Mario Sunshine is one of those games that is fun to rag on for its weird water gimmick and going green marketing. It’s a weird standout in Mario’s platforming catalog but it’s one that I am obsessed with. Mario Odyssey is my favorite modern 3D platformer objectively, but when it comes to the sounds and sights of Isle Delfino, I will always have a soft spot.
I have been meaning to revisit the game for some time, but I wanted to do something special. It wasn’t until I watched SmallAnt’s attempt at a hover-less run that I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to go the distance and try my first Mario challenge by never using the hover nozzle in Sunshine.
And surprisingly, it went pretty smoothly for almost the entire run … and I learned to appreciate quite a bit more about the game and saw some things that made me a little frustrated.
Welcome to Isle Delfino
Mario, Peach, and friends are on vacation in the lovely area of Isle Delfino, a tropical resort with lots of summer activities to enjoy. The problem is Mario is being blamed for polluting the once sparkling town, which leaves its citizens more than a little upset at Mario. However, Jump Man conveniently finds a water hose called Fludd, which can spray water with different attachments.
Fludd is the entire schtick of the game by allowing Mario to damage enemies with the spray nozzle, hovering over gaps for a more controlled landing, launching into the air, or zooming over waster; there is some variety here, thanks to the mechanic. The problem is that hovering is often cited as making the game too easy, and that is where this run comes into play.
The idea is to never use the hover nozzle, but any other attachment is free game. It seems simple enough until you realize that some parts of the game were created with the hover nozzle in mind, but I’ll get to those soon enough.
Until then, the game plays like a more refined Mario 64, which is all anyone could ask for with its sequel. Instead of Peach’s castle, we have Delfino Plaza, where all the other worlds are connected. This is Nintendo’s best hub world in any Mario game, hands down.
The atmosphere is perfect and only lends to heighten the sense that you are on a real resort helping out a real community. The plaza is dark and places are hidden from view due to pollution. As Mario progresses through the game collecting Shine sprites, the world becomes brighter with more landmarks popping up after the goop is cleaned up.
On top of that, you can see the other worlds that Mario visits on the horizon. These aren’t completely disconnected worlds like in Mario 64 but instead extensions of the resort. That is the perfect evolution for the worlds to be tied in to one another. The only slight downside is that these worlds all much be beach-themed in some way, but I think Nintendo balanced the theme fairly well. It makes it all feel coherent and like it has a purpose.
The first stops on my tropical holiday
After you secure the plaza and chase shadow Mario into the Pianta statue, you are taken to the first world, Bianco Hills. I honestly didn’t think I was going to have many issues clearing Bianco in my normal amount of time, but as it turns out, I used to rely on the hover nozzle a lot more than I thought I did. I stepped into the bustling hills filled with confidence.
Everything was going great as I was climbing the lighthouse’s hill only to be confronted by the red vines that begin to encroach on the trail. This would be one of the first (and only honestly) challenges of the game. I needed to get around this vine, but without hovering, Mario didn’t seem to have the air time to do it.
I fell a bunch trying to perform different jumping techniques to get around. Eventually, I gave up and went down to the water to see if I could clear the distance with the water bug. After the first attempt, I knew I could clear it, but I needed to line up the bug properly before it propelled me into the air.
When I finally did it, I felt proud, but it also didn’t require me to actually learn a difficult jump. Instead, I only needed to change my line of thinking about utilizing the world around me, and that was how most of the hover-less run played out. Often, I just needed to use a different route, a different mechanic, or just be slightly more careful.
Rico Harbor, in this way, was my absolute favorite to play during hover-less. Usually, the small walkways of the scaffolding over the harbor are child’s play because the hover nozzle can save you. Jumping from platform to platform here felt a lot more intense than it has ever felt. This level, more than Bianco Hills, made me realize that there was a lot of potential to enjoy these levels in a way that I never had before.
After clearing Rico Harbor, I moved on to one of my favorite worlds, Gelato Beach. This little beachside paradise has several clever sections to its design. From the giant Wiggler and Sand Bird to the foot race against Plantissimo, each of the objectives helps to utilize a different part of the world. It feels like one of the more fully realized worlds where most of the landmarks are used in unique ways.
Other worlds will do this to an extent, but they either don’t feel as original, or they are rehashes of one another. For example, you climb Rico Harbor several times, but the whole level is a jungle gym. The level is being utilized fully, but it isn’t always unique. Gelato Beach feels like a more fully realized set of levels.
Things begin to pick up in Pianta Village and Noki Bay
Pianta Village is where things started to heat up for me with the hover-less challenge. At first glance, the first level where Fludd is stolen from Mario temporarily seems like it’ll be a piece of cake. What additional trouble could there be if Fludd isn’t supposed to be used for most of it? Well, the problem is that Fludd is very helpful for the final few jumps to reach the mayor of the village.
Since I was unable to use hover here, I needed to figure out a way to reach the mayor standing on a mushroom with little idea how. I tried to do a triple jump with a quick turn initially but soon realized I would never be able to pull it off. Instead, I made the tough decision to climb the giant tree and do a triple jump from the tallest platform that juts out from its side. This took me hours. I spent my entire Saturday learning how to spin jump properly.
I cleaned up the lava opp on the ground and used the trails to keep myself centered. After hours of doing it inconsistently, it eventually clicked, and I was able to do it every time. Once I learned the trick, it only took me two tries to get to the mayor. It might seem like I wasted a lot of time here, but I knew the trick was going to be necessary later on anyway, so it was best to learn it now.
Noki Bay was the last wall that I hit with two challenges that drove me slightly mad. The first was Red Coins in a Bottle which normally isn’t bad because you use the hover nozzle, but in this instance, I didn’t have that luxury. The critical moment is right when you start; you need to get the highest red coins because otherwise, you won’t be able to reach them again. It took me a little bit to get the initial camera switch down, but after a few dozen attempts, I cleaned them all up.
Then there was Eely-Mouth’s Dentist Shrine which means I needed to clean the teeth of a giant eel without drowning or falling to the side of the eel. If I fell, I would have to restart because there would be no way to reach the eel’s teeth again. I found the best way to get by was to try to sit on the eel’s face or to clean one tooth per fall before it swallowed and spit me out.
Compared to some of the other challenges, I knew I could do this, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take. After about an hour, I finally had a great run and defeated the greasy eel.
The rest of the levels went by smoothly, but each one gave me more of an appreciation for Mario Sunshine’s level design. Mario’s movements are refined in this entry, but the hover nozzle often covers up that movement. It’s enjoyable to flip around as the plumber in Sunshine, but because I never had to rely too heavily on those base skills due to Fludd, it was easy to overlook in my previous playthroughs of the game.
This hover-less run has completely reshaped my thinking about how to approach these different worlds.
Finally, Corona Mountain
Corona Mountain is the final area of the story and it’s very different from the rest of the levels. Instead of romping around an island paradise, you are in the depths of a volcano with fireballs and spikes. This is the area that makes or breaks a hover-less run in Super Mario Sunshine. Right out of the gate, I was able to get further than I would have thought, using the spin jump to navigate the flaming and spiky platforms to reach the second part.
Hour after hour went by, but I was never able to clear the entire platforming section. I would always choke the last jump sending Mario diving directly into the lava, or I would time my jump poorly, and flames would erupt underneath me. I tried, but I had spent so much time on this challenge that I thought it was time to call it quits and reflect on my experiences.
I did get through the rest of the section and clear the very easy Bowser fight thanks to Fludd, but it felt hollow compared to what it could have been. The effect that limiting Fludd’s abilities had on the game was great, but there were limits to my patience, and Corona Mountain burnt me to a crisp. It was a fun experience and gave me a newfound appreciation for some of the different levels. I’m already thinking of doing another run someday but not any time soon!
No tropical paradise is perfect
While I’m here, I might as well explain some of the things that didn’t sit right with me replaying Sunshine this time around. I love all of the game’s challenges but the blue coins are way too tedious, especially since they are broken up into individual levels within a world.
In order to do it properly, you would need to search every level from top to bottom just to ensure that you got every blue coin. Other Mario games allow you to only play one level within a world to get collectibles like that. It isn’t fun revisiting the same world eight times to make sure there are no unique blue coins hiding out somewhere.
As someone who enjoys perfecting games, when a game isn’t fun to perfect on repeat playthroughs, I lose a lot of my willingness to replay that game. I know that’s a very personal aspect to me, but that’s how I feel and why I have perfected Mario Odyssey four times so far. That game understands how to make collecting fun and accessible, whereas Sunshine stumbles a bit.
There are a few shine sprites that are cited as annoying or broken, like the lily pad shine. However, besides the annoying Yoshi boat ride to get to the shine, I’ve never had that much of an issue with that shine.
I think if there is one thing that the game could definitely improve upon, it would be more shine sprite challenges. A lot of later shines feel like padding, and with many of them being Shadow Mario shines, there are quite a few that lack creativity or difficulty.
And everyone knows it, but it is worth mentioning: The boat section of Corona Mountain is another one of those sections that seem to have been added to fill up the game, but all it did was make it feel bloated.
Mario’s movement is completely restricted to a boat mechanic which destroys my understanding of direction as it doesn’t respond as I would think it should. Plus, many blue coins are located in this section, so you need to be willing to spend some time sweating under the collar working to reach these coins if you hope to perfect the game.
Highlights from Mario’s vacation
Super Mario Sunshine offers a charming vacation getaway for the plumber and friends. The worlds are beautiful with soundtracks that, despite being renditions of the same melody, work beautifully to capture the different feels of the game. Somehow they manage to make each track not only feel distinguished from one another but easily associated with their respective levels.
The levels themselves are a ton of fun to play through, minus blue coins and some of the more forced shine challenges like Shadow Mario. Super Mario Sunshine is a clear evolution of the foundation that Mario 64 developed and has some roots that have been borrowed in other games since.
So despite the faults, Super Mario Sunshine manages to be one of my favorite Mario games of all time, with plenty of fun platforming sections for anyone who wishes to challenge themselves. And if you think it’s too easy the traditional way, why don’t you give it a try without the hover nozzle?