-by Dylan DiBona
Welcome to the first entry in a series of blogs I’ve been wanting to start forever; Versus! In case the premise isn’t obvious from the start: in “Versus” I will pit two video games against each other and try to determine which is better. I’m going to try and avoid things like which game I personally enjoyed more during my analysis. One duo of games I’m always comparing are Mario’s first two steps into three dimensions; Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. Before I start, I’d like to tell you the five categories I’ll be comparing (which are up for change depending on genre or series):
Gameplay, Level Design, Stars, Music, Bosses
I believe these five aspects of a 3D Mario game to be the most important. Let’s face it, things like stories and puzzles aren’t the reasons we keep coming back to the plumber.
Let’s skip over the obvious fact that Super Mario 64 was revolutionary at the time; how does it play today? I never grew up with an Nintendo 64 and didn’t actually get one until 2014. That was the same year I first played Super Mario 64 and to my surprise it holds up like a dream. Mario has the ability back-flip, long jump, wall jump, triple jump, belly slide- tons of moves; they’re all easy to perform and thankfully don’t feel clunky when compared to modern games. The occasional hat power-ups are fun and useful, the only slog being the Wing Cap you see so decoratively placed on the cover- controlling Wing Mario while attempting to gain altitude is no fun. Super Mario 64 might just be the strongest game from its era, today.
Let’s give Nintendo a little credit when it comes to Super Mario Sunshine. Every ignorant outsider berates them for “copying and pasting” the same game over and over. Nintendo could have easily made a Super Mario 128 with the same basic gameplay as 64, with similar settings and levels, and you know what? It probably would’ve sold just as well as Sunshine. But they didn’t do that. Instead they gave Mario a water-powered backpack filled with new moves. Returning elements like Mario’s back-flip feel silky smooth and even easier to perform than ever before (more so than the Galaxy games too!). With F.L.U.D.D, the water-pack, Mario can hover in the air, blast water at enemies and belly slide infinitely. F.L.U.D.D also makes a great and creative weapon against graffiti and ink covered bosses. The power-ups for F.L.U.D.D like the Jet Nozzle and Rocket Nozzle are enjoyable, but only the former feels useful most of the time.
Overall I believe Super Mario Sunshine to have a better controlling Mario. The creativity is also another thing I have to note, it’s part of the reason this game shines (pun intended).
SM64: 0 SMS: 1
Believe it or not, Super Mario 64 is actually still pretty unique in terms of its level design when compared to its followups. 64 is oft labeled the “open world” 3D Mario; by travelling through Peaches Castle and collecting a handful of stars, you can open up doors practically anywhere you want. Not only that but once you enter a world you can grab any star you want. Technically you’ll be going into a world for a specific star, but you can leave with a totally different one if you want to. It’s this sense of freedom that hasn’t really been repeated in 3D Mario and it’s something worth noting.
Another great aspect of Sunshine I see nobody giving credit for is setting up the “episode” structure of the beloved Galaxy 1 & 2. After 64, every time you enter a world, it’ll change for whatever specific star you’re after. This unfortunately takes the aforementioned freedom away, but this also means that you can’t see everything a level has to offer within one visit.
On a cosmetic level, 64 is the quintessential Mario to show newcomers. You get the classic grass, fire and ice worlds with a few uniquely themed levels to join in on the fun.
Sunshine on the other hand is less about tradition and absolutely about its new setting, Isle Delfino. Levels aren’t meant to feel unique, but instead feel like one small bit of a bigger cohesive world. Unfortunately one big issue dragging the levels down are the blue coins. Not only is there no way to track them down, but some blue coins are only available on certain episode variations of a world.
Despite my love for the beach aesthetic, 64 gets the point for the sense of freedom and discovery which feels true to its era.
SM64: 1 SMS: 1
So we lightly touched on this topic in the last category, but I want to discuss what it actually takes for a player to get a star in these games.
In 64, a star can sometimes be nabbed in seconds, other times you’ll have to interact with characters and appease their wishes. The game is full of secrets and mysteries like the 100-coin star hidden in every world. Super Mario 64 does star collecting perfectly, and it sets itself up as a genuinely fun but possible challenge for those looking to 100% it.
The Delfino equivalent to stars, shines, function the same but take a little bit more to collect. The super easy stars are gone and almost every shine asks Mario to either complete an episode specific task, collect 100 coins or grab every blue coin. My main issue with Sunshine as a whole are the blue coins. 24 of 120 shines are used up on the obnoxious challenge of finding every blue coin, and if you paid attention to the last category then you’ll know that the task isn’t too easy. Not only do the blue coin shines get annoying, they lack creativity- you’re just paying money for shines and that’s no fun.
Super Mario 64 easily takes the cake here.
SM64: 2 SMS:1
Oddly enough, this may be the hardest category to judge. You need more than two hands to count the amount of great tunes found in Super Mario 64. Dire Dire Docks, Peaches Castle, Koopa’s Road, Bob-omb Valley, File Select, Credits Music- and so much more. These tracks mix new and old and have been referenced in countless new Mario games today. I’ll go on record as saying that this game is probably the second most iconic in terms of music for the series, right after the original Super Mario Bros on NES.
In the past categories I’ve given praise to creativity and newness, that won’t stop now. Super Mario Sunshine may not have the most iconic songs in Mario history, but it has tons of the best. Instruments and sounds we don’t normally hear in Mario all come together in Delfino Plaza, Gelato Beach and Bianca Hills. The music is the perfect representation of Super Mario Sunshine; not repeated, creative, and cheerful.
I’m the type of guy whose tired of hearing the same Mario themes in every new game. It warrants praise when a series so old can spice up key elements and make it work. Sunshine gets the music category.
SM64: 2 SMS: 2
And so we come to the final category; bosses. Now normally I wouldn’t consider a Mario game dependent on it’s bosses, but the 3D games usually put a heavier emphasis on the bigger battles. Seeing as 64 was the first step into three dimensions, the bosses aren’t too varied here. The most notable ones are King Bob-omb, Eyerok and Bowsers multiple battles; they all work well enough and test the players mastery of Mario’s abilities. Most of them are forgettable, but they’re all solid and simple bosses.
Super Mario Sunshine is where the 3D entries started to get a little more interesting in terms of bosses. Alongside the basic platforming skills we get F.L.U.D.D, and every boss will require you to combine both for a winning technique. The standouts are Petey Piranha, Gooper-Blooper, Phantasma and a surprising unique Bowser fight. Even the ones I didn’t list put you into varied situations that are exciting and fun. Things like wiping off ink from enemies to weaken them or filling up Peteys stomach are memorable because of how well they implement the new controls.
I have to give this category to Super Mario Sunshine.
For some strange reason Super Mario Sunshine has been seen as a blemish on the plumbers history from a lot of people. It may have its rare glitches, quirks and stupid blue coins, but Sunshine is a middle step between 64 and Galaxy. It’ll never be as iconic as the much deserved Super Mario 64, but I do genuinely believe it’s design is a tad bit better albeit different.
SM64: 2 SMS: 3
So what does everybody think of my controversial decision? Do you have any counter-arguments? Let me know down below and I’ll try my best to reply! As always, thanks for reading.