Super Mario Sunshine

a review of Super Mario Sunshine
a videogame developed by yoshiaki koizumi
and published by nintendo
for the nintendo gamecube
text by Alex Felix

3.5 stars

Bottom line: Super Mario Sunshine is “unimaginably, post-Mario.”

Super Mario Sunshine is unimaginably post-Mario.

The problem, meanwhile, lies in videogames’ woeful inadequacy when it comes to being post-anything.* Am I not allowed to take the bottom line as a given in writing an ActionButton review? I don’t think I am. You know what that makes this?

A post-review!

Thus, once more for emphasis: Super Mario Sunshine is – unimaginably, post-Mario.

See, a lot of people aren’t really sure if they liked Sunshine all that much in retrospect, and us people who play these videogames being who they are, this would count for exactly nothing except for that plenty of those same people (myself, for instance) weren’t really sure if they liked it all that much while they were playing it in the first place.

You know what I don’t like? I don’t like how it’s perhaps the only “canonical” Mario game to date that you couldn’t up and give to a six year old, expecting them to play it. The camera, for one thing, is absurdly player-dependent; actually, what with the game having you hover all over the place, the camera becomes this wonderful, ballet-like approximation of a dual-analog Mario game, for those who can handle it.

Not many could. This was a failure on Miyamoto’s part.

What other direction could they have headed in? It was, profoundly, 2002.

And besides – seriously – your right thumb has to be doing something once you’re already in the air, now that there isn’t any more B button. No run button, anyway.

It’s a strange thing, that B button. Like-minded folks have retroactively identified it as providing a much-needed sense of balance to the NES platfomers of yore, and that may yet be what made Mario into Mario – apart, of course, from all of the other things that did.

It’s awfully hard to tackle this one, you know that? Lord knows that nobody ever tried making the Sonic criticism “all you’re doing is holding right!” of a Mario title, lest the whole of the genre collapse like that right before their eyes. The point, just maybe, is that holding right and B really is that much more enjoyable, really did make all of the difference. Maybe.

And yet Mario 64 seemed to get by okay without, for the most part. That one gets the eternal nod for occupying the (positively gargantuan) time and place that it does, and hey, so much the better; rationalizing all of this talk of balance may yet get a person started on how it might not be a coincidence that the analog stick was smack in the middle of the N64 controller, whether or not anybody knew what to make of it. Or if, being displaced by the infinitely superior consideration of two analog sticks a short while later, it made all that much difference in the long run. Nevertheless. We were contented in 1996 to play, to explore; in 2002, not so much.

Six years is sort of a long time, you know. But getting back to the hovering.

Most people will tell you that Mario games are about jumping and I don’t know why they do that. To the best of my knowledge, that erstwhile moniker “platformer” only ever sprang up sometime between 1996 and 2002 (along with, it’s worth mentioning, and ZSNES), and mainly to describe Mario 64-derived playgrounds. Before then, Mario was pure “action/adventure,” baby.

But now we knew. In our ever-changing world, we could be sure now and forever that in Mario, you jump. In Super Mario Bros., you jumped – as opposed to shooting people or kicking a soccer ball, I guess – and that was a lot of fun, so presumably you want to keep on jumping.

I think maybe we missed the point.

There’s only so many ways you can barely reach that next platform, you know.

Super Mario Sunshine did not miss the point. It took jumping completely for granted, in giving you a water-jetpack. Suddenly, the game couldn’t be bothered as to whether you could make a given jump – “have fun,” it said, “and if you insist on getting so much satisfaction out of jumping as late as you possibly can to reach the other side, then you can keep right on pretending the R button doesn’t exist, but frankly, we think you’ve had enough of that by now.”

Sunshine did not know its audience very well. I’m not sure it had an audience. But I’ll tell you what, there weren’t all that very many difficult jumps in Mario 64, either.

Was ever the onus on Sunshine to prove once and for all that videogames (read: Mario) were actually going somewhere? Can anybody remember? Somehow, I don’t think so; besides, all anybody wanted to play at the time were the linear, obstacle course levels where you didn’t get to use your water pack, and jumping was once again something to be proud of.

God forbid any game heed the term “bonus level” nowadays.



*except, of course, post-modern, but nobody wants to be your friend when you bring up that one in your first sentence.


Poor Nintendo. A broad look at their main franchises (or at least “the big three,” as they were called for no reason whatsoever) early in the GameCube’s lifespan shows just how willing they were to stop and reconsider the whole darned thing. Wind Waker was too little too soon, ironically; nostalgia’s the hardest thing in the entire world to rationalize, don’t you know.

I’d venture to say that sometime in the not too distant past, Miyamoto and company realized that the way forward – if there was to be such a thing – practically had to involve a more or less complete break with their longstanding fans. They’d misjudged why people play videogames (answer: because they’ve always played videogames); and they were Nintendo, for chrissakes! They made Smash Brothers! If anybody ought to know better!

The end result of all this, of course, is the Wii. The Wii knows its audience, inasmuch as its audience unabashedly knows what they like, and the videogame industry – Nintendo in particular – has thus either imploded miserably, or else reached a previously unknown and unexpected level of “maturity.” Super Mario Galaxy, meanwhile, stands as the only franchise entry to date on the Wii that at least has a certain confidence about it. It’s going, ineffably. Disparage it for the same reasons we did Twilight Princess you cannot.

You know what it doesn’t have, though? A neat hub world. Galaxy’s hub world is, for most intents and purposes, a menu screen. For all it gives the player (otherwise an impossible amount), it can’t help but evoke in me pleasant memories of Delfino Plaza’s pastel rooftops.

And gosh, I mean –

Whatever makes you happy.

Whatever you remember as having made you happy.

–Alex Felix


11 Responses to Super Mario Sunshine

  1. Probably my favourite game of the 3d era. And, I think, I’m a pretty good judge.

    It had more *feel* than just about any other game ever.

  2. however much it goes against my general attractions – can’t stand the collectathonspolsion – i have the fondest memories of sunshine.
    for all its “betrayals” to the mario format, it makes mario 64 look like a tech demo (which…it kind of was?), and is just so much more joyful. also, the water is drinkably gorgeous.
    i haven’t replayed since getting, what, ninety shines, or so, yet that’s usually the case with me and things that take longer than a few hours to complete. still, the fact that i got that many shines – man. yeah, i was pretty into this game. this makes me want to start a new file this winter break.

  3. that, my friend, is positively the most meaningful sort of comment i had hoped to evoke with this ‘review.’

  4. Sunshine was just so dedicated to its world so much of the time (apart from Yoshi disintegrating in water!?). One of my favorite touches was the way that all of Mario’s shouts actually change when he’s low on health. Instead of an obtuse siren noise to indicate you’re near death, he actually looks and sounds genuinely weaker which is pretty neat…

    I tended to overlook the completely all-over-the-damn-place difficulty curve, since I was primarily looking for a stimulating challenge from the game in the first place.

    It’s times like these that I wish I still had my Wavebird receiver.

  5. just wanted to pop back in here and say, having started anew and reached the twenties (shine sprites) yesterday, i’m reminded how criminally fun the controls are…and how well they mesh with the stage design.
    for me, the most satisfying feeling in a 3d mario game, outside of completing the “secret of X” courses, is ascending tightrope after tightrope, using the boost jetpack to shoot up, up, up, time and aim it just right, so you land on one of the highest ropes, or one that’s far to your side. sunshine has a wonderful “verticality” to it.

  6. I totally agree with the “verticality” you mentioned, diplo. I’d like to add that I also had a high sense of dread to using the jet nozzle, since often you were launching yourself so high that you risked taking fall damage if you missed that next rope or platform. Come to think of it, even with the safe-fall mechanics built into that game, the sheer distances and heights in that game were pretty dizzying at times. That sand-bird stage still haunts me…
    But the controls were so tight that every time you failed, you knew it was totally your fault.

    This replacement Wavebird receiver cost me $22.50
    And now I’m going to have to pay 17 dollars for the game on top of that!

    I hope you’re happy.

  7. I apologise for all the terrible structure and redundancy in that horribly worded paragraph. It is late. šŸ™

  8. ‘Probably my favourite game of the 3d era. And, I think, Iā€™m a pretty good judge.

    It had more *feel* than just about any other game ever.’

    Sounds to me like you’re a stuffty judge!

  9. i’d enjoy reading a negative viewpoint that, you know, isn’t trolling. i don’t think i’ve ever found someone who’s said why they disliked sunshine beyond the water pack and cleaning-up missions. the first is treated as a betrayal to who mario “is,” and the second…i don’t know about the second. there are only a few missions where you need to clean stuff up.

  10. I disliked SMS for the same reason I disliked the other 3D Mario titles. It’s a kindergarten collectathon with low emphasis on survival and exploration. Ad to that, the setting was very pedestrian and uninteresting, compared even to SM64. The hub village was annoying; this isn’t an old-school RPG, so why am I expected to walk around a town talking to dim-witted NPC’s? It was just an obstacle to getting into the actual game.

    The obstacle course segments, were at least, for once in a 3D Nintendo game, actually challenging, but were formatted poorly. They were too far and few between, and lacked a real setting, instead tossing you on non-descript blocks in an empty void which was obviously an obstacle course, making thing feel constricted and losing the sense of exploration, and you know, actually getting somewhere which you got from running around the levels in SMB, SMB3, or SMW. Finally, the controls were not really as tight as they should have been; it was like controlling a 2D platformer with 3D controls, where the slightest pressure on the stick in the wrong direction sent you hurtling into oblivion.

    While we’re at it, I’ve always thought this problem could be well corrected were Mario adopted to a control rig similar to 3rd person shooters, where you run with the left stick and turn/look with the right (camera seated in some sort of behind, over the shoulder perspective). That way, if you didn’t push the right stick, you wouldn’t accidentally shift your path in the wrong direction. For all people’s complaints about platforming being “awkward” in FPS “because you have no feet”, I can platform far more precisely in Quake than I ever could in a 3D Mario Game.

    Anyway, to sum things up, at risk of using out of character terminology, I dislike SMS because it’s like SM64, but gayer.

  11. regrettably i am not 108 and do not know how to respond to this

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