In video games we shoot stuff, save stuff, avenge stuff, find stuff, drive stuff, clean stuff, maim stuff, open stuff…
Wait — clean stuff?? Uh…no?
Uh, yes! I’m not talking about Clean Your Room: The Video Game, but Super Mario Sunshine (2002).
Spoilers ahead…old spoilers, but still.
In real life, if you were to go on a special vacation to an exotic island and all you ended up doing was cleaning everything because it was all covered in goop, you’d probably demand a refund. But in Mario’s case, he apparently doesn’t mind doing hard labor along with getting the perfect tan.
SMS was the Gamecube’s follow-up to Super Mario 64. After Mario’s star-ridden adventures in that game, he and the once-again free Princess Peach decided to take a much deserved vacation. They book some time away on the swanky Isle Delfino, which is inhabited by the Piantas, a strange plant-based race that would make Jim Henson proud. (I mean, c’mon, they had palm trees growing out of their heads! That’s a muppet waiting to happen.) And for some reason, friend Toadsworth comes along for the ride. Because Mario and Peach need a chaperon? Seriously, aren’t they, like, well into grown-up-alone-time by now?
Anyway, the trio make their way to Delfino only to find the place vandalized by goopy “graffiti.” And by the looks of the mess, the artist was no Banksy. In a very strange beginning sequence to any game, let alone a Mario game, Mario meets the Piantas, obtains his main “weapon,” the F.L.U.D.D. device (a super powered water shooter), cleans up the graffiti, gets arrested, and finds a Shine Sprite — SMS’s equivalent to SM64’s stars.
The game’s main antagonist is introduced, Shadow Mario, and the Piantas blame him for the “graffiti.” Mario’s resemblance to Shadow Mario lands him in jail. And cleaning up the mess is what revealed the Shine Sprite. More chaos, cleaning, and Sprite finding ensues before Peach is, super duper surprise!, kidnapped. The kidnapper is revealed as Bowser Jr., the actual identity of so-called Shadow Mario. From there, the game then focused on Mario’s use of the F.L.U.D.D. to clean up Delfino, find Shine Sprites, and save the Princess. Oh, and there’s fruit and Yoshis.
SMS was a game of goods and bads. It was frustrating, but it was fun. It was pretty, and it was ugly. It was easy, but it was challenging. I remember really liking the F.L.U.D.D. device. You could shoot water in almost any direction. Shooting water at the ground sent Mario soaring into the air so he could reach high places or sail over water to unreachable places. I spent a lot of time just traveling around high above the ground without any reason. I also spent a lot of time aiming badly. Chalk it up to bad reflexes, but sometimes I just couldn’t get the F.L.U.D.D. to aim right, like water would go anywhere except on the enemy. Aargh.
The game wasn’t quite as straightforward as Super Mario 64, with its set levels that all had a certain number of stars to find in each. SMS had levels, various playing areas, and you had to complete tasks, like cleaning, and missions to get sprites. Some were easy to find and some were not. Like in SM64, new areas opened when you got a certain number of sprites. Sometimes my brain was just not up to the task of this game –when I played everything either went wonderfully right or horribly wrong/boring. There was never any happy Super Mario 64-like middle ground. But that’s not to say I didn’t try.
When SMS was going right, it went really right. I was on point with the missions, found them easily, was a master controller of the F.L.U.D.D. The game’s bright and fluid graphics were easy on the eyes, though sometimes choppy at points. I liked the Gamecube’s improved controller – the set up of the buttons was welcome relief from the N64’s three-pronged device – though I didn’t like the new position of the Z-button (and still don’t). But when the game went wrong for me, I just couldn’t recover. There was this one mission in particular, that you got to through a pipe at the top of a tower in the main square. It was my dread. I can still see that tower, in my nightmares, and how it haunts me so.
Regrettably, my frustrations eventually got the best of me and I stopped playing. The game sat on “the shelf” for several years – but I couldn’t bear the part with it despite my inability to progress. When we got our Wii, I tried the game again, the same level, with the same, sad results.
I don’t have Super Mario Sunshine anymore, and I really regret selling it. Despite it’s problems and my problems, it’s one of the better games on the short-lived Gamecube. It’s quirky as far as Mario games go, but nonetheless a memorable entry in the series.