Super Mario Sunshine - Early Hours

A next-generation Mario 64? No, but then again, Mario 64 wasn’t all that. Super Mario Sunshine eschews Nintendo tradition by adding a plot, which will totally embarrass anyone over the age of 13. Nintendo has caved in and added cutscenes (complete with hammy English voice acting and dialogue with almost no adult appeal) to a classic franchise, and we’re all the worse for it.

Other than that, Mario’s new water pack is a riot, and while there’s less moves than Mario 64, what the Big M’s got is nuance. Subtle controls and tons of contextual actions such as fence-climbing, high-wire bouncing, and jetting around from pressurized water add a lot of depth. And this time around, there’s loads of REAL platforming, hindered only by an archaic camera scheme that can’t really seem to figure out where it needs to be.

Like Mario 64, Mario opens up new worlds (7 in all) from the main hub as he fights Water Mario and Baby Bowser to save Dolphina Island from the scourge of pollution and collect 100+ “Shines” - Miyamoto is as unrepentantly LSD-addled as ever. Sounds stupid, but the paint pollution and jaw-dropping water effects make up for it.

SMS looks good, controls alright, and has bigger worlds with way more play technique than the previous outing. SMS traded world variety for world complexity, and it definitely makes the game a more interesting outing for adults- but will that offset the agony of Nintendo-branded cutscenes with chirrupy voice acting? We’ll see.

It’s Mario, ya know?

A couple questions…

How long is it (not racing through, but on average if you like checking things out along the way).

Uh, how many cutscenes are there, and how long are they? You’re kinda scaring me.

Are the controls really good? Can you belly flop, butt stomp, triple jump, and generally zip all over the landscape in a very un-plumberish way?

Would a 5 year old enjoy this game?


It’s pretty long - the worlds are big. My friend finished it about 20 hours, “zipping through” - other accounts have it around 30 hours if you take your time. I’ve played about 5 hours and have 13 shines, with 3 worlds available from the hub. Cutscenes only happen infrequently, thank God, although there’s a torturous five minutes or so at the beginning - and they’re unskippable. Gah. Boss fights are outstanding and really clever.

No triple jump or belly flop, but you can butt stomp and triangle jump up walls ala Samus in Metroid. You can also do the ol’ back-forward high jump. Most of the platforming involves the water pack, which has hover, rocket, and jet nozzles besides the normal spray nozzle - the hover nozzle lets Mario travel long distances in a jump, the rocket nozzle lets Mario launch to ridiculous heights, and the jet nozzle lets him rush all over the ground/water at high speeds. You can only have two nozzles at any time, so you’ll need to mark where the nozzle change boxes are so you swap out when you need one of a particular type.

A five-year old could probably play it, although it’s hella harder than Mario 64, and requires more camera interaction.

v. cool. A Mario platformer somehow makes the world right. Can’t explain it.

I thought Mario 64 got really tough about halfway through. Now they’re saying the new one is much tougher. God help my 31-year-old bones. I suck.

Can’t wait though.

Man, this game is rough.

First the good news: The Switch version flips the horizontal camera by default. The first thing I did was flip everything to inverted, remembering Super Mario Sunshine on Gamecube, but no, don’t go inverted, they’ve already inverted it by default. I did invert the vertical camera, phew. Thank you Nintendo.

So I got past the point where you’re chasing down Evil Mario/Mario’s shadow, with the horizontal camera inverted, that part proved trivial now. (That’s where I got stuck on the gamecube and could never get past).

That unlocks the first world that you can jump into. And here the problems start.

Unfortunately the camera is just really bad. It’s like a physical object in the world, so when you’re in a narrow space, you kind of have to fit the camera in there with you if you want to see, but the camera keeps wanting to jump back away from Mario a certain distance, so it hops behind walls. But then you’re staring at a wall, with the outline of Mario. And you’re trying to jump and do other things while staring at a wall, but they don’t seem to work. I think you need the camera to witness you doing stuff or it doesn’t count? Shroedinger’s Mario?

Anyway, in the first world, they deliberately put an X on the wall in a narrow space with not enough room to fit the camera in there with you, and that’s what makes it super challenging. That’s the weird part. Like the designers of this level knew about the camera limitation. They knew that the camera would make this X hard to get. So that’s the challenge on that X. Beating the annoying camera. I just can’t fathom why they thought this was a good idea.

Anyway, I got the X eventually and got the blue coin.

That brings me to the water gun. It just doesn’t control well. Even though the right thumbstick is the camera, you’d think that if you’re shooting the water cannon, you’d just aim with the right thumbstick and shoot the water straight in front. Easy peasy, it’s been done so many times. But no, the water cannon is controlled with the left thumbstick instead. And for some reason they lock mario into these weird 90 degree straight angles that makes it really tough to aim at things, in this very very analog game where you really need to not just aim the water cannon at 90 degrees but all kinds of in-between.

Anyway, I’ll soldier on, but the Early hours of this game are just so aggressively poorly designed.

If I recall correctly, there are some unusual, not-well-communicated “moves” that give you more (or at least a different kind of) control over the water gun. Specifically, there’s a jumping spin that sprays everything in a short radius, as well as a “run and gun” mode where you fire continuously while running, which lets you aim directly in front of you with a greater degree of precision than the stationary firing mode, but you lose the vertical control (again, IIRC).

It’s a very weird gimmick, and the game relies on it heavily throughout. I barely managed to claw my way to the final boss with several friends’ help in really tough levels with the absolute bare minimum Shines collected back in high school, but when I tried again with the new release, I was just completely hosed (har har har) trying to make any progress at all. It’s my understanding that it’s the toughest 3D Mario – especially to 100% – by a pretty wide margin.

But man, you watch some of those YouTube speedrunners using the FLUDD and you’d think they’re fuckin Green Beret snipers with that shit, man. Looks so easy to use for them. Guess I just don’t have magic hands!

(And yes, the “the camera is totally a little dude following you” vibe they setup in SM64 is carried over in spirit if not in fact in Sunshine and it is maddening. TBH, I’ve been replaying FFX on the Switch this week with its weird fixed camera angles that suddenly switch as you move through a single physical area, flipping the directions instantaneously so that if you keep holding the control stick in the direction you had it to move from one side of the room to the after the camera flip, you’ll instantly move yourself back to the other side and reflip the camera, and all I can really discern from these experiences is that 3D cameras sucked one whole entire ass in the GC/PS2 generation, and we all just suffered through it because we didn’t know any better)

My experience during that time is that Japanese developers really struggled with the camera. Western developers had a far easier time with it IIRC. I mean, Heretic 2 came out in 1998 for god’s sake, and that’s a third person shooter that controls just like a first person shooter. There. Problem solved motherfuckers. Boom.

And yeah, I’ve been mostly using the run and gun on the water cannon, so it’s really only a problem when I need to use it vertically. But that happens a lot. In fact, even if on the screen you’re “spraying it with water”, the game still wants you to use the controls to spray the water higher vertically to get the M or X that’s on the wall. There was one M that was completely being sprayed over by my water in run and gun mode, but it didn’t “count”, because the game wanted me to use the vertical controls there. And it’s the same with the boss fights against the Gunk plant heads. If I’m hitting their head in run and gun mode, it doesn’t seem to count, I have to lift the spray vertically or they don’t acknowledge the hits.

FFX was actually relatively sane with its fixed cameras. It was only an issue in rare instances. Mostly they fixed the camera to make it hard to find some hidden objects in a room sometime. Devil May Cry was the camera that really made me Cry.

Oh my god the fucking hidden object hunt shenanigans in FF to not accidentally fuck yourself over for hours of gametime. Here in the first four hours of FFX, I’ve nearly missed an optional puzzle that unlocks a weapon for your white mage that outstrips anything you’ll receive for many many hours; a huge limit break upgrade for your first summon that only spawns in town after you have a long dialogue about how you’re leaving it without looking back, going back, talking to a shopkeeper who doesn’t sell anything you need, then going and finding a dog in an unrelated building that has the special move in its mouth; and upgraded equipment for the whole party that only spawns on that shopkeeper after you progress down the path away from town the game keeps pushing you toward until you trigger a fake boss battle and then backtrack again.

Still better than the “if you don’t open the first 80 chests in the game but randomly decide to open the 81st you get the second best weapon in the game 3 hours in, otherwise you’re stuck chewing through mobs with trash equipment for eternity” shenanigans in FF12, though. . .

Lord, videogames.

Playing on a Switch, it’s funny to be playing Mario Odyssey, Super Mario 3D world, Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario U Deluxe at the same time, essentially, as this game Super Mario Sunshine. For example, you can select an 8-bit retro outfit for mario in Odyssey, which makes him look like the Mario from Mario 64, and it really doesn’t look all that out of place. It still looks great, as does Mario 64. The essential art behind Mario games really holds up well across all the games.

The game that looks the worst is Super Mario Sunshine. It controls the worst and it looks the worst. And lordy, the amount of progress you lose for dying is insane compared to the more modern Marios that came after it. They give you 9 health instead of 3 like the modern ones do, but if you die you have to start the whole level over, which is a much bigger setback than losing the 3 health on the more modern ones.

There are some exceptions to that, of course. The harder fights in Mario Odyssey require you to take on all the bosses in a row, so if you lose your 3 health you have to start over, and that sets you back a lot. But that’s end-game. Here in Mario Sunshine, it’s like that from the start of the game. If I die to a boss, I start again, but with limited water for my water cannon, and when I inevitably die, I have to start the level over from the beginning. It’s really harsh. And ugly. And awkward to control.

There must be a method to the madness and why they made all these gameplay choices, and why the game got such good reviews, so I’ll keep going. I am 3d mario superfan, I’ve decided, so I must get to the bottom of this!

It continues to blow my mind how hard this game is, and how much the game wants you to repeat if you make a mistake. In the harbor level there’s lots of scaffolding type places you climb, and you climb, and you climb, and if you accidentally fall in the water, you have to start over from the bottom and start climbing again. All because you were trying to get to a blue coin. It’s nuts. Unlike the other 3D mario games, this one just assumes that the player has infinite time. It makes me want to pull out my hair.

It’s genuinely stupendously hard. I just don’t have time for that kind of game anymore. Well, tbh, I never did. I made my friends do the hard parts :)

Don’t worry, this won’t be off-topic. Despite playing every day, we’re still in the “Early Hours” of Super Mario Sunshine.

Why? Because my son treats it like an open world game where he goes where he wants. This is infuriating to me, because that’s not what Super Mario Sunshine is. You can’t just pick the level where you have to go racing and then ignore the race and just wander the level on foot for half an hour. There’s not even any way to complete the objective once he wanders off like that because the surfboard thingies disappear.

On the bright side, he’s getting pretty good with Mario’s moveset now. He’s figured out that to have Mario jump high, you need to have him go in a direction, then turn around and jump, and then hit the water pump to go just a bit higher than that. Good stuff.

He also still panics when confronting enemies and goes in a corner of the room when fighting a boss. I keep telling him to turn around and spray water, but he just keeps staying in that corner until Mario dies.

I finally got my son to stop futzing around the older levels where we have already completed the objectives. He sees how disappointed I act in him every time he chooses an older level where we already have the sunshine collected, so now he tries to please me by picking one where we haven’t gotten it yet.

This means we actually made a lot of progress in the past month! I think I have 48 Suns now, or something like that.

And this game continues to get harder. Some of the later suns in these later levels require precision triple Jumps! Triple Jumps! Can you believe it? My memory of Mario 64 is a bit fuzzy but I don’t remember them requiring you to do the triple Jump. And I know later Mario games like Galaxy 1 and 2 and Odyssey and 3D World and Bowser’s Fury don’t require it, even though they all have the triple Jump.

My son is waaaay too into this sadistically hard game, you guys. I’m going to have to ween him off slowly. I have 58 suns now, and it’s gotten to that point in a Mario game where things are getting kinda sadistically hard. And he’s getting more and more frustrated either failing himself, or watching me fail.

Big points to the Pro Controller so far for taking his abuse like a champ. He’s beginning to take a fondness for throwing the controller and then kicking it.

We have 84 Suns in the game now, and we’ve got one sun left in Pienna Village, or whatever its called at the top of the gate, and last place in the story, Cigar Mountain or whatever it’s called.

My son wants to run around town trying to delay the end of the game, poor guy. He doesn’t want it to end. That’s because I’m the one who did all the sadistically hard parts. That’s why.

I know that feeling well though. I just let him linger around town for the past few days, using the rocket and just exploring.

There is one sadistic sun that we’ll probably never get. In order to get to it, you have to first bring the right fruit to Yoshi, then ride Yoshi to a boat, then get off the boat on an island and eat a coconut or two so that Yoshi stays active. Then get on another boat. Then get off on a platform in the ocean and eat a banana there. Then get off that platform onto a boat that takes you to an island where yoshi can desolve the flame and you can enter a pipe. Anywhere long the way if you make a mistake and let Yoshi touch the water, he dissolves and you have to start over, including the long waits for the boats each time.

And if you have a perfect run and you finally make it into the pipe like I did last night after an hour of unsuccessful runs when Yoshi kept touching the water? The actual run you have to do involves putting Mario on a leaf and using the water gun to guide the leaf to collect red coins. It’s insane. There is a mushroom along the way, but it’s just as hard to get to as the red coins. INSANE.

100 Suns now. For some reason I had assumed early on that this game would have 100 suns total. I realized around 75 that it had more than that.

How many more? I actually have no idea, given that I don’t know how many blue coins I’ve been able to find versus how many there are in the game.

Corona mountain calls my name, but my son refuses to let us go back there. He can feel the end of the game coming, and he doesn’t want it to end, so whenever he starts playing, he wants to go to an area where we already have all the Suns. Which just makes me want to huff and puff in my own impatient self. HUFF!

Still, it’s a good excuse to steer him towards getting 100 coins in each level at least. That’s pretty tough in some of these levels.

Plus I’ve been looking up some of the secret suns that are not obvious (i.e. not the red button ones where you collect 8 coins). There’s no way I would have found these without an online guide. It’s not like Mario 64 where all the stars were pretty much gettable without a guide.