative
  • Getting all 120 stars would be next to impossible without buying a strategy guide

Final Verdict:

If you own a GameCube, I couldn’t imagine you NOT buying this game. And I can think of no reason why you shouldn’t. Besides, why else did you buy the system? It’s a near perfect game for any level of gamer. It offers light, fun challenges if that’s what you are looking for, but also contains some levels that would stump even seasoned veterans of the gaming community. Then, for the die-hards, it offers up the challenge of actually completing the entire game. A monumental task to say the least. Graphically, it is beautiful. Technically, very impressive. The sound, especially the score, is outstanding. It is everything that any fan would want from the latest in the Super Mario series, except a lot of new changes. It’s like Mom’s apple pie: trustworthy, comforting, and something you’ll want to keep coming back for.

Overall Score: 9.3

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