20 Years Later, Super Mario Sunshine Is Still The Best 3D Mario – Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve got on their minds. Today, the overabundance of sunshine from the current heatwave has clearly got the better of Ollie, as he makes wild declarations concerning Super Mario’s GameCube entry…

Super Mario Sunshine’s reputation has taken a bit of a beating over the years. It’s no surprise, either; Nintendo’s prowess in creating exceptional 3D Mario games has only increased with each iteration, leading to perhaps its strongest entry yet with Super Mario Odyssey. As only the second outing after Super Mario 64, Mario Sunshine represented a franchise that was still, even following its stellar 3D debut, very much finding its feet in the world of 3D gaming, and coupled with a rushed development cycle, it suffered from multiple gameplay frustrations that have only been exacerbated by the passage of time.

I have a bit of a confession to make, though: Mario Sunshine is my absolute favourite of the 3D Mario titles. I adored playing it on the GameCube back in 2002 and I adore playing it on the Switch now. It’s one of those comfort games that I fall back on whenever I can’t decide what to play.

Is it nostalgia? Well, yes and no… 2002 was undoubtedly a fantastic year for Nintendo gamers, with the one-two punch of Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion, the incredibly unique survival horror Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and a remake of the iconic Resident Evil all playing their part to make it a year to remember. It was also a wonderful time in my own life; I had settled into high school and had a group of friends that shared my passion for gaming and Nintendo. It made for countless feverish discussions as we waited for each subsequent game release with bated breath.

I still remember the launch day for Mario Sunshine like it was yesterday. My best friend at school managed to get a hold of it before me (and I’m still not quite sure how, *grumbles…), so I spent whatever time we had together grilling him on what it was like, how it played, how far he had gotten with it. I knew that the game would likely be waiting for me by the time I’d get home that afternoon, but I didn’t care; I had to know as much as possible.

playing Mario Sunshine now doesn’t make me yearn for the past. I simply get lost in its world just like I did 20 years back; that’s not nostalgia, that’s simply the sign of a great game.

So of course, when I finally got home and sat down in front of my TV, the little Mario Sunshine disc sitting snug inside my GameCube, the outside world melted away as I stepped out onto that sun-drenched airport runway in Isle Delfino. And here’s the thing: despite the seemingly perfect circumstances surrounding the initial release back in 2002, playing Mario Sunshine now as a 32-year-old father with a full-time job doesn’t make me yearn for the past. Instead, I simply get lost in its world just like I did 20 years back; that’s not nostalgia, folks, that’s simply the sign of a great game.

I know there are probably quite a few of you out there who are reading this and turning your nose up in disgust. There are many folks who have revisited and reevaluated Mario Sunshine in the years since its release and — perhaps quite rightly — determined that the controls are nowhere as refined as they might have seemed back in 2002. But to me, they remain just as intuitive now as they did back then. The spin jump, the F.L.U.D.D’s hover nozzle, the side jump… It all works wonderfully and, arguably, better than the vast majority of 3D platformers on the market.

“But what about the long jump?”, I hear you cry. Well yeah, it’s gone, I guess. But Mario Sunshine lets you string together moves in such a beautiful way that you can implement your own long jump by simply leaping into the air and immediately diving forwards; easy. Couple that with the option to spray water onto the ground in front of you and suddenly you’re sliding around Ricco Harbour as flawlessly as a John Candy-coached bobsled team.

Show me another game from 2002 that boasts better water effects than Mario Sunshine. Go on, I’ll wait.

The point is, yes Mario Sunshine can feel a bit haphazard, and yes, the camera is absolute cack at times, but once you master its controls (which doesn’t take long, I promise you), then Mario Sunshine is truly one of the greatest platformers of all time. It holds up far better than its N64 predecessor and visually still looks absolutely stunning, particularly with the resolution upgrade provided by the Super Mario 3D All-Stars release. Show me another game from 2002 that boasts better water effects than Mario Sunshine. Go on, I’ll wait.

All of this and I haven’t even mentioned what, in my opinion, remains the most unique and delightful story in any 3D Mario title. Taking place on the tropical island of Isle Delfino, Mario finds himself jailed and subsequently tasked with cleaning up the environment after it’s revealed that a mischievous lookalike has been destroying the island with deadly paint.

Eventually, yes, Peach gets kidnapped just like always, but those initial moments indicated that this would be a Mario adventure quite unlike any other, and the unique setting and characters really shine (ha!) right through to the end credits.

All things considered, if you’re not a fan of Mario Sunshine, then there’s little I can say that will change your mind. I am, however, speaking to those who have yet to dive into the game. I implore you to give it a chance; whether you manage to pick up a copy for the GameCube or via the All-Stars package on Switch (good luck doing that digitally, although physical copies can still be found relatively painlessly), ignore the naysayers and settle in for one of the most unique adventures on any platform.

It’s my favourite 3D Mario game and I am absolutely willing to die on this hill.

Do you think Super Mario Sunshine holds up after 20 years? (1,318 votes)