Last week marks the 15th Anniversary of the last sandbox Mario game, Super Mario Sunshine. The game was first released for the Nintendo GameCube back in 2002 on the 19th of July. This was the second 3-D Mario game released.
Super Mario Sunshine has a lot in common with 1996’s Super Mario 64, an incredible game that set the standard for every 3D platformer that’s been made since. Of course, previous Mario games were also outstanding, so Super Mario Sunshine has some big shoes to fill. It attempted to fill them by not straying far from the previous game’s formula.
The game takes place on Isle Delfino, an island paradise where Mario, Peach, and Toad have gone for a vacation. Things go amuck when Mario is mistaken for a criminal who has been terrorizing the island, vandalizing and spraying toxic sludge everywhere. The mistaken identity is due to the perpetrator being Shadow Mario. Mario decides to pursue the imposter to clear his name. Mario finds a talking pressurized water pump by the name of FLUDD. Strapped to Mario’s back, FLUDD becomes the game’s main gameplay mechanic. The pair explores stages in search of Shine Sprites (the equivalent of Stars), which unlock more stages until your final encounter with your archrival.
Originally, there were two games that were planned as sequels to Super Mario 64. Super Mario 64 2 and Super Mario 128 were concepts for a sequel that were ultimately canceled. Development for Super Mario Sunshine took several years. In an interview with the producer Takashi Tezuka and directors Yoshiaki Koizumi and Kenta Usui, they mentioned that the game design and idea of gameplay for the use of a water pump were made early on in development. However, it took a lot of time fine tuning the concept as the idea seemed out of character for Mario.
Super Mario Sunshine was first shown at Nintendo Space World in 2001 in Japan. Press and media outlets got a 30-second gameplay trailer. It was not until the following year at E3 where the western audience got a playable build of the game. There was a multiplayer mode planned for the game, one player would play as Mario, the other, Shadow Mario. Although it was dropped for unknown reasons, the early beta multiplayer camera is still functional. Not much is know about this mode but it would be have been a cool feature to include.
Koji Kondo and Shinobu Tanaka composed the score to Super Mario Sunshine. The soundtrack features various arrangements of classic Mario tunes, including the underground music and the main stage music from the original Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Sunshine shares many similar gameplay elements with its predecessor, Super Mario 64 while introducing various new gameplay features. Players control Mario as he tries to obtain 120 Shine Sprites in order to bring light back to Isle Delfino and prove his innocence after Bowser Jr. steals the Shine Sprites and covers the island in toxic slime. Players start off in the hub world of Isle Delfino and access various worlds via portals which become available as the game progresses.
Release and Reception
Super Mario Sunshine was a global success. It was the tenth best-selling game in the United States in 2002. By June 2006, 5.5 million copies had been sold. Nintendo had a ‘Player Choice’ series of games that were re-releases of their top selling games, which were sold at a reduced price. Super Mario Sunshine was included in this series in 2003.
Super Mario Sunshine gained admiration and acclaim from all major review outlets. IGN praised the inclusion of the water backpack that improved the gameplay. GamePro gave it a perfect score. A reviewer, Star Dingo, said the game was “a masterpiece of game design.” The title received an aggregated score on Metacritic and GameRankings of 92%.
Super Mario Sunshine had a huge impact on the Mario series and all future releases. There are some unique elements that have carried over to other Mario titles. Characters such as Petey Piranha and Bowser Jr. have been villains and rivals in a number of entries. Shine Sprites have appeared in games such as Mario Kart DS, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and most recently, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch. Mario’s companion FLUDD appears in the Super Smash Bros. series. As do the some of the levels and side characters from Super Mario Sunshine.
There has not been a sandbox Mario game released since Super Mario Sunshine. However, Mario fans can rejoice by the end of this year. A new Mario game called Super Mario Odyssey will soon be released for the Nintendo Switch globally on the 27th of October. Pre-orders are available at major video game retailers.