Bit-History: Super Mario Sunshine

‘Bit-History’ is going to be my attempt at reliving games from the past which have left an impression on me, positive or negative.  To kick things off, I want to discuss a game that I’m really not very fond of, spurred by a conversation I had just recently on a forum I frequent.  “He’s not going to bad-mouth Super Mario Sunshine, is he?”  Why yes… yes he is.

Before the Gamecube, I was a huge Nintendo fan, thinking anything they would ever do would amount to pure gold.  As far as the future of gaming was concerned, there was no question in my mind that Nintendo was going to lead the way.  Boy, was I wrong.  For me, the Gamecube was a huge disappointment.  Those tiny discs seemed like a joke, and the console itself looked more like a toy than an actual console.  But, aesthetics aside, my major gripe was the horrid controller.  I mean, what the hell were they thinking?  It’s the most awkward control scheme I’ve ever used, and it should go down in history as a prime example of what not to do.  But, I had to work with what I was given, and what was a better game to give my new crap-tastic controller a workout than Super Mario Sunshine?  I would have to run, jump and slide with surgical precision, so the controller was really going to be pushed to its limit.

Well, let me begin by running down a shortlist of some positives about this game – Compared to Mario 64, the controls were refined, and the camera wasn’t nearly as awful as it was in its N64 predecessor.  The ‘world’ that was created for this game was bright and colorful, absolutely shattering the limited color-scheme that was on display in Mario 64.  Yes, the game looked great and it controlled even better, the latter of which making for a pretty fun and at times challenging experience, two qualities which have always been at the core of the series.

That being said, the positives are ironically intertwined with the negatives.  First, let’s talk about that beautiful world which Nintendo had created for ‘Mario’s vacation adventure’ – Bottom line, is that it just didn’t feel like a Mario game.  Mario was always at the center of the screen, and most of the baddies we were familiar with ran amok in each of the paint-portal worlds, but it all felt misplaced.  Nothing felt like it fit in with the environment, but I guess this is really sort of nitpicky.

Nah, what really bothered me most of all was the convoluted ‘story’ and the new gameplay mechanic that was introduced.  Basically, Mario goes on vacation but is arrested and charged for vandalizing the island with a bunch of black gunk.  The real culprit is ‘Shadow Mario’, but the natives have made up their mind and can’t/won’t distinguish between the two.  This premise introduces us to a new accessory for Mario to utilize during his travels – the FLUDD pack, which is essentially a glorified water gun.  So instead of just platforming, you have to use this thing to spray away the dirty stuff… you know, because ‘cleaning’ sounds like fun.  Furthermore, your pack obviously can’t provide an endless supply of water, so you constantly have to find a water source and refill the damn thing.  My question, obviously, is why the hell did the developers feel the need to tack on such a useless piece to the gameplay?  I mean, yeah, Mario Galaxy had a ‘space’ thing, but it kept platforming at the core of the experience.  Not so with Mario Sunshine, which actually forced you to work around the limited abilities of your ‘FLUDD’ device.  Mario doesn’t require a gimmick… and in this case, that gimmick managed to hurt the gameplay.

Conceptually, the game feels rushed.  “How can we introduce a new environment that can show off the Gamecube’s potential?  I KNOW!  An island resort!”  “Wonderful!  But how can we improve on the gameplay, even though Mario really doesn’t need that?  A WATER HOSE!”  The funny thing is, developers have noted a concern about throwing Mario into a world that feels so un-Mario-like, yet they moved ahead in this regard anyway.  At least in Mario 64, you were accessing magical worlds through the paintings in a castle, and each of the worlds within FELT very much like something you’d expect out of a Mario game.  Mario Sunshine’s tropical locale failed to create a similar feeling.

But, I know I’m going against the grain here.  So many people defend Mario Sunshine ‘because it’s just fun’, and Nintendo fans will vehemently defend the Gamecube, despite the fact it really didn’t have THAT many great games.  Super Mario Sunshine was one of the best experiences on the console… and isn’t that saying something?

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