My history with Super Mario Sunshine is checkered, at best. I originally bought the game used at a GameStop many years ago just before my Nintendo hiatus, to play on my newly acquired Wii, with the plan to revisit the titles I never enjoyed on my Gamecube. This did not go well at all. I was expecting Super Mario 64 part two, and instead I found a difficult to control, dull island that didn’t really do anything for me. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the music and, in short, nostalgia for 64 basically ruined the game for me.
I sold it and that was that.
Then, I bought it again. Same thing happened – and although I was determined to get into it this time, I got a few Shines and then got aggravated again. So I sold it, again. This cycle repeated itself a third time a couple of years ago, and finally, last year my friend donated me his collection, and among it? Super Mario Sunshine. Again with this damn game. It’s been 15 years of attempts.
It should come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to own Super Mario 64/Sunshine/Galaxy as a part of the timed-release 35th Anniversary celebratory 3D All-Stars, but given what I’ve just told you it may be surprising that Sunshine was my first choice to play. My thinking was innocent enough; the controls always felt wrong to me, and a re-release on the Switch with less muddy graphics and a Pro Controller may make the game easier to play.
Well, folks, I am twenty (20!) Shines in, and while I have had a pretty good time so far, it’s getting to that point already where I’m feeling a nagging sensation in the pain receptors in my brain. In the first three levels, I have collected most of the Shines, but I’m stuck at those tricky platforming sections where Translucent Evil Water Mario or whatever steals your F.L.U.D.D. water backpack, and thus, removes your only ability to correct the accidental inputs you press.
What accidental inputs? If you’ve played Sunshine, you no doubt know what I mean. The worst offender by far is the side-jump. This is when you suddenly change direction, and then jump immediately afterwards, sending Mario flying into the air. While airborne, Mario controls very sloppily, almost in a rubber-band fashion. This move is super useful once you get the hang of it (it also existed in Super Mario 64 so it’s not new), but it was very easy to trigger this move by accident when you are re-orienting yourself. Say, on top of a large platform that took many precise jumps to arrive on.
In the event that you screw this up, you can typically use your Hover Nozzle to save yourself and float around a bit, but again – in the platforming sections that are in every level from what I know so far, you are stripped of the F.L.U.D.D., thus losing your ability to correct yourself.
Diving and sliding is another inconsistent move that never seems to do what I want it to. It’s extremely slippery, but also is totally depending on whether the slope you’re on is going up or down. There doesn’t seem to be a middle-ground here – if the slope grade is down, your speed increases. It the slope goes up, you barely move at all. But trying to “pop” back up after a slide feels totally random.
Not only that, but for reasons unknown, the camera always seems to zoom back when Mario is up in the air, which removes your ability to use depth perception, and it will happen time and time again that you completely miss your landing because you thought Mario was right on top of the platform, but in reality was way past the ideal landing point. Typically, games set in 3D space will utilize a combination of perspective and shadows so that the player can see where the playable character is going to land. Yes, there’s shadows here, but the far-out zoom removes the usefulness of said shadows.
Again – put yourself in the platforming sections with no F.L.U.D.D., and you’re left without a safety net. Sunshine still has some slippery controls, and the proof to me that I’m not just shitty at this game is that a) countless others complain about exactly the same issue, and b) without F.L.U.D.D.’s hover move, controlling Mario is an absolute disaster. There are far too many moves in his arsenal that get accidentally triggered, sending you off platforms and all over the damn place, wasting your time and burning through lives.
And you know what? What a terrific Segway into the real purpose of this article, and that is to discuss the real reason that Super Mario Sunshine is frustrating. Lives.
Lives! The concept invented to force gamers to insert more quarters at arcades, which have no place in at-home console games. Now, I don’t want to claim that there is no legitimate use of lives, but their application can be abused to artificially inflate “difficulty” in the same way that trying to paint a mural is significantly more “difficult” if you are simultaneously being punched in the stomach between brush strokes.
In the case of Sunshine, lives simply exist to make you play an entire level again, and to waste time and lose progress. That’s it. There’s no reason other than to waste your time to have lives in a game like Super Mario Sunshine, and for the presence of this system, I declare Sunshine as absolutely and unnecessarily frustrating.
This whole rant came from failing dozens of times on a F.L.U.D.D.-less platforming level (following which, I ejected 3D All-Stars and inserted the far more zen masterpiece Yoshi’s Crafted World, and have yet to return to it…). I kept failing on the very first level, Bianco Hills, on the episode “The Secret of the Dirty Lake,” where you have to hover into a cave (which is not quick nor easy to get to, by the way), lose F.L.U.D.D., and then beat a platforming section. I only had three lives when attempting this, and I kept being stupid and falling off the platform at the end of the stage. However, once I ran out of lives… I was kicked out of the level completely. Done – having to re-enter the stage, run through the level, and enter the cave yet again, where I would only get, again, three freaken chances, before having to repeat myself.
I get that this is a port, but let’s forget that for a second. What’s the point of limiting my tries to three? Make the damn levels hard, that’s fine and I know that challenging gamers was a priority in Sunshine, or it sure seems like it was. But what benefit does it provide making players repeat themselves? You could theoretically have me running this dozens of times, and each time I’d improve my controlling ability of Mario, eventually pressing on and making it to the end. But by booting the player out every time they run out of their very limited number of lives, they never have a chance to “git gud,” and thus are doomed to repeat this silly and pointless cycle.
Overall, the term I typically use to describe these types of controls is “floaty” – because Mario seems to float for longer than expected, giving the player plenty of time to screw up where he will land when he is airborne. It presents some real problems, and particularly in the harder stages later on in the game (I have since moved past the first stage…). Truth be told, I’ve had a great time so far on this fourth and no-doubt final playthrough, and will return to it soon. I can get used to bad controls, I can even master them – but the lives system is by far the weak link in the chain. Simply put, the lives system in Sunshine stifles the ability for the user to play around and master the controls, and this ramps up the frustration level to unbelievable proportions.
Why does failing a foot race because I didn’t figure out how to win it yet hit me with a long-winded and dramatic “Too bad!” screen with a sad trumpet, before kicking my ass out of the level, to then have to skip the Isle Delfino cutscene, jump back into the level and start over again? Why not just have them restart the level immediately? You know that’s what the player is probably about to do next (to retry the level) so why even waste all that extra computing power, or hell, the player’s time? It all got far too frustrating for me getting booted out of levels for failing for nonsense reasons (the flying fan stingray thing, oh come on!), and I realized that for the fourth (or was it fifth?) time, I cannot continue to play this game. I got up to 20 Shines and I consider that a massive achievement given our history.
This is the mission that finally set me off. Rolling this stupid watermelon.
There are these little assholes down below who throw you up in air, and immediately blow up the watermelon. You then have to climb back up through this awkward way, that no matter how many times I did it feels strange and indirect, to try again. It takes forever, and I could not figure out how to kill these flipping creatures. I ended up just giving up, because who needs the frustration!
I am not alone in the world in thinking that Sunshine has, bar none, the worst controls of any 3D Mario game: just recently I saw this article on NintendoLife and for once I felt some vindication!
Have you played Super Mario Sunshine before? How do you feel about the controls? Any thoughts on the Lives system? Make me feel badly about my Mario platforming skills in the comments below!