Back to the Grind
The game begins with Mario and Princess Peach, fresh from thwarting the nefarious machinations of the evil Bowser, vacationing on a beautiful island in a remote location. The perpetually sunny island inhabited by friendly natives seemed like just the place to stick one's feet up. Unfortunately, things are never that simple for Mario. Somebody, disguised as our portly pipe-plunging Italian friend, has scribbled all over the walls, all over the island, and what's worse, the locals falsely accuse Mario of this heinous act and demand reparation. Not content with simply counting his losses and moving on, our daring adventurer sets off with his new water-pumping backpack to clean the whole mess up and unmask the true villain. But then, story never was all that important to Mario games. Since when has it ever consisted of much beyond rescuing the Princess and putting that overgrown terrapin back in his place? The genius of Shigeru Miyamoto's invention is in the gameplay, and apart from the usual task of collecting (sun) coins, budding plumbers will need to take out all of the phantom scribbler's work and any other mess besides using Mario's H20 cannon. His other activities look to be as varied and enjoyable as they were in SM64 - walking tightropes, jumping like a Crouching Tiger from wall to wall to reach the rooftops, and even playing football for some reason. If Nintendo can keep up a steady stream of varied tasks on a par with those in their first 3D platformer, but on a visual level far exceeding them, then I think it's reasonable to expect this to be successful. Speaking of graphics, Mario Sunshine's visual style is of course reminiscent of his 64-bit outing, but locations have changed to fit the island setting, with cobbled streets and sprawling outdoor environments with plenty of minutiae and an immense draw distance. Most of all the streets of Mario's holiday destination look warm - the whole scene has an iridescent glow to it as our hero basks in the summer sun wiping the sweat off his face with the back of his glove. The emphasis is definitely on 'cute', although Mario clearly benefits from a much higher polygon count and various other frills. If he has half the amusing little animations that his brother Luigi enjoyed in his Cube adventure this is going to look extremely impressive, and we are already promised extensive facial animations that display emotion.
Nintendo has taken a lot of criticism over its choice of screenshots to promote Mario Sunshine. Many of them are blurry, low-resolution affairs and frankly unimpressive, but then it's not like Nintendo to hype a game to kingdom come ahead of its release. Or in fact to release it within a reasonable time period. However, the cynic in me says these screenshots look fuzzy enough to have come from the N64 itself. Perhaps the big N wants Sunshine to be a pleasant surprise when they show it at E3 next month. Whatever the reason though, come rain or shine we can definitely expect this one to sell, even to the people currently slating every shot to issue forth from messrs Miyamoto and company. Nintendo's mantra for the GameCube seems to be 'shorter games, more often', and this is the one area in which Sunshine may come unstuck. Fans' dedication to an SM64-beater will be uncontrollable, and many people will simply sit down and play this without thinking of stopping - assuming this isn't the first bad Mario platformer ever made - which puts us in an awkward position. How would the world react to a full-price Mario game with less substance than its predecessors? If Nintendo is taking a more episodic approach this time around, it could spell trouble. Mario Sunshine is due for release in Japan on 19th July and in the States on 26th August. The game is not yet showing up on Nintendo's European release schedule, but we fully expect to see it in time for Christmas, unless they too plan to celebrate Christmas on some obscure day in March…