Super Mario 64 told the gaming world how 3D platforming was possible, and in the years since, an awful lot of games have taken its ideas and ran with them in their own directions. The genre can be found everywhere, and each of us has our favourite games from it.
When the Nintendo 64 was replaced with the GameCube, you knew it'd only be a matter of time before the next Super Mario 64 came along. After all, Nintendo is now competing with the PlayStation 2, which has so many 3D platformers that they're already fighting amongst themselves. How do you stand out?
You take a holiday in Super Mario Sunshine.
Sunshine begins with an intro video where Mario, Peach and Toadsworth, are on a plane heading to the Isle Delfino, a paradise for anyone who just wants to relax in the sun, with nothing to trouble them.
I'm already dreading what comes next. Nothing about this video is enticing me, nothing is getting me interested in playing, and it's not because there's no plot yet, it's because of how achingly happy and playful it all looks.
Now, Mario games tend to be bright and colourful affairs to attract gamers of all ages. I get that. Sometimes I even enjoy the look of a typical Mario game, but this one is just not sitting right with me. Is it the pink plane? Is it the heat haze? Is it the local tree people?
Peach notices an unusual shadow in the video, one that clearly looks like Mario himself. I assume they've never been here before, so that can't be our hero. Speaking of, he's daydreaming about food and is of no help.
I still dread playing this game.
Our plane suffers a bumpy landing because the end of the runway is covered in gloopy paint. This snaps Mario back to reality, and as a plumber, he's clearly the best man for the job of cleaning it up.
The locals recognise me as the cause of this problem, which isn't possible - I've been daydreaming about food on a plane, how could I have splattered paint on the runway? I guess we'll find out over the course of events, but first, we've got some technology to acquire.
This is FLUDD, a talking water pump backpack. It's clearly voiced by someone pinching their nose and TALKing LIKE a RObot and seems horribly out of place for a Mario game. Peach and Toadsworth have been chatting, and Mario has uttered his usual nonsense here and there, but this pushed it too far for me. I'm too distracted at having a talking water pump backpack to just play Sunshine.
The pump is at the heart of this game, acting as both weapon and equipment. Its primary use is to squirt away the dirt, and you can unleash water in whatever arc you want to get the job done. The effects are no doubt designed to show off the GameCube, but as I couldn't be bothered to fire it up, I went down the emulation route instead, where they seem a little jarring. I'll accept that that's on me.
You can also use it as a kind of hover pack, allowing you to extend your jumps and hopefully correct any errors in your precision.
As far as gimmicks go, this isn't too bad. It was a little fiddly to get to grips with, but I can see the potential. Sunshine builds on 64, so it takes the movement options you had available and enhances them with this water pump for extra reach and speed.
Hiding in the middle of this mess was a paint-covered piranha plant, and a few squirts of lovely clean water into its mouth sent it packing, and rewarded me with a shiny star. This looks like a familiar formula...
My celebrations are short-lived, however, as the police have come to apprehend me.
The trial was swift, my defence was none existent, and my sentence is to clean Isle Delfino of all the paint these folks think I dumped everywhere.
Cleaning, as a task, isn't always as dull as it seems. I've done jobs where cleaning was one of the best parts. Organising stuff? Putting it away? Sign me up.
But this? No way, this is just dull. Squirt water. Squirt more water. Don't get hit by things. Squirt more water. Oh, look, another piranha plant. Squirt more water.
After it had been cleansed, it revealed a statue, atop which was my doppelganger, the real criminal of this place. Surprisingly, it isn't Bowser in a Mario suit. Unsurprisingly, it kidnaps Peach.
"Stop the criminal in his tracks with some water." It's the first real challenge of the game, it shouldn't be too hard.
Five or six laps of the town later (no, really), he fell over and got doused, only to immediately run off and disappear into some graffiti, which is Sunshines version of the paintings from 64.
I was already pretty fed up at having to run around town five times just to catch him, but I know that I ought to at least see what is behind this graffiti. It might completely change my views on Sunshine.
Well, it's at least sunnier than the town. This is more like what I think Sunshine looks like. Isle Delfino is in darkness because all the shine has been painted over, but much of the game is full of colour, like this. Alright, this is mostly green, but the point stands. Sunshine, like many Nintendo titles, is nice to look at.
But I am struggling so hard to find how it is nice to play. I don't even clean up the gloop from this place, instead just running to the mound at the end, which is inevitably home to another bloody plant that goes down in three squirts and coughs up a collectable.
I'm spat out of the level and decide to strike up some conversation with these onlookers, to see if they're more interesting than anything I've just done in the past fifteen minutes.
I am thoroughly disinterested in Super Mario Sunshine. When I have to picture Mario games, there are so many titles that come to mind before it, to the point where I think Sunshine must be known as one of the weaker titles. Bear in mind, I have barely played any of the significant Mario games, and can only really base this off my awareness of each entry to the series. Where did Sunshine go?
I can't tell you a damn thing about Sunshine, other than that its first real impression on me was weak, and that in this day and age, that just means I get to type this up quickly and go play Redout, which is a game that I've never managed to close correctly because it freezes on the spot after a couple of races instead.
That I would rather play that than Sunshine has to say something. It's an unfair comparison, I suppose, a racing game to a 3D platformer. I'd rather emulate Ratchet & Clank with invisible characters and lower frame rates than play Sunshine (which emulated pretty nicely, it must be said).
Then again, maybe that's not a good comparison, because of how much I enjoy the setting and characters from that universe, over the bland ones in this. Here we go then: I'd rather play Super Mario 64 - and I don't particularly fancy playing that again - than play Sunshine.
There is just something wrong with Sunshine that I can't put a finger on. If I ever manage to, maybe I'll try it out again, but to be honest, I can't imagine myself doing that. Maybe - maaaaaaybe - I'll get an urge to go through a bunch of GameCube games on a GameCube, and that might be a turning point, but that's quite the longshot.
Sunshine just doesn't shine to me right now.
The FLUDD was chosen not because it was the favourite design of the development staff, but because it fit into the Mario world the best, in terms of not looking too out of place.
Super Mario Sunshine, developed by Nintendo EAD, first released in 2002.
Version played: GameCube, 2002, via emulation.