The year was 2002. The GameCube had just been released. While games like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Luigi’s Mansion were doing moderately well (interpret that how you will), the system still had no flagship Mario game as a selling point. So, naturally, it was only a matter of time until Nintendo started working on one. But they didn’t just want this game to be another Super Mario 64. They wanted to add something new, something that would make people remember the game fondly. And with that, Super Mario Sunshine was released.
Through the introduction of F.L.U.D.D., a new invention by Professor E. Gadd, Mario was able to squirt enemies with water, hover in the air for a short while, run as fast as Sonic, and rocket himself into the air. While the idea was definitely innovative and unique, some people weren’t so enthusiastic.
Over time, more and more people have become fine with the F.L.U.D.D. mechanic, but many other people just don’t like the game at all, and F.L.U.D.D. seems to be one of their main problems with it. If you ask someone who thinks Sunshine isn’t very good, they’ll most likely tell you the same thing others do: F.L.U.D.D. ruins the experience. To them, the living water pack just slows the game down, and it makes the platforming way too easy, which shouldn’t happen in a Mario game.
One of the other issues that even people who like the game can’t defend is the voice acting. Peach sounds like a sleepy ditz, F.L.U.D.D. is completely monotone (though, that’s to be expected of a robot), and Bowser, well…let’s just say there’s a reason he only roars in later games.
The game also introduces Bowser Jr., Bowser’s only canon son (the Koopalings lost that status sometime between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Sunshine). While some are perfectly fine with him, most just see him as an annoying spoiled brat. The story (minor spoilers) was also criticized, with critics citing how implausible it was that Bowser Jr. could legitimately claim to be Peach’s son.
But those are all just nitpicks, with those harsh on the game overlooking its good points. While F.L.U.D.D. does make most of the platforming segments a cinch, there are over a dozen levels in the game where F.L.U.D.D. is stolen from you, forcing you to rely on only your jumping skills to survive. Of course, these courses are also extremely difficult at times, so if you’re looking for a challenge, then these courses are right up your alley.
Even when you have F.L.U.D.D., there are still a plethora of unforgiving challenges awaiting you. A good example is the infamous lily pad Shine Sprite. Not only is the level itself hard, but getting there is just as difficult. Yoshi makes an appearance in the game, and he appears in the game’s main hub world, Delfino Plaza. But these Yoshis are different from the dinosaurs we’re used to. These Yoshis can spew juice from their mouths (with a wonderful gurgling sound effect to go along with it), and they have a juice meter. If that meter runs out from not eating enough fruit, they disappear. These Yoshis also disappear when they go into the water. To put that into perspective, the entire game takes place on a tropical beach. And you need a Yoshi to get to the lily pads, because the warp pipe leading there is covered in a toxic goop that only their juice can dissolve.
In order to reach the pipe, you need to take Yoshi, and hop on a very slow-moving boat across the water to get to an island off the coast of Delfino Plaza. You then need to wait there with Yoshi, while another slow-moving boat comes and takes you to a wooden post, where you get to wait for another boat to come and finally take you to the pipe. You need to jump from boat to boat, and the boats are quite thin, so it can be somewhat difficult to stick the landing, and if Yoshi falls in the water, it’s back to Delfino Plaza to start all over.
When you finally get into the pipe, you’re greeted with what’s often considered the hardest Shine Sprite mission in the game. You have to ride a lily pad through a fast river, grabbing eight red coins that land you the Shine. But here’s the thing: you have to steer with F.L.U.D.D.’s squirt nozzle. That doesn’t seem too bad, but the river is moving super fast, so it’s hard to grab all of the red coins. And if you miss even one, there’s a pipe at the end that takes you all the way back to Delfino Plaza. By the way, the lily pad disintegrates after a certain amount of time, and the water kills you instantly if you touch it.
That’s the thing: It’s hard to get why people complain that the game is too easy, when the same people complain about hard Shines like that one. And if there are any Shines too challenging, you don’t even need to grab 50 of them. Just finish the first seven Shine missions of each world, and you get to go on to the final area.
For completionists looking to get all 120 Shine Sprites, yes, it’s hard. But the hardest missions aren’t as hard as, say, the Turbo Tunnel from Battletoads, or the Dam Level from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s only as hard as you want it to be, with the hardest challenges being completely optional.
As mentioned before, people who don’t like the game also complain about how F.L.U.D.D. ruins the experience. But with F.L.U.D.D., we’re given some of the most creative boss fights in the series. Take, for example, Eely Mouth, a giant eel with two sets of eyes and a horrible cavity problem sitting at the bottom of a lake. It’s your job to go down there and use the hover nozzle to clean up its mouth and calm it down. You wouldn’t see that sort of thing in any other Mario game.
Other unique bosses that come to mind include a giant, angry Chain Chomp that you need to cool down, the first appearance of Petey Piranha, who flies around Bianco Hills and shoots down goop, and Phantamanta, a massive electric manta ray who multiplies when sprayed with water.
F.L.U.D.D. also adds a layer of depth to the worlds as well. Just look at Ricco Harbor, the second world in the game. There are several missions where you have to go up to the catwalks above the busy harbor. Normally, this would require you to leap across a boat, climb a series of fences, and finally reach the first layer of girders. But if you have F.L.U.D.D.’s rocket nozzle, you can just fly right up there. And while you may complain that it takes the challenge away, using F.L.U.D.D. in creative ways will often nab you a blue coin, 10 of which can be exchanged for a Shine Sprite.
Maybe the game just hasn’t aged well (it’s been 14 years, after all). Maybe people don’t like the inconsistent difficulty. Maybe the F.L.U.D.D. mechanic was a mistake. Whatever it is that’s preventing people from enjoying this game, none of these seem like major issues, and you owe it to yourself to play the extremely underrated and underappreciated Super Mario Sunshine.