Mike did a great job in pointing out almost all of Super Mario Sunshine's technical flaws. The manual camera system is aggravating. The controls aren't tight enough. The addition of FLUDD is gimmicky. The game doesn't add enough to the platforming genre to warrant a six-year hiatus. These are all valid points, but they fail to address possibly the most important characteristic of Super Mario Sunshine:
For all its faults, Super Mario Sunshine is still fun to play.
In coming to this conclusion, I tried to determine if the game was fun simply because it was a Mario game. This was not the case. In fact, most of the things that I associated with Mario games were removed or bastardized in this latest sequel. Between the strange locale, the scores of Piantas frittering about and the now-water-soluble Yoshi, I found it hard to fit Super Mario Sunshine into my framework of what a Mario game should be. This fact initially disappointed me, but as soon as I started to consider Super Mario Sunshine as its own game and not as just the next step in a series, I began to enjoy it more and more.
What Super Mario Sunshine lacks in gameplay innovation, it makes up for in its solid level design. Running around in the large, colorful worlds of Super Mario Sunshine made me feel like a kid unleashed on a huge new playground, with a near endless supply of things to do. Simply exploring the game's huge world without a specific goal in mind can be very relaxing and rewarding, and the excitement of finding a new hidden area or making a tough jump in Super Mario Sunshine is just as strong as it was in Super Mario 64. It's a testament to the game's design that this sense of wonder manages to shine through despite the faulty mechanics mentioned earlier.
True, there is a slight sense of 'been there, done that' in performing familiar tasks like collecting 100 coins in each level, but the amazing variety of new things to do in Isle Delfino quickly pushes this feeling to the back of ones mind. In what other game is there the opportunity to surf on an octopus one minute, ride on a roller coaster the next, and roll a giant watermelon down a hill the minute after that? Sure, some of the challenges are overly repetitive (like chasing down Shadow Mario in every stage) and some are marred by faulty play mechanics (like the hidden, larger-than-life pachinko game), but there are so many fun and imaginative goals available that anyone with a hint of child left in them is sure to find something to like.
Unlike Mike, I found the game's overriding tropical theme to be a welcome change. Where is it written that every platforming game needs to have an ice level, a lava level, an underground level, etc.? Centering the game in an island setting made playing feel like an extended vacation. The music's soothing island rhythms and the sunny, pastel graphical style made the resort town of Isle Delfino a place that I was happy to return to again and again (and sad to leave once I entered the disappointing, lava-filled Bowser level).
So with all my praise for the design, style, and imaginativeness of Super Mario Sunshine, why did I give it only an 8.0? Here is where the technical flaws that Mike mentioned in his review begin to come into play. The Mario games have a history of providing some of the most precise controls and annoyance-free gameplay on the market, which is why it is particularly surprising that Super Mario Sunshine is lacking in both these areas. At many points, it felt like Nintendo was trying to rush the game out the door without completely testing and tweaking all of the game's features. One has to wonder what six more months of development time could have done to remedy these sizable technical problems.
But technical problems alone are not enough to completely overwhelm the high points of Super Mario Sunshine's design. I had a great deal of fun playing Super Mario Sunshine, and not just because I am a 'die-hard' Miyamato fanboy, but because the sense of fantasy and wonder that this game evokes are as strong in this game as they were in the strongest titles of the Mario series. Yes, videogames and gamers are growing up, but there is definitely still room in this industry for the childish escapism that even slightly flawed platformers like Super Mario Sunshine provide.