It’s absolutely disgusting outside.
At least in my neck of the woods. I mean really, painfully, dreadfully hot. And when it’s this hot and disgusting out, my immediate desire is to sit on the couch, air conditioner blasting, freezy pops in the fridge, and play a videogame. Now some people may suggest, to keep cool, playing a videogame that takes place in a chilly environment – Silent Hill, Lost Planet, or maybe just hanging out in Banjo-Kazooie’s Freezeezy Peak. But no! I like everything about the summer but the heat. Theme parks, tropical islands, pools, beautiful sunny weather, everything about summer except the part where your shirt sticks to your back and your nether-regions turn into a foul soup is aces.
So when it’s nice and hot out, I like to bust out Super Mario Sunshine.
Super Mario Sunshine is often considered the black sheep of the Mario family. The footsteps of the groundbreaking Super Mario 64 were absolutely impossible to follow, so instead of going right for another 3D adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom with traditional platforming at every corner, Shigeru Miyamoto and company opted for something a little different. Mario had earned a vacation, and he’d be damned if he couldn’t take the finest one gold coins could buy.
But when Mario, Princess Peach, the lovable Toadsworth, and a handful of nondescript background Toads arrived on the tropical Isle Delfino, things went to hell. Mario was accused of vandalism, thrown in jail, and our lovely Princess was kidnapped later on for good measure. Our hero was tasked with cleaning up the island, platforming his way through a variety of vacation-themed levels, and had to find the princess if he didn’t want to sleep alone. Poor Mario.
The moment this game’s trailer was revealed, the Internet pulled an Internet and declared this game the fall of Mario. Everyone was super interested in the dumb-looking Super Mario 128, a GameCube tech demo from 2000 that showed 128 low-poly Marios running around a GameCube logo. And just like people flipped out over The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker not looking like ITS Space World demo, Mario fans worldwide were disgusted at what they saw: Mario had a thing on his back and it did things that weren’t jumping.
Unlike Wind Waker, though, a lot of people remained furious even when the game was released ten years ago. While it certainly found its fans considering it was a brilliant game, a lot of people did not dig the fact that Mario now had a glorified squirt gun on his back. They also didn’t enjoy the game’s cheesy voice acting, lack of level variety, and the fact that there were half the amount of levels as the game’s 64-bit predecessor. Super Mario 64 was a tough act to follow indeed, but different is not always bad. Super Mario Sunshine is not only a great Mario game, but it is the perfect summer game.
The atmosphere of summertime is captured brilliantly in Super Mario Sunshine. From the second you start running around Isle Delfino, the bright sun is blaring in your eyes and the vibrant color palette sets the mood perfectly. This is a Mario game, and this is going to be FUN. The Isle is built like a summer resort, with lighthouses, beaches, fountains, boats, and local natives selling juicy-looking fruits. And the song. My god, that song. The Delfino Plaza theme tune is among the catchiest and bounciest songs in series history. If there are any typos in this piece, it is because I am playing the song on loop and dancing happily as I type.
While there are only seven levels, each one makes you feel the joys of summer without having to fear a mushy long-term bathroom break. There’s the fishing port of Ricco Harbor (another extraordinary tune) where you can surf on a squid, the dusky Sirena Beach with its mysterious hotel, and my personal favorite ,Pinna Park. Pinna Park is an AMUSEMENT PARK! A Mario game with an amusement park. You are incorrect if you don’t think that is a perfect pairing.
Every summer is incomplete without a trip to your nearest amusement park. Whether you’re a Six Flags kind of person or you’ve got your own special local park, amusement parks are more or less the best thing ever. And since 2002 you have had the option to not drop the offensive amount of money and instead go to Pinna Park by playing Super Mario Sunshine! There is a merry-go-round, a swinging ship ride, and a roller coaster where you can fight a giant mecha-Bowser. It is seriously amazing, and loads of fun to just run around and explore. Man, Mario Sunshine is the best.
Other levels are equally dandy, though. You can collect red coins on a gigantic sand bird. You can race the mysterious Il Piantissimo. You even get the opportunity to clean a giant sea monster’s teeth! Summer fun in the summer sun is all Super Mario Sunshine is made out of. And what is summer fun without a dinosaur? That’s right, Yoshi is also in Mario Sunshine and his brief appearances are quite memorable. Now I know Yoshi is not especially useful in this game, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 made much greater use of our adorable prehistoric buddy, but Super Mario Sunshine’s Yoshi is great because he vomits juice.
Yep. Mario games can be weird sometimes, but none weirder than a juice-spitting Yoshi. Yoshi is not found by merely accessing him via a block, you must lure the Yoshi out of a well-placed egg with his favorite fruit. The fruit in his belly will determine his tropical color and the type of juice he (rather violently) spits out. Sure, Yoshi can still swallow enemies, but gargling out a ton of juice on enemies is infinitely more satisfying. Especially when it inexplicably turns certain enemies into platforms in Ricco Harbor. The only downside is that Yoshi dies when he touches water, which is also weird except in a dumb way. Ah well. At least the already fun tunes get a healthy dose of drums added to them while riding Yoshi just like they did back in Dinosaur World!
The sweet summer vibe and dinosaur delights are only the icing on the cake, however. See, Mario did not vandalize the island as he was accused. Oh no, it was Bowser’s son, Bowser Jr. (real original, Dad), who has a cloak that turns him into Mario if Mario’s skin was made of the cosmos. As I said, Mario games can be weird sometimes. Little Bowser Jr’s antics don’t stop at petty vandalism, though! He also steals Mario’s FLUDD (his fancy water backpack) on certain occasions and forces Mario to do some platforming the old-school way. And that’s where the challenge ramps up.
Every time Mario loses his ability to shoot water, he is warped into these bizarre platforming worlds that are brutally difficult. Thankfully, this is Nintendo we’re talking about here, where brutal difficulty means if you mess up it’s because YOU suck. These levels can get so painfully hard, with the most precise movements required to make it through the level. Fun thing of note: listen to Mario’s footsteps as he runs along the rotating blocks. It sounds like his shoes are made of crayons. It’s amazing.
These levels really challenge even the most hardened platforming fan, though. Depending on how powerful you are, you will either have a chewed up controller or no teeth by the time you beat some of these levels. They employ all the skills Mario learned on his last adventure – triple jumping, wall jumping, back flipping, and holding your breath before a massive and risky jump. Anyone who was furious about the FLUDD device can still walk away happy from Super Mario Sunshine having played these levels.
Do you want to know the best part of this entire game, though? This may sound like I’m being sarcastic or hilariously snarky, but I’m being 100% honest here – cleaning up. Oh my god. I don’t care if this game is propaganda to get young children to clean up after themselves, cleaning up all the goop across the levels of Super Mario Sunshine is one of the most satisfying things in gaming. The FLUDD device is marvelously easy to use, so aiming at a spot of mud or electric sludge or lava and spraying it off a surface makes you feel like Mr. Clean’s special helper. Watching the filth wash away as I fire globs of water in its direction is as satisfying as scratching off every inch of a scratch ticket, with none of the disappointment in the end.
It’s especially satisfying to be in the thick of things, cleaning up, spraying, making things shiny, and getting FILTHY in the process, only to clean yourself off when you finish. The game’s gorgeous visuals (which still hold up beautifully ten years later, something that can’t be said for many 2002 games) allow Mario to be covered in whatever nasty substance he was playing around in, which can then be cleaned off by hopping in a nearby pool of water. AND THEN you see the goop come off and dissolve into the water. It’s a visual effect that, shockingly, has rarely (if ever) been used in games since. I could get Mario filthy and clean him off all day, and I don’t even care if you take that sexually.
Getting back to my main point about my complete adoration for this game – this is game is perfect to play in the summer. I absolutely love games that establish an atmosphere, and this game does it better than any other Mario game. Stripping the franchise of almost all of its lovable characters and tossing the plump plumber into a completely different world received plenty of backlash in the late 80s with the non-Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, and it definitely did here as well. But if you go into this game looking at it as Mario taking a vacation, well, what do you expect? Goombas and Koopas certainly do not deserve a vacation as well (though that didn’t stop Bowser from taking one), so we get a bunch of new, weird enemies and inhabitants instead.
Running around in the sun, splishing and splashing in the water, Super Mario Sunshine just feels like a summertime romp on a beautiful resort. And the gorgeous visuals that, as stated earlier, hold up marvelously, do not hurt. The water in Super Mario Sunshine is among the best-looking water in videogame history. While several games have totally nailed water since (Uncharted 3, BioShock), most fail to do so. Yet way back in 2002, Super Mario Sunshine gave us water that looked damn near drinkable if they weren’t loaded with salt and Mario’s messes. Waves crashed on the shore, with every object floating with proper buoyancy. Gorgeous.
Mario Sunshine is not without its flaws. Piantas, the dominant race on Isle Delfino, are relatively uninspired characters that will make you think of Doug’s Mr. Dink. An unfortunate amount of Shine Sprites (the game’s answer to Mario 64’s stars) are achieved simply through collecting blue coins instead of genuine challenges. And the game’s story, while a noble attempt, is poorly presented and offensively voice-acted.
Yet if you can get past a handful of flaws, you’ve got a game that compliments your summer experience in a way no other game can. Sure you could leave your house and go to an amusement park or get chased by Chain Chomps through lava, but it’s really disgusting outside. Bust out your GameCube (or just your GameCube controller if you’re a Wii owner), strap on your FLUDD, and explore the lovely Isle Delfino instead. It’ll let you feel all the joys of summer without feeling sweat tickle your back as it dives down south.