Super Mario Sunshine is the first true "Mario" game release for the Nintendo GameCube. Nintendo released the game in the United States on August 27, 2002.

Super Mario Sunshine continues the tradition of Super Mario 64 in allowing Mario to roam in a 3D environment. The major differences between the game come in the gameplay, graphics and story. While it has been called "kiddy" for a new age game and "gay" for using the word Sunshine in the name, after a short time most players will drop both arguments.

Super Mario Sunshine's story starts with Mario, Princess Peach Toadstool, and a large group of Toadstools landing on Isle Delfino to get a nice vacation. Like many games the vacation never gets off as the island has had large amounts of graffiti by someone who is said to look like Mario. Mario finds a water system called FLUDD and proceeds to clean up the mess.

Instead of thanking Mario, he is jailed by Delfino's citizens. Mario then is found guilty of defacing the island and is sent to clean up the town. The FLUDD system helps out on this task as Mario finds the guilty party who looks like water shaped like Mario. The story doesn't take much time to experience as there is only a hand full of scenes though it is quite entertaining.

The story does have some twists but most of them have good surprises and would definitely be considered to be spoilers for players who have not started the game. Truth be told the story is somewhat light and could have used a little more work in the later game but it does contain more story then previous Mario games and the genre doesn't require a Shakespearian masterpiece to be a great game.

The gameplay in Super Mario Sunshine is similar to previous Mario games but use of the FLUDD system is crucial. Super Mario Sunshine is a standard 3d platformer. You move around the stage with jumps and attack, except you won't reach that far until you start to utilize the FLUDD system to allow you to float or fly around.

The FLUDD system is a backpack that contains water and helps Mario. It contains a water spray and three different attachments. The spray will shoot water around and clean up oil, graffiti, and other defacements. The attachments are the Hover Nozzle, Rocket Nozzle, and the Turbo Nozzle. The Hover Nozzle allows Mario to float or fly higher after jumps. It allows Mario to jump farther by floating or allows Mario to fly just high enough for some ledges. The Rocket Nozzle allows Mario to fly extremely high in a blast, it's usage is to find high places. The Turbo Nozzle allows Mario to travel faster. It isn't necessary for anything but does help when you want to go run long, flat distances.

The game requires Mario to acquire "shines". The shines are little star-like items. They are similar to stars only have six points with balls on two ends of them. The shines are able to be received through many tasks. Some tasks are to kill the bosses, others are to go through "old school" levels, which are jumping levels mostly in a 2d plane, and some others are a variety of tasks.

The graphics of Mario Sunshine will not be winning too many awards but they don't disappoint. The size of the levels can really be seen and the smallest detail can be seen. The levels are somewhat simplistic, but allow the player to be immersed in the game. Some levels, especially the the old school "secret" levels have simplistic objects, but for the secret levels they were meant to remind the player of the old NES games.

The bosses are all beautifully rendered. The creatures are all very well built. The sludge system does look good when you spray objects to clean up the mess. The main town is beautiful to look at and the game graphics starts off dull and as the game is played and more "shines" are collected the levels become brighter, but there is sunglasses to help you out if needed.

The sound system of Super Mario Sunshine is important to the game. The sounds and music should not be awful but also should be playful, and some what cute. The music is well done to allow the game not to be awful but again will not win awards. Some of the "secret" levels have remixes from the original Mario games and other levels have well made music.

The challenge of Super Mario Sunshine tends to vary. The first level of the game starts off simple. The begining segments can be accomplished while you barely have to use any moves other then jumping and spraying. You can progress and some of the "secret" levels are difficult, some of the regular game levels can only be called impossible. Some levels are skill and some levels just require patiences. The game is said to take about 60 hours to complete. This estimate is about right as the game is hard and a lot of fun to discover a lot of the secrets.

Depending on how you like the game and its elements this game has a lot or replayablity. This game is like Super Mario 64 where after a couple months of completing it you will want to play through the whole game again. The game is not one of the games you will want to instantly replay after you are finished but as it is a Mario game and well built you will want to play it a couple times through.

Perhaps the most important issue to mention about Super Mario Sunshine is that it is a fun game. The game is perhaps the best Mario game to date. The size of the levels and the discovery aspects allow the player to have a lot of fun. It is not for everyone but it is far from the "kiddie game" that people have called it before its release. It is enjoyable for all ages. Both for the young player looking for a fun game to play, as well as older gamers looking to remember Mario can enjoy this game.

Super Mario Sunshine was developed and published in the US by Nintendo on August 27, 2002 for the GameCube. (The Japanese and European releases, respectively, are July 19, 2002 and October 4, 2002.) The game (as of this noding) is readily available anywhere that current games are sold. Since there is no emulation of the GC, and pirating has been so far frustrated by the disk format, ISOs or ROMs are not available. The game, at the present, is both sold on its own and as part of a bundle with the console itself.

Super Mario Sunshine is the long-awaited followup to Super Mario 64, one of the few breakout successes of the Nintendo 64. While the game has much in common with its predecessor (you have to collect 100 widgets, similar controls and abilities), it's an excellant measure of the state of the art of 3-D platformers. The game is certainly comparable, if not superior, to the other plaformers (Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy being the best comparison) in both control and graphics.

The same "the princess is kidnapped" plot is actually not recycled in this addition to the Mario series. Mario, Princess Peach, and an official from the Mushroom Kingdom go on vacation to Isle Delfino. Of course, this isn't the peaceful and idyllic rest that Mario and Peach were looking forward to (or else this would be a very short, very lame game). Instead, their plane, as it's landing on Delfina, abruptly stops on the runway before running into a large patch of some colorful goop. After picking up an opportunely-placed FLUDD (a backpack water pump with a voice like Stephen Hawking and more options than a Mercedes Benz, built by the same mad scientist who built Luigi's vacuum), Mario begins to wash away the goop, only to have a a giant, pollution-covered pirhana plant attack him. After dispatching the plant (spray it in the mouth) and cleaning up the muck, Mario encounters a shining little sun token called a "Shine," which he picks up in just such a way that you just know you're going to be doing this all game.

Mario, for his troubles, is arrested, not congratulated, and finds himself on trial for messing up the island. Witnesses apparently saw an eerily similar figure splashing graffiti and pollution all over the island, which in turn chased off the "Shine Sprites," the protectors of the island. His reputation, however, earns him a sentence of being trapped on the island until the mess is all cleaned up and the Shines are returned.

Super Mario Sunshine isn't, on the surface, a graphical powerhouse, but, as you play, more and more details become evident. For example, while different areas of the island are accessed through special graffiti (along with a nifty effect where Mario dissolves into globules of paint), if you look down the coast or from a high spot, you can see all the way into that other area.

Water, as you may expect in a game focused so heavily on it, is amazingly beautiful and detailed, with rolling waves and even tide in some areas. Looking up with the camera underwater gets you amazingly realistic distortion, and even sunlight reflects off of water realistically. While some games trade off that "fun" thing for detail like this, Super Mario Sunshine is no slouch in the actual gameplay.

The controls are set up very similarly to Super Mario 64, with two key changes. First, Mario lost most of his martial arts prowess. No more punches, kicks, etc. Replacing this (and comprising the second change) is the addition of the FLUDD, Mario's backpack water pump. The FLUDD has two modes, each of which corrects one of the key problems of 3-D platformers.

Lining up short-ranged attacks is near-impossible without being hit? The spray nozzle on the FLUDD gives Mario ranged attacks.

Lining up jumps onto small targets is difficult and sometimes frustrating? The hover nozzle on the FLUDD allows for a short time to correct your aim, supported in mid-air for a few seconds by a pair of water jets.

Of course, if you want to trade off the failsafe that the hover nozzle gives you, there's also some alternatives. If you find a box with E. Gadd's face on it, you can break it open and get either a turbo nozzle or a rocket nozzle. (However, you can only have two nozzles at a time, one of which will always be the spray nozzle.)

The turbo nozzle, which looks a little like a propellor, allows for truly prodigious feats of horizonal propulsion. Basically, Mario goes fast. Very fast. Over 50 fast. While this mode uses up water very quickly on land, it's truly amazing in the water, where you have an unlimited supply of your fuel, and no need to run to slow you down. There's nothing like speeding over the water like some kind of crazy Italian speedboat. If there's ever a large distance, especially over water, that you need to cross before even noticing you've started, the turbo nozzle is for you.

The rocket nozzle is something of a novelty. It allows Mario to make one powerful rocket-propelled jump, STRAIGHT UP. Generally, it's really only useful for getting on top of those hard-to-climb towers, as well as occasionally circumventing certain puzzles entirely. Ooops.

Between the possiblities the FLUDD adds and the truly inspired game and level design, the game has a great deal of different things to do. Whether it's playing Mario as a ball in a giant pachinko machine, surfing on Bloopers, watering flowers, or completing massively difficult platform levels without the FLUDD, finding Shines and Blue Coins (which, in turn, are traded in for Shines) requires doing all sorts of tricks that seem perfectly natural to manuever Mario through. Mario is at once an acrobat, a fireman, a sprinter, and a pinball, and it all works perfectly.

Of special interest to any long-time fans of the series is the return of some previously missing elements of Mario minutae. For one, a great deal of the music is remixed or simply resampled version of themes from older games in the series, particularly the memorable dungeon and swimming themes from Super Mario Brothers. (Even some of the backgrounds in the FLUDD-less stages have stylized versions of the original Mario sprites from Mario Brothers and Super Mario Brothers.) Also, some of the less-used underwater enemies from previous games, some dating back to Super Mario Brothers, are back, including Blooper and Cheep Cheep.

The biggest return, though, is that of Yoshi, the dinosaur companion of Mario from Super Mario World. Yoshi handles exactly as you would expect him to (except for the new-found aquaphobia), and sounds exactly as he did in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island and Yoshi's Story. Luckily, there's no screaming baby or incredibly boring gameplay, respectively, returning from either of those games.

Super Mario Sunshine is also interesting from a historical perspective. The first "traditional" Mario title after a 6 year drought (as well as successor to the game that revolutionized the 3-D platformer), it is presented as one of the titles to save the GameCube in the key 2002 holiday season, along with Metroid Prime. The game was chosen by many as the best of show at the 2002 E3 (along with such company as the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, SOCOM: Navy Seals, and Metroid Prime).

Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and the director of Super Mario Sunshine, had originally envision the game as being about making and cleaning off graffiti, but the goal of the game slowly changed to the final form, cleaning pollution off of a tropical island paradise. The game also intentionally lacks many of the genre tropes, like the traditional ice stage, and has an emphasis on the island and summer theme. Joked Miyamoto (in an Electronic Games Monthly interview), "I gave the game a summer theme, in a hope to get them to release the game on time, before summer ended."

Super Mario Sunshine (SMS) is a 3D platform game developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo Gamecube under the directorship of Shigeru Miyamoto and released in 2002. The game has received a warm critical reception and has sold fairly well. However, there is a perception that the game has not been as decisive a success as its predecessor, 1996's Super Mario 64. The six year interval has seen a number of pretenders fail to take the platform gaming crown from Mario 64, and expectations were extremely high for this sequel to one of the most enduring classics of recent years.

The game does not at first glance appear to represent six years' worth of advancement in the genre. That is not to say that no progress has been made- the game is more varied and complex than Mario 64, and (naturally) has greatly improved visuals. However, as with the jump from Doom to Quake, the bulk of SMS's innovations are not immediately apparent (or striking as the move from 2D to 3D) to the casual observer.

Nintendo's plans for Mario on the present hardware generation: a conjecture

As I see it, there is a marked difference in Nintendo's objectives in creating Super Mario Sunshine compared to Super Mario 64. The last Mario title was entrusted with the task of carrying the machine (the troubled Nintendo 64), at a time when third party support was thin on the ground and the industry was undergoing a paradigm shift from 2D to 3D. Effectively, it represented Nintendo 'betting the company' on their most valuable asset.

By comparison, SMS seems to have less of an onerous task on its hands (although, critically, it does have to measure up to the high watermark set by M64). With the Gamecube, Nintendo have actively attempted to nullify the weaknesses of the N64, ensuring a greater level of third party support, and have invested heavily in some of their other franchises (Metroid, Zelda, and the fattest cash cow of them all, Pókemon) to broaden the machine's appeal. As a result of having these more stable foundations in place, it has been strongly hinted by Nintendo that there will be at least one other Mario title within the lifespan of the machine. The plan NCL have been following could be seen as a series of incremental steps:

Luigi's Mansion - Simple gameplay, strong emphasis on technology (and experimentation), indirect reintroduction of Mario (the object of the game being to rescue Mario from the clutches of King Boo).

Super Mario Sunshine - Much deeper gameplay, adaptation of the technology tested in Luigi's Mansion and Pikmin, continuation of the story from Luigi's Mansion (Mario is now going on holiday after his ordeal), although basically a side story rather than a reiteration of the traditional Mario story. Structurally, intended to placate Mario 64 fans hoping for more of the same.

"Super Mario 128" (theoretical title, ETA 2004?) - Presumably would feature: More progressive gameplay and design (a greater departure from M64 than SMS was), refinement of the technology used in the second generation of Gamecube titles, and a return to the Mario storyline (most importantly, a return to the Mushroom Kingdom setting).

So, it could be argued that Super Mario Sunshine does not represent the peak of the series as will be delivered on this generation of hardware. But enough of this idle speculation, on to the game itself. (Note that there may be some minor spoilers, I've avoided revealing the 'big' secrets, but don't read on if you want everything in the game to be a surprise.)

The Plot

The storyline of the game is fairly thin, and for the most part does not tie into the gameplay from one task to the next. As we join the story, Mario, Princess Peach, Toadsworth (a retainer), and an entourage of Toads (Kinopio) are travelling to the tropical resort of Isle Delfino for a holiday. On arrival, they discover that the island has been tainted with pollution and graffiti by a mysterious villian who happens to look like Mario. (This 'Shadow Mario' is made of water, after the manner of the creature from The Abyss, and carries a paintbrush with the Gadd Industries logo.) The presence of this evil influence has caused the Shine Sprites (six-pointed stars with eyes similar to the gold stars in Mario 64) to disappear, having hidden themselves around the island. As a result the main town, Delfino Plaza, has been enveloped in shadow. Shortly after arriving on the island, Mario acquires a backpack water-cannon called F.L.U.D.D. (Flash Liquidating Ultra Dousing Device) which can be fitted with different nozzles to give Mario different abilities.

The inhabitants of Isle Delfino, the Piantas, arrest Mario and, mistaking him for the 'Shadow Mario', charge him with defacing the island and sentence him to cleaning up the pollution and graffiti (using FLUDD). To clear his name, Mario must retrieve the Shine Sprites and discover the true identity and motives of 'Shadow Mario' and bring him to justice. This quest takes Mario around several discrete areas of Isle Delfino, with the Plaza town acting as a hub. Shine Sprites are acquired by completing tasks for the island's inhabitants (among whom corruption seems to be rife, as they claim to be ignorant of where the Shine Sprites have gone, but are only too willing to make you do their dirty work in exchange for ones they happen to have in their possession), as well as by thoroughly exploring the island and beating some rather more abstract challenges.

Isle Delfino is inhabited by two races of creatures that are new to the Mario universe- the slow, pear-shaped Piantas (mountain people), and the petite, shell-dwelling Noki (the Sea People).

The Graphics

I was quite surprised to see qualifiers in the previous writeups warning that the graphical standard of the game might not be up to the players' expectations. This is strange, as the graphics in Sunshine, while not always boasting a high polygon count, are consistently brilliantly realised and exhibit many innovative effects.

The most immediately noticable of these is the unlimited draw distance and depth of field effects. From any location in the (often massive and highly complex) areas, you can see all the way to the horizon with no fogging or pop-up. This long draw distance also works for small objects and details. (Best illustrated on red coin stages, where the coins can often be spotted from a vantage point on the far side of the level.) Beyond a certain point, a level of detail system kicks in to reduce the complexity of distant objects, but this is rendered completely seamless by a 'heat haze' that mildly distorts anything a certain distance from the player. Certain locations in the game (e.g. the top of the Shine Tower, the Ferris Wheel, and the Windmill) show this technology off to spectacular effect, with not only the whole of the stage visible below you, but the other areas of the game visible (and animated) on the horizon!

Another powerful and well utilised effect is the 'sludge' system. At various times in the game, areas are coated in mud, paint, lava or oil or some other viscous substance. These bodies of liquid act completely dynamically- for instance you can spray parts of it away using the FLUDD cannon, or smear it around by having objects slide or roll through it. It also conforms to gravity, sliding down walls and floating on water. Pieces of goop will actually stick to Mario as he comes into contact with it, requiring him to spin around quickly or enter water to wash it off. It is difficult to describe the sludge effect in action, you really need to see the game running at first hand (or on video) to appreciate it.

As water plays such an important role in the game mechanic, it is also represented using highly advanced graphical effects. Interestingly, water is represented using a wide range of effects working in tandem instead of a universal polygonal effect such as the sludge. Bodies of water (lakes and oceans) are represented with a glistening, undulating surface (an enhancement of the uncannily lifelike effect used in Pikmin) that reflects sunlight. Anything beneath the surface is distorted and cast in a bluish light. When Mario enters the water, he creates ripples around his body (these are not fully realised ripples that effect the whole water surface), an effect that is created by indirect rendering. Water sprayed from FLUDD uses different effects again: the water stream is a trail of particles, blurred together in a separate rendering pass. When water hits a dry surface, the particles turn to translucent circles which contract as they 'evaporate'. If you spray water onto the ground directly in front of Mario, you will see that the puddle will have his reflection in it. There are a number of other specialised effects, such as the wake Mario leaves when swimming, or the mist caused by fountains and sprinklers.

Reflections on flat surfaces are quite spectacularly used at some points in the game. On one stage there are giant tilting mirrors that can be walked on; another has a large, stagnant lake that reflects everything over it, and the Pinna Park stage has a pool below the swinging pirate ships in which they are reflected. When viewed at close range these reflections are a little pixellated, but are impressive all the same.

Another interesting effect, which ties in with the sludge, is the use of character morphing, which is primarily used on the Piantas and certain types of enemy. In addition to their precalculated animation, these characters can squash and stretch dynamically like a jelly. This adds a more lifelike appearance to the numerous aquatic themed enemies, such as jellyfish, fish, turtles and squid (known as 'bloopers').

There are a number of other small touches in the graphics that are worth noting. The shading on character models is not gradiated smoothly from light to dark- it's abruptly thresholded at a certain value on character's skin. This gives the impression that the skin is shiny with sweat. Another interesting 'post-rendering' effect is the imposition of Mario's outline which is drawn when a wall gets between Mario and the camera. These are not especially computationally expensive, but are interesting all the same.

With this brief tour of the technical visual highlights concluded, you can see that a lot of development effort had gone into creating the rendering tools to bring this Mario title to the screen. I should also mention the actual quality of the artwork, modelling and animation itself. Anyone who played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time on the N64 should have some inkling of the absolutely world-class production values that Nintendo can bring to bear on their flagship titles, and on this front Sunshine doesn't disappoint, although it will almost certainly be overshadowed by the forthcoming The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, where the visual design has been elevated to one of the core distinguishing features of the product.

There is little negative criticism that can be made regarding the lively character designs (again, as with Pikmin, seeming to draw slightly on the Moomins for inspiration, and also, in the case of the Piantas, from the Goons in the Popeye cartoon), and the picturesque, stylised environments. Some of the terrain textures on a couple of the stages, seemingly intentionally distorted to appear similar in style to Yoshi's Island, look somewhat ugly and barren, but these are a rare exception.

Level design

The bulk of the gameplay takes place within a set of locales on and around Isle Delfino. Each of these levels is large enough to take a few minutes to walk across, and realistically organised enough to prevent there from being any direct route to do this. Most of the levels make extensive use of all three dimensions- most notably Pianta Village (see below). Note that I have avoided comparisons to Mario 64's levels because I don't know that game inside out. But generally speaking, Sunshine exhibits a greater level of detail and complexity in its level design. (Note: the level names below are from the English language version.)

Delfino Airstrip

An introductory stage where Mario initially touches down on the island and collects FLUDD. This stage can be returned to at will after the final boss is defeated. Fairly small and nondescript.

Delfino Plaza

The hub level, a fairly advanced Pianta settlement located on a peninsula backed onto the mountainside. Introduces many of the basic concepts and allows the player to practice with Yoshi and the various FLUDD nozzles, in the service of finding the (numerous) shines hidden around the place. Some of the activities that can be carried out here include exploring the sewers, swimming (or riding the ferry boats) to the outlying islands, delivering fruit to the villagers, trading blue coins for Shines, as well as of course accessing all the other stages and a number of secret levels such as the Pachinko machine, via picture warps and pipe warps.

Bianco Hills

The first stage that Shadow Mario leads Mario to, featuring a walled courtyard area containing water wheels and windmills, adjoining a large lake with a massive windmill tower at the far side, accessible via bridges and tightropes. A large but visually underwhelming stage, with a simplistic layout to ease you into the game, although the final challenges involve traversing a frustrating series of tightropes. Contains one sublevel, the interior of the windmill which is used as a venue for a boss battle.

Ricco Harbour

A very 'hardcore' environment, about as different as can be imagined from Bianco Hills. The majority of the level is a construct of girders, meshwork and cranes over the water of the harbour. (Very much in the vein of Donkey Kong.) There are also a number of boats (and a yellow submarine) moored there at various times. There is a small fishmarket and promenade on the shore. Most of the challenges on this stage require a lot of traditional 3D platforming. There is one sublevel here, the 'Blooper Circuit' accessible on one stage via a cave in the cliff-face, where you are challenged to race on the back of a squid. This is rather reminiscent of Wave Race: Blue Storm.

Gelato Beach

A very large white sand beach, backing onto some forested shelves of land (where the Sand Bird tower and its surrounding mirror towers are located), and steep green hills. The beach is infested with hostile, dead-eyed enemies called Cataquacks, which are rather like a cross between evil ducks and squashballs. This wide open stage is a good showcase of the scale and draw distance mentioned earlier. Highlights include the strange plants (that when watered bloat into massive sand sculptures), the swivelling mirrors (used to aim sunlight at the Sand Bird Egg), and the beautiful clear ocean and coral reef. It is also the only stage to suffer reproducible frame rate problems (although only from one spot- looking at the whole level from the sea near the coral reef). The only sublevel is a rather abstract encounter with the Sand Bird.

Pinna Park

An amusement park on an outlying island reached by being shot from a cannon in Delfino Plaza. The level is actually made up of two seperate areas- a beach area outside the gate (complete with painfully cute giant sunflowers, who respond to watering with almost orgasmic delight), and the park interior. This is possibly the densest area in the game, driving home the differences in level design from Mario 64. The park contains a massive ferris wheel, a working rollercoaster (the riding of which is a frenetic, disorienting experience reminiscent of the prerendered ride games of the early 1990's, except now rendered entirely in real-time), two swinging pirate ships, a water feature, a 'Yoshi-go-round', and a clam cups (teacups) ride. Much has been made of the technical issues on this level- it is apparently possible to fall through the pirate ships, and the action of the camera in the (vitally important) area behind the ferris wheel leaves a lot to be desired. But it's still mainly good fun and visually very distinguished.

Sirena Beach

One of the last areas in the game that can be accessed, again comprising of several smaller areas. The first is the beach and hotel grounds. (The Hotel Delfino itself is initially not present, and grows larger with each subsequent challenge.) It is always just before sunset when Mario visits this area. The hotel interior comprises of four floors that are infested by ghosts (where have I heard that before..?) and effectively acts as a maze of sorts, with all manner of clever secret passages leading from room to room. The third and final area is the Casino Delfino below the hotel, which contains a huge roulette wheel and seems strangely empty, suggesting that it was intended to be used for some purpose that was cut due to time constraints. (Although it is used, albeit in a seperate sublevel, for the boss battle in this stage.)

Noki Bay

Widely regarded to be the most beautiful area in the game, and certainly the one with the best music. The bay area is made up of tall white cliffs surrounding a deep coastal pool cut by the massive waterfall. Most of the activity takes place on the way up the cliffs, in the network of passages behind them, and in climbing the massive stone towers capped with giant shells that rise out of the pool. The sublevels (the inside of a bottle, and later a massive underwater cave where the Noki live) require Mario to wear a diving helmet, and employ a tricky but satisfying swimming/diving control system with massive amounts of inertia. Noki Bay is the one level with the least in the way of nagging flaws, and its boss battle (Eely Mouth's Dentist) is probably the most cinematic episode in the whole game.

Pianta Village

Another technical showcase level, the Pianta village is actually a massive platform (possibly an outcropping from the central, giant palm tree) over a massive, bowl-shaped bottomless pit. The area is represented at different times of day for each challenge. The central tree can be climbed, and allows access to a simply vast volume of air space as well as a vertigo-inducing view. Depth is also exploited on this stage, as the underside of the giant platform can be explored by dangling from wire meshes and hopping across giant mushrooms.

The Village also plays host to a massive, flaming Chain Chomp that Mario has to cool off by dragging it into a bath. This creature just happens to have what looks suspiciously like an Xbox logo cut into it (and is described as being "prone to overheating"...). Surely a coincidence.

Corona Mountain

The final stage, a brief but meticulously designed and challenging obstacle course within the island's volcano, leading to the final boss battle. (I won't spoil it, but I found it to be technically very slick but surprisingly easy.)

In each of the stages, apart from the Airstrip, Plaza and Corona Mountain, there are eight shine challenges that can be attempted, which are unlocked sequentially. There is also at least one secret shine in each area, and a second shine that can be earned by returning to the void level to complete the void coin hunt after the final boss battle. Another shine can be had for collecting 100 coins in any given area. There are a total of 120 shines to be found in the game, including 24 than can be obtained by trading in all of the 240 blue coins that are hidden around the levels. Any questions?

The following are the types of challenges that are presented in most of the areas.

Void Levels (a.k.a. obstacle courses)

Void levels are accessed by finding hidden entry points within the normal levels. On entry to a void level, Shadow Mario 'steals' FLUDD from Mario, meaning that the player must rely on their jumping and running abilities without the assistance of the hover nozzle.

Void stages are so called because they consist of series of platforms and objects suspended in a void. Without the constriction of having to conform to representing a 'real' location, these highly abstract stages manage to best recapture the gameplay of the earlier Mario games. The obstacles usually involve negotiating jumps and balancing on imaginatively designed moving platforms. Most of the platforms are based on cubes and other geometric shapes. There are a number of objects made of specific materials- such as giant sugar cubes that disintegrate when stepped on, cube-shaped watermelons that can be burst, rubber trampolines, and protruding nails that act as tiny stepping stones.

To further enhance the old-skool atmosphere on these stages, the backdrop is often made up from graphics and motifs from the 2D Mario games, and the music is an accappella rendition of the Super Mario Bros. theme.

On revisiting the void levels after defeating Shadow Mario, you are allowed to use FLUDD, but to gain a second shine you have to collect 8 red coins within a very tight time limit. (These void coin hunts are basically the final challenge in the game for the truly hardcore player.)

Red Coin Hunt

A fairly straightforward challenge- Mario must find and collect 8 red coins hidden around the area. Later levels introduce time limits and other variations- such as one in Ricco Harbour where you have to collect the coins while riding a fast-moving blooper.

Shadow Mario Chase

The easiest challenges- Mario must chase Shadow Mario around the stage, spraying him with water until he surrenders. Usually can be beaten first time with no problems.

Timed Event

Some activity must be completed within a certain time, usually involving cleaning things with FLUDD. (For instance, find and rescuing 10 trapped Piantas, or cleaning all of the goop off of a beach.)

Il Piantissimo Race

These levels involve a race from one end of an area to the other against a freakish, thin Pianta-like character. (Tip: you can travel faster over flat ground by spraying water in front of you and sliding on it.)

Boss Battle

There are a wide variety of bosses in the game, and most require you to figure out a way to beat them that is not immediately obvious. These include pulling off a squid's arms, cleaning an eel's teeth, throwing people's bombs back at them, beating the shit out of a caterpillar, and many more.

Platform challenge

What platform game would be complete without some stages that consisted mainly of traversing obstacle courses made from platforms? The most notorious of these is the Ferris Wheel stage in Pinna Park, where the uncooperative camera makes things even more difficult than necessary.


Most of the areas have some features that are either the focus of a mini-game, or offer an alternate route to completing some of the challenges. For instance the boats and lily pads, and the tightropes which you can swing from to get to hard-to-reach areas. There is the rollercoaster in Pinna Park, hidden levels based on water slides and a pachinko machine, the slot machines in the casino, crate-smashing and blooper racing.


Sound does not play an important role in the game, at least, little more so than in previous Mario titles. The majority of the game has newly composed themes that are not as catchy as the classic Mario themes, but are still very listenable and do not grate after extended play. The Mario theme used on the void levels will probably be the highlight for most people.

Sound effects are pretty standard platform fare, with the addition of some nicely distinctive footsteps-on-wooden-floor and other atmospheric noises for the void levels. The voice acting is pretty good too, although largely confined to the few cutscenes. The piantas and nokis speak in a kind of 'nonsense language' accompanied by text, which sounds quite amusing in places.

So what makes the game work?

The most successful aspect of the game in my opinion is the control method. Once you get the hang of assisting your jumps with the hover nozzle, and manually adjusting the camera with the C-stick (an added level of complexity over M64, but one that grants you even greater control) the controls become second nature, and it becomes possible to fling Mario around the levels with confidence. Watching someone else play the game for the first time shows what a profound effect learning the controls has on the game- for the first few hours most players have only a haphazard control over Mario, but gradually their skil develops.

It is reported that each of the Mario games, Nintendo's developers use the control method as the starting point, building a 'test area' where their designers can concoct new, fun things to acheive through mastery of the controls. This is clearly a highly fruitful method to designing platform gameplay.

The criticisms leveled at the game are many and varied. The (partially) manual camera has been met with howls of dismay from some quarters. But I would argue that it's necessary, now that the levels are more dense than Mario 64's, to be able to move the camera freely instead of relying purely on predefined camera 'tracks' built into the levels. As far as I am concerned, the only problems with the camera arise when it tries to fight against the manual controls, occasionally refusing to pass through certain walls, or tilting violently at the neck of certain narrow platform areas.

There has also been criticism of the arduous difficulty of some of the stages in the game. As far as I am concerned this reflects more poorly on the critics than the game itself, with even the most demanding sections of the game being well within the capabilities (if not the patience) of mere mortals such as myself. A couple of the later stages (notably Yoshi's Fruit Adventure) are too much like a chore than a challenge, with an unreasonable amount of faffing about having to be done before the core of the task can be attempted each time. But most of the game is well balanced.

A less easy criticism to quantify is the degree to which SMS builds upon the playful, inventive aspects of Super Mario 64. Critics cite many nice touches in M64 that suggest the subtext of a knowing dialogue between the designers and the player, the most commonly cited being the appearance of Lakitu in the mirrors at one point (but there are many other elements in the game that contribute toward this goal, both large and small). By comparison SMS is seen by these critics as being 'soulless', and while I wouldn't go that far I feel that there is a disconnect between the player and the game world that means, outside of the controls and a few stand-out sequences, the game does not go out of its way to sell you the Mario fantasy.

Certainly coming from Nintendo, the reigning masters of the platform genre, this underlying ennui was seen as a betrayal by some. I think that this dissatisfaction, while in part can be attributed to Nintendo's failings in the consistency of the game, also points to a larger issue: what place does the platform game have in the modern gaming scene? The days when a mascot platformer was seen as the killer app, the most prominent technical arena and the type of title with the broadest appeal have long passed. But it seems that some people expect the genre to still be able to foster massive technical and imaginative advances. I would argue that this expectation is unrealistic, and that although platform games still have their place, they are no longer at the vanguard of video game development. The genre, in its 2D and 3D incarnations, has had an exceptionally long innings, but I think that in future the trend towards action adventures and more meaningful, literate (or at least, articulate) interaction with the game world will send pure platformers the way of the scrolling shooter or point and click adventure. How Mario might adapt to a more role-playing based style of gameplay would be interesting to see (although it has been tried once already with Super Mario RPG on the SNES).

These issues aside, Super Mario Sunshine is one of the best games on the Nintendo Gamecube, and worth picking up if you have an interest in the genre or just want a game that is going to offer you a long, challenging and varied period of gameplay. It can be considered as the first game on the machine to belong to the second generation of software, and in this respect marks the end of the goodwill period extended to the rather variable launch titles (most of which seem a lot less appealing today at the same price tag, but doubtless will soon slip down to a midrange price). If you do not like platform games then it is unlikely to convert you.

Also, as with many games of late, don't even think about running this game in 50hz.

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