Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: September 2, 2002
Super Mario 64 was a milestone of platformers. It broke with convention, it stretched its world to three dimensions and it managed to do just about everything so well that it’s still one of the best games ever released for the N64. That’s a tough act to follow. Nintendo decided to hold off on Super Mario Sunshine until they could follow in its predecessors footsteps, however, releasing the acceptable but hardly stellar Luigi’s Mansion concurrent with GameCube. Fast-forward a few dry months and Super Mario Sunshine looks poised to spearhead a massive lineup of top-drawer Nintendo titles. Impressions can be deceiving, and it’s hard to imagine anything approaching the radical changes introduced by Super Mario 64 happening in this jaded age, so gamers are likely asking themselves, “What makes this Mario different?”
First, we’ll set the backstory, a rare enough commodity for Mario’s titles that it certainly deserves mention. Realizing that the kidnapped princess motif has been overdone, Mario’s creators instead sent our diminutive hero on vacation. On flight to the tropical paradise known as Isle del Fino at the game’s opening, things seem idyllic until his plane crashes to a screeching halt on the runway. It seems someone has been smearing slippery, toxic, paint-like goo all over the island in both massive blobs and defacing graffiti. Even more worrisome is the fact that the perpetrator looks distressingly like our hero. As the island grows more polluted and defaced, not only are you treated to some wonderfully obvious political subtext, but also the island’s guardian spirits, the Shine Sprites, quickly vacate the area. This has two effects: First, the Shine Gate, a structure that maintains peace, harmony and beautiful weather for Isle del Fino, becomes defaced. Secondly, the absence of the Shine Sprites causes a murky gloom to settle over the island, ruining moods and tourism in equal measure.
Despite the fact that the evil doppelganger looks like the liquid metal Terminator, enhanced with Arnie-issue glowing red eyes, the forward thinking justices of Isle del Fino decide that Mario must be the guilty party and sentence him to stay on the island until the pollution and graffiti are all removed and the Shine Gate is restored. As might be expected, Shines have replaced the stars from Mario’s last solo outing, and you’ll be collecting dozens of these elusive sprites before your task is done.
Veterans of new school Mario games will be familiar with the structure of Super Mario Sunshine, as it uses the same hub area setup as its predecessor. Much larger than Toadstool Castle, the Isle’s central plaza area is a bustling central zone with many mini-tasks awaiting your attention. At various stages of the game, one of the building’s structures will be attacked by a large, pollution producing variant on the flytrap-like plants that always plague our favorite plumber. Once their assault is brought to a halt and the pollution cleared, there’s typically a stylized and fairly large “M” on the side of the structure. With a bit of experimentation, you’ll easily figure out how to activate each one, which become portals to the various levels of the island, just like the doors in Peach’s castle. As before, each level has a series of chapters that task you with specific goals and adversaries, and reward you with another Shine for your collection while unlocking the next episode for that area.