The lead-up to the release of Super Mario Sunshine was one that I remember well. While I was too young to fully appreciate the absolute spectacle that was the arrival of Super Mario 64 at the time (in addition to being obsessed with PlayStation instead of Nintendo 64), getting hyped up about Sunshine was a revelatory experience in my early teens.
The game is a Nintendo Gamecube essential and one that I feel doesn’t enter the conversation about “the best” Mario games often enough.
Upon its release in 2002, the game introduced a brilliantly unique new gameplay mechanic with FLUDD, the talking water hose/jetpack/sprinkler attached to Mario’s back. Not only did Mario have to rescue the princess, but he was on cleanup duty for graffiti crimes that he didn’t commit.
Understandably, on paper, that sounds like a pretty boring concept for any game, never mind a Mario title, but the island cleanup is one of the key features of Super Mario Sunshine, and the goop offers up some really entertaining missions for Mario to overcome. The game succeeded in not just being Super Mario 64 with prettier graphics, and kickstarted a new direction for the world’s most famous plumber.
So, let’s take a look at my top 5 levels of Super Mario Sunshine…
Ricco Harbor: Episode 1 – Gooper Blooper Breaks Out
The very first mission in the docks of Ricco Harbor is a simple one: put a stop to the source of the horrible ink spill that covers a substantially large chunk of the level. We discover that the origin of all this slippery ink is none other than the giant squid, Gooper Blooper.
After being drawn out from his hiding spot amongst some shipping containers at the back of the level, Gooper Blooper is a fight that actually sounds like a pretty grim concept when taken out of context from a Mario game; confront the squid, pull it’s limbs off one by one and launch it back into the ocean by pulling at its mouth.
He returns a couple more times in the game, but this, his debut in the series, is one of the more memorable boss fights that we see him in, and indeed the entirety of Super Mario Sunshine, regardless of how easy the battle is.
Gelato Beach: Episode 2 – Mirror Madness! Tilt, Slam, Bam!
Gelato Beach’s second mission requires Mario to get rid of the pesky Wiggler that has decided to take an extended nap at the top of the Shine Tower, thus halting the hatching process of the Sand Bird egg that rests there. In order to do this, Mario must climb up to the mirrors that surround the tower, defeat the Plungelos on them and slam the mirrors back into place.
Actually getting rid of the Plungelos on these mirror platform is a little bit tricky at first, especially on the platforms with several enemies on them, but getting the job done by launching these parrot-like creatures off the mirrors and into the distance is immensely satisfying.
Realigning the three mirrors knocks the snoozing Wiggler from the top of the tower and, as we find out in Gelato Beach’s next episode, he’s none too happy about it.
Bianco Hills: Episode 2 – Down With Petey Piranha!
The second episode in Bianco Hills reminds me a little of the ascent of the summit in Super Mario 64‘s Bob-Omb Battlefield level, in that you climb a steeper part of the level to meet a boss battle at the top. Instead of a Big Bob-Omb, we meet Petey Piranha, an oversized mutant piranha plant that is making a huge mess of the Bianco Hills countryside.
The climb up and around the windmill is pretty simple, but can become slightly frustrating if any jumps are missed, resulting in health loss and having to maneuver around over and over again.
The boss battle is memorable and entertaining, from the moment the roof breaks (and that slight “oh shit” moment from both Mario and Piranha when they realise what’s going on) to having to spray water into Petey’s mouth, then slam into his engorged stomach to defeat him. Much like Gooper Blooper, the method of defeating this boss seems a little harsh on paper, but is all in good fun when Petey shows up again later in the game.
Noki Bay: Episode 4 – Eely-Mouth’s Dentist
Part 4 of Noki Bay requires Mario to add yet another profession to his already massive CV; Dentist. There’s something stinking up the water, and it looks like the work of a giant eel named Eely-Mouth, who has taken up residency in the sunken ancestral home of the local Noki tribe.
Avoiding poisonous bubbles and sinking down to get closer to Eely-Mouth for the first time was a trip for me, as I had no idea what to expect. What terrifying monstrosity was waiting for me at the bottom of the void? As it turns out, a giant eel with some major plaque problems on his teeth. Blasting away at the nastiness from his chompers with FLUDD’s jetpack function clears it away relatively quickly, to which Eely-Mouth thanks you with a Shine Sprite and twenty coins in a heart formation. How lovely.
There’s nothing much to the level as it is essentially one room with a boss battle, but the ruins in the depths look great and Eely-Mouth is arguably one of the strangest bosses in the entire series.
Pinna Park: Episode 4 – The Wilted Sunflowers
Pinna Park is usually remembered for the vibrant, colourful theme park that is situated behind the tall gates as you enter the level, but my favourite mission in this area is situated on the Pinna Park beach. A gang of Snooza Koopas have appeared on the beach and have started gnawing away at the roots of the Sunflower Kids and the Great Sunflower, causing them to wilt. It’s up to Mario to put an end to these sleepy Koopas and bring the sunflowers back to life.
Blasting the Snooza Koopas and tricking them into attacking you allows Mario to slam into their exposed underside, thus bringing a sunflower back from the brink of death for each Koopa. The jarring noise that these eggy turtles make when you interrupt their sleepy meal is something I won’t soon forget, as well as the weird mogwai-like chatter that each sunflower briefly makes when you bring them back. Defeating all five Snooza Koopas rejuvenates the Great Sunflower, who rewards you with a Shine sprite.
Completing this mission also causes your nemesis, Shadow Mario, to appear near the Grand Pianta Statue in Delfino Plaza holding a Yoshi Egg, and defeating him will unlock the use of Yoshi in several episodes of the levels, in all his vomiting glory.
Super Mario Sunshine was an absolute delight to play from start to finish, and boasts some of the weirder, more endearing levels in the series. It’s a strange game at times, but, like the rest of the Super Mario games, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are your favourite levels from the game? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!