The sun? It’s a gamer’s worst nightmare


Super Mario Sunshine (2002)

Looks like I ain’t going on a sun holiday this year, thanks to that dreaded c-word. No, not cancer, something contagious. And by the looks of it, it’ll take the contagious to go away. Not that my skin’s gonna notice a lack of Greek sun anyway, since I’m usually white as a sheet going over, and I tend to cover myself with this incredible spray sunscreen that keeps the sun off my back, and off my head, shoulders, knees and toes. Net result is that I come home with a few red streaks, at worst. It’s not always rosy for me though – one time, I got sunburned boobies, and then I really knew all about it.

I’ve pretty well accepted that I’ll never get a tan. It ain’t easy to look good in a pool when you’re pasty, pudgy and can’t swim – but I do it anyway. I think all my bodyhair helps hide the ghostliness. If you haven’t been completely creeped out by now, then I’ll go easy on you by saying that I only go shirtless when absolutely necessary. After all, don’t ghosts look more appealing to the eye than lobsters? Ah, don’t answer that.

But God, I’ll miss a sun holiday this year. I’m not at the age anymore where it’s me and five other lads to a room (shoebox) drinking round the clock and hoping to find any slapper we can while the locals look on in horror. No, the rooms I stay in nowadays have balconies. Refrigerators. I even bring a woman over with me now. And alls I do over there is spoil any exercise and diet regime I may have had – always in pursuit of that summer bod, which never arrives in time – by eating and drinking gamely for at least a week.

You’ll know that feeling, after a day by the pool or perhaps after a boat trip, where you’ll come back to the room, shower, start to get ready and sit out on the balcony, loading up on your first very strong drink while watching the beginning of the sunset.

Then it’s out for one hell of a hefty dinner, a smattering of all kinds of cocktails, some uneasiness in your legs as you stand up and even more uneasiness in your voice as you employ the absolute bare minimum Spanish or Turkish or Tagalog you’ve learned on the plane over.

And somewhere along the way, it’s an absolute cast-iron certainty, you’ll find yourself in an Irish pub. Just make sure it’s not a Celtic pub – that’s a mistake you won’t want to make. Reason being, if there’s a Celtic pub then there’s most likely a Rangers pub not too far away, and that’s when chucking out time becomes chucking chairs time.

If you get caught up in it, you might get a crack off a policeman’s bat and a night in the cells. If you’re unluckier still, your cellmate for the night might be 18 stone and go by the nickname ‘Skullcrusher’. On the other hand, your companion behind bars might very well be Mario.

Who’d have thunk it? Mario banged up. Naturally, it’s for a crime he didn’t commit, but even the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom and her foppish retainer Toadsworth can’t grease a few palms to get Mario unleashed back into society. I’m not too sure why royalty would be off holidaying with an impoverished plumber, even if the realm owes him a dozen or so favours.

But anyway, what started out as a nice break to sunny Isle Delfino in the GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine turns into a bit of a disaster – in more ways than one. There’s sludge and mud and grime all over the island and the culprit is a shadowy figure that resembles Mario. As penance, Mario needs to clean the island, and while doing so, recover Shine Sprites which are the island’s source of power (and there just so happens to be 120 of them). He’s given the water-spraying backpack device called FLUDD to help him do this, and that’s really where Mario’s troubles start.

The control scheme is broadly similar to the revolutionary playstyle brought about in Super Mario 64, with new modifications. The long jump is gone, and I miss it greatly. So too does the back flip disappear, as quick as a €3 Sex on the Beach. In their place is the ability to spray water, the strength of your squirting (easy now) being determined by how hard you press the GameCube controller’s lovely analogue shoulder buttons.

You can also use different nozzles on FLUDD to hover, rocketboost straight up into the air or jet around on foot very quickly, like a plumber up a drainpipe I suppose. But overall, the controls in Super Mario Sunshine really aren’t where they should be. You can always correct bad jumps with FLUDD’s hover, which is certainly helpful. But it serves as a crutch which a 3D Mario game really shouldn’t need.

But even if you’ve overcome that, good luck getting the camera to co-operate. They slaughtered early 3D Sonic games for having a mutilating camera, and I’m sure your Taks, Jaks and Tys got that treatment as well. But make no mistake, Mario Sunshine’s camera didn’t set a good act to follow.

The disappointment doesn’t end there though, and there’s a lot to choose from. Top of the list, after the controls and camera, is that there are only seven main levels, eight less than Mario 64, and there’s 11 Shines per level. Not only that, there’s bundles of repetition – you’ll be collecting a batch of Red Coins two or even three times per level.

But what really kills your desire to 100% complete the game is the Blue Coins – trade ten of them to some cheeky chappy collector to bag yourself a Shine. Fine, except there’s 240 of them, 30 per level, and their locations can be as obscure as spraying a random, non-desript part of the level – complete trial and error. Add to that the collision detection of the FLUDD spray is none too kosher, especially when chasing down Shadow Mario for the fiftieth time, and it all gets too much.

It turns out to be Bowser Jr. behind all the aggro by the way. And he, along with Peach, Bowser and the Toads, indulge themselves in full voice acting. Which is pretty wild to hear in a Mario game, but since it features Bowser Jr. claiming that Peach is his mama, a possibility which she seems to briefly consider, it hasn’t been missed.

Then there’s smaller things that add up: if you actually muster the patience to gather 100 coins in one level (and the aforementioned Red or Blue Coins don’t count towards this, either), the resultant Shine doesn’t pop into existence over your head like in SM64, but rather in some pre-determined location across the map. A lot of the regular Shines fly way, way away from you like this actually, and it’s annoying.

Yoshi makes a playable appearance. But he might as well not have bothered, since he dies to any and all contact with water and his only move is vomiting juice everywhere. I’d been looking forward to 3D Yoshi since 1997, but finally getting to use him had me scrunching up my face like Brando, looking at how they massacred my boy.

Even the enemy designs are dull and not memorable. It’s as if they’re too fat and liquidy, more suited to something like Wetrix than Mario. I tried to 120 Shine this game. I did. But you’d have to hate yourself, and even I don’t hate myself that much. The graphics, music and water effects in Super Mario Sunshine are all quite nice, that needs to be said. But I don’t recommend that you holiday here – you may find this one as irritating as a sunburnt nipple.

5 June 2020

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