Over the years, gaming has developed its fair share of iconscharacters whove captured our collective imaginations and become more than a simple sprite or collection of polygons. However, one character in particular stands out above all others: Mario. The portly little plumber is so famous that he needs only a single name to identify him. He crosses cultural and demographic boundaries with the same ease with which he stomps on Koopas. Hes gamings ambassadorone of the only videogame characters that even non-gamers can recognize on sight. In short, Marios a celebrity.
One of the perks of being a celebrity is developing a die-hard fan following wholl love whatever you do regardless of whether its actually good or not. There are mega Stephen King fans out there who think Insomnia is a brilliant novel, Lucio Fulci followers who love Demonia simply because the maestro directed it, and John Woo disciples who will swear that Broken Arrow is a wonderful action film just because Woos name is on it. Needless to say, theres also a contingent of gamers out there who will champion Super Mario Sunshine as a classic platforming title simply because it features everyones favorite plumber, Mario. Unfortunately, though, once gamers get past the presence of Mario, theyre left with a rather underwhelming platform experience, and one that features little of the gameplay innovation that the Mario series is so famous for.
As gamers, were living in an unprecedented time. The industry continues to grow with each passing year and gamers are getting older. Many of us may have put down our toys, but weve held on to our controllers. Software has been forced to evolve to consider the tastes of the older gamer. In an age of Grand Theft Auto III, is there still a spot for a simple platformer where collecting coins and sprites is the name of the game? If sales are any indication, then yes, there is still a place for the Marios of the gaming world. However, is Sunshine earning praise and rave reviews because its a great game, or simply because its Mario and feeds our sense of nostalgia? Personally, I tend to think its the latter.
I thought I was enjoying Sunshine for the first hour or so that I played it, but then it hit me: I wasnt enjoying the game at allI was just happy to see Mario after a six-year hiatus. As I ventured further into the world of Delfino Island, I realized that Sunshine was a rather average game with some serious issues in terms of control and the camera system. After more playing, I became disillusioned with the game entirely. Sure, its Mario, but Sunshine is really just Super Mario 64 with some nicer graphics and a jet-pack. After six years, I expected more.
This expectation of more highlights one of the major flaws with the gamethat feeling of been there, done that that invariably creeps up on the player as he progresses through the games numerous episodes. Complaining about a platformer for having gameplay that forces you to collect coins or other items is sort of like complaining about role-playing games forcing you to go on fetch questsits just part of the territory. However, Sunshine hasnt really evolved in any meaningful way from Super Mario 64. The inclusion of Marios sidekick FLUDD (his water powered jet-pack) is a cosmetic addition at best. FLUDD doesnt bring anything to the table in terms of being a sidekick (why they even allowed the character to talk is beyond me) and impacts the core Mario gameplay in a largely superficial way. Yes, you can use FLUDD to reach high areas and extend your jumps, but you could do similar things in the other Mario games without the FLUDD attachment. FLUDD often seems like a simple gimmick designed to cover up the fact that little has changed since Super Mario 64 while trying to convince gamers this is a whole new experience.
Of course, this begs the question, is it fair to expect the game to revolutionize platformers in the same way that Super Mario 64 did? While it may not be fair to place that kind of pressure on each Mario title, its going to happen anyway. When youve reached the level of success that the Mario games have reached, its inevitable that people will continue to look for the games to push the envelope. I could live with the fact that Sunshine doesnt push the envelope, if the game mechanics were better than what they are.
By far, my biggest complaint with Sunshine revolves around the camera system. To say that the camera in this game is atrocious is like saying being kicked in the teeth kinda hurtsit gives the person an idea about how bad it is, but it doesnt even begin to describe the agony in detail.
The camera in Sunshine is controlled with the right analog stick on the GameCube controller. Theres nothing inherently wrong with that until the player realizes that maneuvering the camera manually is something that must be done constantly throughout the game. Trying to time jumps off of dissolving sand blocks while trying to finagle the camera into position so the player can line up the next jump is an exercise in futility that will lead to frequent death. Dont even get me started on when you get behind an object and can only see Marios silhouettethose moments are aggravating beyond description.
Part of the problem with the camera system is that its never where the player needs it to be. The other problem is that maneuvering it into position is often harder than it should be for several reasons. First and foremost, the camera has a tendency to get caught on the environments, leading players to struggle with the interface as they try to bring it into position all the while still trying to avoid falling to their death or being hit by enemies. In some instances, the camera will get caught behind walls, making it so the player cant see much of anything at all. A few camera problems would be forgivable, but these are constants throughout Sunshine.
Manually moving the camera can be an adventure in its own right, as the mechanism has a tendency to swing about wildly thanks to some loose controls. The addition of the left shoulder button to center the camera behind Mario does help to alleviate this problem, but there are still those instances where the camera will have to be physically zoomed in or pulled back in order to keep it from getting hung up on the games environments.
The loose control issue extends beyond the camera system as well. While the controls in Sunshine arent bad, they do take more than a bit of getting used to. One of the more noticeable problems is that the controls feel a little floaty in spots, particularly when precision is called for. FLUDD does help to remedy the problem, though, provided you can get the camera into position to take advantage of it.
The other control problem is a direct result of the games poor camera system. Trying to do wall jumps in order to reach high areas can be a nightmare thanks to the camera. In many instances, players will find themselves jumping both up and out from the wall, making it impossible to hit the next spot to advance. This is particularly irritating in those stages where the player has a set amount of time to complete a series of maneuvers.
Not everythings bad in Sunshine, though. The graphics, while not a huge improvement over Super Mario 64, are quite nice in their presentation. My only real beef here is that the game maintains its tropical theme throughout; I miss the old lava and ice worlds from earlier games in the series. The level layouts are also quite nice, particularly the old school styled hidden stages which feature some great platforming elements and a really nifty a capella version of the old Super Mario Bros. theme.
Ultimately, though, Sunshine is a bit of a disappointment. While Miyamoto may talk about the game being evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the title isnt really either. The evolution in the game is mostly cosmetic and doesnt enhance the gameplay value much at all. Evolution would have had Mario and company growing a bit as characters (which theyre going to have to do in order to remain competitive in todays market) and something new added to the core gameplay. Instead, Sunshine is one step lateral and a half step back from Super Mario 64which is certainly not a good thing when one considers that Super Mario 64 is six years old.
A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.
Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.
In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.