Super Mario Sunshine: A Game Analysis
Released in 2002, Super Mario Sunshine is the critically acclaimed and commercially successful follow up to Super Mario 64, the game that revolutionized 3D platforming and further cemented Nintendo’s position as a market leader in the game’s industry. Being widely beloved by Gamecube owners, and the third best selling game in the system’s entire lifespan, Super Mario Sunshine had quite the effect on both the gaming population and the series itself. Many of the characters, locations, and ideas used within the game would go on to become staples of the Mario brand, including the Shine Sprites, Delfino Plaza, Petey Piranha, and even Bowser Jr. Given the game’s significant popularity and large impact on the series canon, it seems only fitting that we look back and analyze the things that made Super Mario Sunshine the game it is.
The story of Super Mario Sunshine revolves around Isle Delfino, vacation destination for the famous plumber and his entourage. Shortly after arriving at the airstrip however, it is discovered that something is amiss, the airstrip has been covered in a strange goop that is blocking their path. After disembarking, Mario meets F.L.U.D.D, an intelligent water pumping device that he can use to clean up the goop. After doing so however, he is dragged away by police, who accuse him of spreading this strange goop all over the island, chasing away the Shine Sprites that bring sunlight and act as Isle Delfinos guardians. Wrongly accused and forced to help out, Mario begins his quest to clean up the island, return the Shine Sprites, and bring the real perpetrator to justice, a strange dark entity who goes by the name Shadow Mario. It turns out that Shadow Mario is in fact Bowser Jr. in disguise, looking to kidnap Princess Peach, who he believes is his mother. As the game reaches it’s close, Mario returns the Shine Sprites to the Island, and travels through the Island’s volcano to confront Bowser Jr. and Bowser himself, rescuing princess Peach and the Island.
As the game concludes, the villagers of the Island are seen celebrating the return of the Shine Sprites, and Bowser admits to his son that Princess Peach isn’t really his mother. Bowser Jr. replies that someday he wants to fight Mario again, and Bowser suggests that for now they should simply rest. As the credits roll, Mario, Princess Peach, and all of the Toads enjoy a well-deserved vacation, visiting all the parts of the island, admiring the sights, having been scrubbed clean by Mario himself.
Like most of Nintendo’s games, Super Mario Sunshine is intended for all ages. The family friendly nature of the story is typically Nintendo; no one comes to any harm, there is nothing particularly shocking or upsetting, and the while reading to far into some elements can be a bit disturbing, like the villagers drowning in goop, the game’s lighthearted tone remains consistent throughout. Featuring lots of bright colors, varied levels, and loads of optional challenges, Super Mario Sunshine offers something for all demographics. Completionists will enjoy the challenge of finding all 120 Shine Sprites, some of which can be quite difficult, even for experienced gamers, while more casual players will be able to progress through the game by simply completing the primary levels, which offer a significant variety in and of themselves.
Technical Details and Expected Play:
Super Mario Sunshine is exclusive to the Nintendo Gamecube console, and requires basic Gamecube compatible tech (Gamecube Controller, TV with RCA connection, etc.), though it is possible to emulate the game on PC. The game is broken up into individual missions, each of which take place within a distinct gameplay area accessed through the hub world, which also contains several objectives, much like its predecessor, Super Mario 64. Gameplay sessions are mostly up to a player’s own discretion, but the game is built around distinct levels that serve as nice stopping points at regular intervals, allowing players to put down the controller at their leisure. As an educated guess, an hour or two is probably what most players will average out per play session, finishing maybe four to five levels, depending on difficulty, though a player could go for much longer if desired, or complete just a single mission before taking a break. According to howlongtobeat.com the total playtime is around 17 hours for the main game, and around 32 hours for total completion.
The protagonist of Super Mario Sunshine is, expectedly, Mario. He is the player character and his motivation is fairly basic, wanting to save the island and clear his name. His moveset is that of a standard 3D Mario platformer, following in the footsteps of Mario 64. Mario relies primarily on his movement abilities to progress through levels, which include single, double, and triple jumps, a spin jump, wall jumps, a slide move, a backwards and sideways somersault, and a grab that lets him carry and throw objects. New to Super Mario Sunshine is the addition of F.L.U.D.D, An anthropomorphic water-spraying device that is used to clean up the island, it can be used to spray forward and strafed with, or as a hover device that extends jumps. The water sprayed can be used to attack enemies or clean up goop, as well as allow Mario to slide faster. F.L.U.D.D also has a two other nozzle that can be found, which allow Mario to Rocket Jump, propelling him extremely high up, or Turbo, which moves him extremely fast on both land and water.
Mario also has access to Yoshi eggs, which can be hatched by bringing the correct fruit. Once hatched, Mario can ride the Yoshi, which can run, flutter jump, and spray juice, which has a few unique abilities, such as clearing blockages and turning enemies into platforms
For the antagonist, there is Shadow Mario, an inky blue version of Mario who runs around Isle Delfino with his magic paintbrush. Whenever shadow Mario appears, a chase ensues, and he runs around the map dodging Mario’s water spray and laying down paint. Shadow Mario is essentially a recurring Mini-boss who appears on the seventh level of every stage, with a few other appearances throughout the game, and in the hub world.
Other key characters include Princess Peach and Bowser, who have no impact on gameplay but serve important roles in the story.
Gameplay primarily involves platforming and cleaning up goop around the island. You travel to stages using the hub world on the main area of Isle Delfino. The actual goal of each individual level can vary wildly depending on which is selected. Some levels will require the player to compete in race, others will have the player completing a short platforming challenge, occasionally there will be a boss battle to contend with, and other stages simply require the player to clean an area of goop. Some stages will be slightly altered depending on the mission objective, and the hub world goes through a few shifts as new stages are unlocked and Shine Sprites collected, offering up it’s own secrets and Shine Sprites. Essentially, every Shine Sprite in the game represents a challenge of some sort that can be solved by utilizing Mario’s basic abilities, and occasionally some additional tools. It is up to the player to determine how they can complete the objective using the skills they have, and the things given to them by the game.
The Game’s Core:
The vast majority of the game is centered around platforming. Cleaning up goo and battling enemies is important, but overall the real challenge comes from finding out how to position oneself for fights and how to avoid damage while progressing through a level. Rarely is a challenge about discovering what needs to be done, but about being able to do it. Objectives are typically written out for the player, and anything that isn’t is telegraphed obviously enough as to not be obtuse. Occasionally the game will throw in a straightforward mission that only requires the player to spray down a goop monster, but the overwhelming majority of the game’s challenge comes in the form of movement. Missions can be about collecting red coins, battling a boss, navigating a series of environments, or even carrying fruit to a certain building, but all of these challenges center around platforming first and foremost, requiring the player to know how to move Mario to the correct place, and being able to execute the moves required. There are even levels that remove the idea of spraying water altogether, relying entirely on Mario’s movement abilities to get through a series of floating blocks. The core of the game is built around Mario’s moveset and platforming challenges, with a series of tools and scenarios that augment and expand on those baseline mechanics.
Learning to Play:
For the most part Super Mario Sunshine introduces new mechanics as they become relevant to the game. Things begin with a basic tutorial that introduces the F.L.U.D.D device and shows the player a short cutscene demonstrating its basic abilities. The player is then given a basic mini-boss and a small area to get to grips with the controls. As the game continues on players are pretty much left to their own devices, having to learn basic movements and interactions through natural experimentation, though F.L.U.D.D will occasionally chime in with a relevant explanation of a new object or helpful hint to complete a challenge. Some characters, when spoken to, will give their own helpful reminders or tips, but most of them are extremely basic, such as Toadsworth suggesting the player press the ‘A’ button. The player will more likely learn how to play through natural experimentation as they take on new challenges and piece together relevant pieces of information, giving them a more organic progression of skill through play.
The learning curve isn’t too steep, as the game is clearly designed with a younger audience in mind, giving even novice gamers the ability to make their way through the primary levels. Those who simply wish to complete the game will rarely find themselves frustrated or trapped on any particular section, especially if they have previous experience with platformers. More difficult challenges do exist however, and can be accessed by those who feel unimpressed by the main progression, such as additional levels after the Shadow Mario mini-boss levels, more difficult versions of platforming challenges, or even secret Shine Sprites hidden in the hub-world. These more difficult stages may not be much for platformer veterans, but will likely present most players with enough of a challenge to make completing them satisfying, not to mention the more time-consuming task of total completion, which takes rather significant investment of time and effort to accomplish.
Overall, Super Mario Sunshine is fairly well-balanced for it’s intended audience, if occasionally a bit on the easy side. Certain bosses are fairly predictable, and some levels are a little bit too straightforward, but at the very least the game is rarely frustrating or overly difficult, which makes progression feel smooth and enjoyable. While there are a few areas that may frustrate players, they’re few and far between, and levels often have a wide range of strategies that can be used successfully, which keeps the game from feeling too harsh or restrictive. That, combined with the fact that players will almost always have a variety of levels to choose from at any given time, means that the worst case scenario is that a player gets frustrated with a level and simply chooses to come back to it later, giving them time to re-assess and try again at another time. Ultimately, the game is well-balanced for casual play, and due to the game’s willingness to let the player do as they please, will allow even experienced gamers to have an enjoyable experience that both entertains and challenges.
Primary Game Mode:
Super Mario Sunshine only includes the single-player story mode, much like Super Mario 64 did before it. While having lots of different game modes can be a selling point, it’s obvious that this game in particular has not suffered at all for lacking alternatives. The main game is rich in content with both the variety and depth required to keep players engaged with the title. There isn’t any need for different modes, since the game is very upfront about what it is, and fulfills the expectations one has of such a game.
It is clear that when making Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo set about things with the intention of living up to their reputation of designing high-quality, family friendly games that anyone can enjoy. From the core gameplay loop to the design of the environments, everything in the game radiates that lighthearted Nintendo fun that the company, and the Mario brand, are famous for. Looking back fifteen years later, the game holds up remarkably well, boasting the solid structure and fluid control one expects of a powerhouse franchise, and using its fundamental competencies to build an experience that, while not flawless, manages to capture its audience, both young and old, and keep them engaged for the long haul. While it may not be as pivotal as Super Mario 64, or as lucrative as Super Mario Galaxy, it has certainly earned its legacy in the Mario universe, and its reputation as great game.