I can still remember the way to Noki Bay. So much other stuff about Mario Sunshine has faded, but this remains clear, as if I last made the journey yesterday. You're in town and you head to the mosaic by the dolphin fountain. The air feels weird here, shimmering and expectant. You step onto the mosaic, and then what? Something is almost ready to happen. You spin the camera around until you catch it, the sun itself blazing in the sky. The screen goes white and then you're off.
And man, I remember Noki Bay itself, a polluted paradise, the water stained purple, moss-tinged rocks rising up all around me. There are little platforms bobbing on the water, and there is a mountain ahead covered with pink and orange ice cream. A villain of some kind is firing bombs from the top of the waterfall, so that's the first job - see him off. By platforming, of course, which means scampering, leaping from ledge to ledge, using FLUDD, the water-powered hover pack, to stay in the air a bit longer, using FLUDD, which doubles as a water cannon, to clear some of the muck away and reveal secret platforms. Once that challenge is done with, there are others: a place like Noki Bay will not be cleaned up so easily. There is a coin hunt, granted, and that's a bit of a chore, but there is a giant squid that needs a shoeing, and there is a silty world hidden in a bottle, and there is a sea monster, way down in the murk, who desperately needs its teeth cleaning.
All of this, just one stage in one Mario game. And while I think of the individual things I had to do here, I'm more likely to just think of the place itself, how those walls rose from that mossy green to vibrant sun-bleached white, how there were more ways up that mountain than I originally realised. I think about a Shine that got stuck, or so it seems in my memory, in a tangle of thready stalactites, and despite the helpful creatures scattered around - and the not so helpful creatures scattered around - I think of the sense of happy solitude the place affords. You can play Noki Bay in the middle of winter and you will feel a summery breeze. You can play it on a day like this in Autumn, Brighton covered in grimy mist, and the sky will seem a little lighter, the morning will seem a little cheerier.
But I don't play it, of course, and this is the other thing that makes Noki Bay so special. I can still remember the way to Noki Bay: I have to find a chair from the living room, and I have to stand on it while I ease open the spidery door to the loft. I have to avoid chinning myself on the descending ladder, and then I have to climb the ladder and root through boxes in the dripping shadows.
I have plenty of ways to play most Mario games, it seems. There are re-releases or old carts that work on Game Boys and 3DSs that I still have scattered around the place, because handhelds don't go into the loft quite as regularly once a generation ends. But Sunshine is the Mario game that feels most out of reach - the most distant, and strange, and perhaps disappointing of his adventures. But then I head to Youtube and Noki Bay is back again, so vibrant, so filled with playful things that touch of playful memories. And I remember there was a whole game like this, and I can still find the way back to it.