I’m standing on a tightrope. Somewhere above me is a red coin. Despite repeated attempts at snagging it from the sky, I can’t quite seem to snag it. An angry cloud is whooshing back-and-forth, trying its best to snipe me out of the sky.
Again, I leap. Hurtling towards the coin, the angry cloud finally tags me. Reeling from the pain, my Mario falls like a rock to the lake below. In time with the splash, my controller gets spiked into the ground…again.
Though I played Super Mario Sunshine upon its original release in 2002, its revival as part of Super Mario 3D All-Stars serves as a reminder for how frustrating it can be. Some of its pain points have only gotten worse over time.
Super Mario Sunshine is very much a game of precision. It constantly challenges you to maneuver through difficult environments by making pinpoint accurate jumps…or else. At its most extreme, there are numerous instances where one bad move will result in instant death. Most of the time though, you’ll spiral to the ground, losing all of your progress up to that point.
In a way, it’s almost better to just die, as it saves you from many minutes of having to retrace your steps. That said, extra lives can be scarce in spots, which can easily lead to a game over state and having to retrace your steps from the overworld.
Challenging platforming isn’t inherently bad. However, the systems around it make it feel particularly cheap. Vertical levels with a high chance of stumbling and no checkpoints almost ensures that you’ll repeat the same trips many times over.
Worse yet, the game’s wonky camera makes it unfairly difficult to navigate. It gets stuck frequently on geometry. It gets stuck behind objects, obstructing Mario and his enemies. But its most damning mistake is that its slow to follow Mario upwards during high jumps. Having to navigate vertical platforming while having to look upwards is an absolute nightmare.
And just to rub it in your face, a cloud can randomly snipe you out of the sky and ruin all of your progress.
Though I can’t say for certain, it almost feels like Nintendo knew of at least some of these 3D platforming challenges. It almost feels like F.L.U.D.D.’s sole purpose is to give Mario a bit of air control to negate its inherent depth perception challenges. The reality is that it doesn’t do enough to circumvent its camera and level design issues. Worst of all, the game takes away the F.L.U.D.D. at times while forcing you to navigate its most challenging levels. Simply maddening!
If Nintendo got a mulligan to remake Super Mario Sunshine in 2020, I think it would have the potential to be fantastic. Much of this games misgivings were ironed out over time as the industry got more comfortable with 3D game design. Though it drives me nuts, I kind of want to beat the game now; a feat I gave up on almost 20 years ago. Can I hold my composure together long enough to get through its punishing design?