The series so far: The Definitive 50 GameCube Games.
Super Mario 64 is remembered as one of the most important video games ever made. It set the standard for how 3-dimensional games should function, and its influence persists. Despite great reception and sales, Mario never got a sequel on the N64, and the plumber wasn’t ready to return at GameCube’s launch, either.
This left Mario fanatics with an especially broad window in which to dream of the next Mario platformer. And when the mustacheod man finally appeared on the GCN, it wasn’t necessarily what had been expected or hoped for.
Rather than taking a running jump back into the Mushroom Kingdom with nothing but his agility to keep him going, in Sunshine, Mario finds himself imprisoned on the tropical resort of Isle Delfino with a water-fueled jet pack strapped to his back.
The game begins with Mario, Princess Peach, and fungal assistant Toadsworth on a course for vacation relaxation. Unfortunately, Delfino has been overwhelmed by mucky pollutants, and its power-sources, the Shine Sprites, have gone missing. Worse yet, a mysterious culprit masquerading as Mario himself manages to frame the hero, and the great goomba-stomper himself winds up labeled a criminal, sentenced to clean-up his supposed mess.
What makes Mario Sunshine truly different is Mario’s near-constant companion, FLUDD. That’s the Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dousing Device which Mario uses to clean up Delfino’s numerous sticky situations, hose down enemies, and even extend his famous jumps.
FLUDD’s two main functionalities are spraying and hovering. Mario can direct the device’s watery bursts at enemies and sticky goo, as well as point its flow downward to hover. Later on, abilities to blast into the air or travel more quickly are added.
As with Mario 64, Sunshine is made up of several sprawling levels connect via explorable hub world. These levels contain eight Shine Sprites a piece to collect, each requiring the completion of a special task. This can be anything from taking down a boss to simply reaching some obscure point. Unfortunately, many Shine Sprites are “gotten” by coin collecting. Special blue coins can be found throughout the game and are exchanged at the unjust rate of 10 to 1. Each level also has a collect 100 normal coins Shine mission that is especially tedious. These inclusions are reminiscent of so many other time-padding collect-a-thons found in lesser platformer series.
Much more fun are the short but challenging, FLUDD-less mini-levels which can be reached in certain areas of the game. These platforming-heavy adventures were often cited by gamers as what all of Sunshine should have been about after its release, and now seem prototypical of the gameplay that would eventually emerge in Mario Galaxy.
Sunshine also includes occasional rides on a fruit-hungry Yoshi, mad chases for Shadow Mario, and the introduction of Bowser Jr. himself.
Personally, I consider Mario Sunshine a spectacular game, and one that gets an unfair degree of criticism simply for being different. Still it’s just not up to the level of polish, ingenuity, or raw and immediate fun of the Mario platformers that came before it or would come after it.