With the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, I figured it was finally time to look back at a video game. It’s been a while!
I’ll probably eventually do a piece on each game in this new pack, but I chose to start with Sunshine. It’s the 3D Mario I’ve played the least and is easily the most controversial in the series, so I thought it would be interesting to experience and I felt like I would have a good deal to say – and I was right! I chose to view this game from the perspective of someone playing through 3D All-Stars on their Switch and didn’t play the game when it came out (which, let’s face it, if you played this game as a kid, you probably liked it then and will defend it now).
As most of you reading this probably know, Sunshine is the black sheep of the 3D Mario games. Some people love it more than any other game in the series, others think it’s unplayable trash. My opinion is somewhere close to the middle, but I can say that I enjoyed it for the most part. Compared to the rest of the series, though, I did find this to be the weakest entry – not gonna split hairs here. That said, being the weakest Mario game means it’ll still be better than just about every other game in the genre. There’s a lot to say, so let’s not dilly dally!
What Holds Up?
As I said above, even the worst Mario game is still going to be pretty good (except you, Mario Party 6. Except you.), and Sunshine is no exception. It’s a shame, isn’t it? So many great headlines just write themselves. “Sunshine? More like Shunshine”. “Mario Sunshine Leaves Players In The Dark”. “Super Mario Sunshine Casts A Shadow Over Once Well-Respected Series”. I could go on! But no, the thing is, Nintendo’s A-Team knows how to make a good video game, and Sunshine certainly keeps the faith, despite its flaws.
A common complaint with Sunshine is its controls. For me, this component is somewhat of a double-edged sword – I liked that Nintendo tried to do something different, but it didn’t work 100% of the time. They clearly took that feedback to heart, since the subsequent 3D Mario games (Galaxy 1/2 and Odyssey) went back to virtually the exact same control scheme that 64 had. As for my own personal experience, I got used to the non-standard controls quite quickly, so I figure most people will as well. Despite the quirks, the controls set this game apart from others in its storied series.
Where the game really shines (no pun intended) is its level design. There’s perhaps nothing Nintendo is known for more, and Sunshine is a clear standout among other games in the 3D platformer genre. I generally enjoyed my time exploring Delphino. I did find some aspects to be somewhat obtuse (more on that later), a common issue that I have with a lot of Nintendo games and Japanese-developed games in general, but this is a Nintendo-developed game, so even at their worst, they’re still solid.
Like Mario 64 before it, the gameplay loop is all about finding 8 stars in each level, with Delphino serving as your hub. I found the number of levels to be somewhat underwhelming given the huge variety in 64, but it wasn’t the biggest issue. The levels we have are, for the most part, fun to explore, interesting, and unique. There are stronger ones and weaker ones, but there’s a lot in every level for 3D platformer fans to enjoy.
What Doesn’t Hold Up?
The main issues with Sunshine are fairly low in number. They have almost entirely to do with the controls and some of the level designs.
Given that I played the game on my Switch (entirely undocked) and haven’t played the GameCube version since I was a kid, I’m not able to say which control scheme is stronger, but it’s no secret that Sunshine’s controls are a point of contention in the gaming world. There were also a dozen or so moments where the camera just decided to stop working, too.
Gamers were notably disappointed at certain aspects of 3D All-Star’s release, and the fact that very few changes – positive or negative – were made to the gameplay was one of them. I’m not sure if these issues were an easy fix or not, but the controls and camera kept getting in the way of my enjoyment.
Coming off of the incredible feat that was Mario 64, the lack of levels and overall lack of variety in Sunshine is somewhat disappointing. That said, this isn’t a “classic review”. I think if you were to pick up Sunshine today having played none of the other 3D Mario games, you’re going to get a solid experience no matter what. If Sunshine is the last 3D Mario you have to tackle, however, you might find it somewhat underwhelming relative to the great heights the rest of the series reaches.
Sunshine is easily the worst 3D Mario game. Bar none. But, again, that does not make it a bad game by any means. Even though I played it for “work”, and despite some annoyances with the controls and camera, I was always excited to boot the game up. Even at their worst, Nintendo’s A-team produces great work and Sunshine is no exception.
I think modern gamers will still get a lot out of Sunshine. Even if you’re not a hardcore fan of Mario or 3D platformers, this is a very good game, no matter how you swing it.