Like many of the First Party titles to come out of the Gamecube era, Super Mario Sunshine is an unorthodox take on a Nintendo faithful, full of water, and is a divisive entry among legions of fans. As PeanutButterGamer so eloquently pointed out on his list of the Top 10 Mario games of all time, some people cite Super Mario Sunshine as their favorite game in the entire series. Game Informer, a publication that I highly respect as the definitive critical voice of gaming, presented the game with a whopping 9.75 out of 10 upon its release, putting it on the same level as Final Fantasy VII and Halo 3 and above the level of classics like Fallout 3 and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. Others, however, condemn it as a gimmicky mess and a major misstep in Mario history. As is often the case when mediating between two extremes, the reality is somewhere in between. I will say that Super Mario Sunshine always intrigued me more than probably any other Mario game ever with the exception of Super Mario 64, which is why it’s the only main series Mario game I’ve ever beaten other than a couple of Super Mario Bros titles. I think a lot of that has to do with how old I was when it was released, but the concept of cleaning up the world is actually a mildly progressive position taken by Nintendo with the release of this game. And there are a number of things that the game does quite well, complementing its unique direction.
One thing I will say definitely about Super Mario Sunshine is that it produces an infectious air of joyful energy that is unsurpassed in any other game I’ve ever played. The setting of Isle Delfino is one of my favorites in franchise history (probably second only to Super Mario Galaxy), and I like how all of the stages seem interconnected, which is unlike any other Mario game before or since. I also think FLUDD, the pump that Mario utilizes throughout the game, is a pretty awesome character, and I like all of the gameplay elements, especially with regards to platforming, that he brings to the table. And even though the game is a full 15 years old, it still looks beautiful today in its original form on the Gamecube, which is no small feat especially considering how many other games from that generation have aged rather poorly. The water visuals in particular are top notch and really couldn’t be any better if the game was made today.
That being said, there are a lot of elements that don’t quite come together in Super Mario Sunshine which leads me to believe that, while unique, it doesn’t quite stack up to many of the main 3D titles throughout Mario history. Perhaps the most damning is this: the platforming isn’t as tight as you’d think it should be. Mario is often considered the king of platformers, and while that title is undisputed in the 2D realm, there are a number of titles I grew up playing on the PS2 and even PS1 that handle a lot better than Mario does in Super Mario Sunshine. This isn’t that big of a problem in most of the open-ended levels that the game provides, but any time FLUDD is taken hostage by Shadow Mario and Mario is forced to undergo some rather difficult platforming challenges without his aid, these issues become paramount. I died countless times on several of these platforming segments, and often I didn’t even feel like I was at fault. Another almost crippling problem with Super Mario Sunshine is its lack of variety. Each of the game’s seven areas does contain eight stars, but there’s a surprising lack of variety between the repeated FLUDDless platforming levels, red coin collect-a-thons, and Shadow Mario chases. Even several of the bosses are reused thoughout the game which creates a lack of a feeling of progression that is only compounded by the virtually non-existent story progression. Hell, you don’t even see Bowser until you fight him in a rather anti-climactic battle at the very end of the game! There’s enough to do to warrant beating the game’s main story, but I finished the game with less than 80 of the game’s 120 total shines, and just the thought of slogging through and collecting the remaining 40, the vast majority of which center around collecting coins of varying colors, is exhausting.
Super Mario Sunshine is far from a disappointment. There are many elements of the game that I found delightful from the setting to the game’s presentation. But a lack of variety, story development, and platforming adeptness ensures that Mario fans will be arguing over this title for the rest of time.