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Old 08-13-2012, 03:54 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The Mario Underdogs: Defending Super Mario Sunshine

Poor Super Mario Sunshine. Of all the "core" games in the long-running Mario series, Sunshine surely carries the worst reputation. On the rare occasions Nintendo bothers to mention it, they do so with an almost apologetic tone. Sandwiched between the revolutionary Super Mario 64 and the sublime Super Mario Galaxy, Sunshine feels like a bizarre, out-of-place artifact of experimental design gone nobly wrong. Many gamers hated it then, and its reputation hasn't improved over time.



But does Sunshine really deserve such scorn? In my opinion, absolutely not. Sure, it made a few missteps and lacks the lean, polished excellence of its peers. And yes, it introduced that obnoxious little twerp Bowser Jr. -- think Jar-Jar Binks minus the charm and charisma -- to the Mario canon. And it's true that the whole Blue Coins thing was a horrible mistake. We can accept these things as fact and still recognize Sunshine as a pretty damn good game.

Sunshine had impossibly large shoes to fill: It needed to follow up a game that didn't simply show the world how 3D platforming should work, it did so with style and grace. Super Mario 64 nailed the basics of 3D play mechanics, meaning anything that came after would need to innovate or feel like a pale retread. But where should that innovation lie?

With Sunshine, Nintendo chose to focus its efforts on Mario's relationship with his world. In doing so, they lost sight of the real star of the Mario series: Level design. Since Super Mario Bros., Mario's athleticism has always been a constant, and the nuances of each game emerge from the opportunities for play that its stage construction and power-ups create. Sunshine offered players large spaces to navigate, explore, and cleanse, but they weren't particularly interesting spaces. Mario spent much of his time running back and forth hunting for graffiti to clean up -- a waste of his distinctive talents to be sure. Sunshine included some well-meaning attempts to bring classic Mario elements into the 3D, including Yoshi and Ghosts Houses, but they didn't feel quite click.

Sunshine's flaws became more evident in hindsight once Galaxy arrived and gave Mario dozens of interesting, varied worlds to explore. It all seems so obvious in hindsight: A Mario game is only as good as its level design. And Sunshine's level design left plenty to be desired.

Nevertheless, the game had plenty going for it. More than any other chapter of the series, Mario Sunshine felt like it took place in a cohesive world, with a huge and interesting hub to explore. In fact, exploration played a key role in the game, far more so than in any other Mario title before or after. Nintendo pushed Sunshine in an almost open-world direction before (evidently) deciding that Mario should be about straightforward action and leaving the free-roaming to Link.

At the same time, Sunshine also reintroduced the concept of pure gameplay to the series with its hidden bonus challenge stages, which stripped away all the fuss of the modern era and gave players brilliant twitch-reflex challenges to overcome. Its super-minimalist challenge levels hearkened back all the way to the original NES game: No visual clutter, no powers, simply pure running and jumping action across increasingly brutal platform structures. No doubt the positive responses Nintendo received from these portions of the game played a large part in shaping the direction of Galaxy and even New Super Mario Bros.

Of course, the fact that subsequent games went in a totally different direction than the core Sunshine experience means that it properly goes down in history as a failed experiment. But a bad game? No way. It's a lot of fun -- maybe less fun than we've come to expect from the Mario franchise, but a worthy game in its own right.



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Old 08-13-2012, 03:57 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: The Mario Underdogs: Defending Super Mario Sunshine

I'm not a big fan of mario games in general but I thought sunshine was alright. Kinda hard to control though.
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