35 years ago, Super Mario Bros, the very first Super Mario game, was released. Sure, the moustachioed hero first appeared as Jumpman a few years earlier in Donkey Kong but he wasn’t the all-jumping, Goomba-stomping, mushroom-eating champion we now know and love.
Since then he’s been the cornerstone of every Nintendo console, fronting at least 21 games in the Super Mario franchise as well as trying his hand at tennis, golf, karting, football and fighting a variety of other video game icons in a brutal battle royale. To celebrate his enduring popularity, Nintendo has gone all out for his 35th birthday. It’s what he deserves.
Nintendo is bundling together three of the greatest modern Mario platform games together in a surely-too-good-to-be-true package called Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The bundle brings together the genre-defining Super Mario 64, the epic sci-fi escape of the Wii’s flagship Super Mario Galaxy and, what might just be the finest Mario game yet, the sunny day oddball of Super Mario Sunshine.
Mario and I first crossed paths one Christmas morning, when I got a second-hand SNES armed with Super Mario World, Micro Machines and International Superstar Soccer. I was hooked the moment Bullet Bill came hurtling towards me. The SNES was eventually traded for a Sega Mega Drive (also known as the Genesis), then replaced with a PlayStation.While Mario and I kept in touch via the Game Boy, it was the GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine that really bonded us for life.
How could you not fall in love with the sun, sea and FLUDD, a talking Super Soaker that revolutionised the gameplay? It was challenging but not impossible, epic but never repetitive: Sunshine was a bold, innovative and bright addition to the Mario series that has never been bettered.
Most Mario games are designed to show off just what Nintendo’s newest console can do. But besides the gorgeous worlds, attention-demanding characters and innovative ways to smash blocks, the actual plot is usually pretty far down the company’s list of demands. And yet Sunshine not only looked incredible, it packed a lot of heart into those paradise adventures.
Sandwiched between two revolutionary games – Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy – Sunshine is a game that’s easily overlooked. 18 years on, however, it still might be Nintendo’s most innovative adventure yet.
The game remains the black sheep of the Super Mario series. There’s no Luigi, no Peach’s Castle, and the iconic stompbait that are the Koopa Troopas and the Goombas are nowhere to be found. Princess Peach doesn’t even get kidnapped until halfway through the game.
Instead we find Mario, Peach and the Toads taking a much-deserved holiday to the tropical paradise of Isle Delfino, inhabited by the water-fearing Piantos and the shell-raising Nokis. As soon as Mario’s plane lands, though, he’s arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and has to clear his name from being dragged through the graffiti-sludge that’s blighting the Isle. It’s a new twist on the classic damsel-in-distress plot that the series heavily relies on. Sunshine toyed with the expectations surrounding the decades-old character and gave his story a focus beyond merely ‘collect-and-rescue’, plonking him in a world where every NPC offers some form of interaction.
Sunshine also allowed Mario to show a bit of personality and gave the plot a sense of vitality. He might have been out of his comfort zone, but Mario has never been so endearing. Plus, the whole thing revolves around cleaning up pollution, which is a far more important lesson than rescuing princesses from giant lizard monsters.
The game also introduced the now-iconic characters Petey Piranha, Toadsworth and Bowser Jr. as the main antagonist, who spends a majority of the game convinced Peach is his mum. It creates an interesting dynamic because, for the first time in a Mario game, you care about the villain.
Super Mario 64 might have evolved the series, but Super Mario Sunshine perfected it. No other Mario game has had so much impact on what came next. The tropical landscapes were so beautiful, they remain a staple of Mario Kart to this day, while the use of FLUDD gave exploring Sunshine a new dynamic and flipped battles on their head.
Other games had fleeting power-ups that offered Mario a brief increase in movement, but the permanent addition of FLUDD gave you an agile, versatile new way to play as it flipped from water-powered jetpack to liquid cannon. There was a real joy in mastering its propulsion, and its legacy can be seen in Odyssey’s Cappy and Galaxy’s Luma.
Even today, armed with a Nintendo Switch and a copy of Super Mario Odyssey, I still look longingly on eBay at used copies of Sunshine. I don’t have a TV that’ll run it, or a GameCube to play it on – but a boy can dream. 18 years after its release, it’s still demanding top dollar, which suggests I’m not the only one eager to return to those sun- isles.
With the inclusion of Sunshine on the upcoming Super Mario 3D All-Stars bundle, the only game in the series not currently available on Switch is Super Mario Galaxy 2 (and there are many rumours claiming it’ll appear when time runs out on the limited edition 3D All-Stars bundle). It’s an exciting time to be a Mario fan because there’s never been so much choice, so readily available.
Me? I’ll be on the first plane to Isle Delfino to clear Mario’s name and Gelato Beach. See you and FLUDD there.