Blue skies. Sandy beaches. Buckets of paint everywhere. Enforced servitude for a crime you didn’t commit. Yes, this is truly the definition of a tropical vacation. Or at the very least, this is the type of vacation that Mario has to experience in the hit GameCube classic, Super Mario Sunshine.
Debuting six years after the original 3D platformer Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine was an unprecedented follow-up to the N64 classic. While many people expected more of the same in regards to the tremendous 3D platforming that its predecessor demonstrated, Nintendo decided to throw a monkey wrench in that plan by introducing an entirely new concept: the F.L.U.D.D. (which stands for “Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device”). This waterpack that Mario had to carry on his back completely changed the type of gameplay that everybody was expecting, and unfortunately, placed Super Mario Sunshine on many people’s “do not play” list very quickly.
The plot of the story is actually surprisingly beefy, which is quite uncharacteristic of Mario games at this time. Mario and Princess Peach are heading to Isle Delfino for a little tropical vacation. Unfortunately, Mario is framed for the crime of vandalism, so he has to use the F.L.U.D.D. to clean up all the graffiti that was left in his name. Along the way, you meet the mysterious culprit, dubbed “Shadow Mario” because of his resemblance to the real Mario. I won’t give away the reveal as to who this character is, but it definitely sheds more light on this cast of characters that you would not have previously expected from a Mario game. While it is definitely not Shakespearean-level writing, it certainly is a step-up from your typical Mario fare.
Graphically speaking, this is still an impressive GameCube game. While the GameCube tends to be downplayed in terms of graphical capabilities, this game’s colorful atmosphere and beautiful vistas really pop out on the screen. Since the graphics are more stylistic and less realistic, it certainly ages better than many of the games at this time that were aiming for a photorealistic style. Plus, Nintendo just seems to have the most gorgeous rendered water in their games, so taking place on a tropical island was definitely the right choice to make.
It is really too bad that this game – much like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – was overlooked by so many because it is a really solid game. Utilizing every aspect of the GameCube controller to its advantage, you really have to learn the controls inside-and-out to really take advantage of the different mechanics of control. Similarly to how you could (if you were skilled enough) kick-jump all the way to the top of Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64, the versatility of controls at your disposal – especially with F.L.U.D.D. – allows for such an amazing range of movement.
My experience with Super Mario Sunshine is, unfortunately, fragmented. It was never really a game that I owned for myself, but instead played in many different environments and contexts – so much so that it is hard for me to have a fully defined opinion about it. Sometimes I would play it instead of Metroid Prime when I was waiting at the dentist’s office (remember when they had gaming systems?). Sometimes I would borrow it from a friend and conveniently forget to give it back to them until months afterwards. And sometimes I would get distracted just exploring the main hub area and trying to see how many secrets I could find. It was an intensely engaging game that I couldn’t get enough of; yet, I only remember it in disparate, disconnected memories. The fact that it made such a huge impression on me is proof of just how deceptively engaging this game can be.
Is Super Mario Sunshine better than Super Mario 64? That is hard to say, and of course, a lot of it comes down to your personal discretion and opinion. That being said, it is certainly technically superior in every way, offering a fun collect-a-thon environment as you progress towards finding out who, exactly, this Shadow Mario character is. While Super Mario Sunshine wasn’t exactly favored when it came out, it has certainly developed a cult status over time, with many people saying they prefer it to Super Mario 64. Whether you play it on its original hardware or snag a copy of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection on Switch, Super Mario Sunshine is a gaming experience that will certainly leave you longing for a tropical vacation… just so you can collect all of those Shine Sprites!