Super Mario 64 *VS* Super Mario Sunshine

-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.

 Image result for super mario 64

 Gameplay

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

Level Design

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

Stars

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

Music

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

Image result for mario sunshine

Bosses

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.

Outcome

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

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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.

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5 thoughts on “Super Mario 64 *VS* Super Mario Sunshine

  1. Woo boy.. well let me first say that I love the comparisons and the idea! I could never do anything like this because I was a small kid when I first got an N64 and played SM64. I consider it a genre-defining game that cannot ever be taken down, in the same way that a band that sounds like The Beatles couldn’t usurp The Beatles of their #1 status in a lot of minds. Sometimes, coming first and changing the game, so to speak, almost means you win by default. Even with Odyssey coming out in the Christmas time, if this game is as perfect as I hope it will be, I know for a fact that I will never consider it better than the game that defined the 3D platforming genre, and did it as perfectly as Sm64.

    That out of the way! I truly did not like Sunshine. I have a wall of video games from every Nintendo system since SNES and Nintendo collectables, and I SOLD my copy of Super Mario Sunshine. That should explain how I felt about it more than words ever can. And the funny thing is, the reason that made me rage-sell the game was my inability to control Mario. The very first level, if I remember correctly, has you leaping around on tight-ropes, and for the life of me I just couldn’t control myself. When I managed to get somewhere, I would enter an input incorrectly and fall back to the bottom, and die, or need to refill my water, repeat and repeat. I also found the controlling of Mario’s water cannon absolutely abysmal.

    Yeah, I really hated Sunshine.

    All of that being said, I agree with you on all points except for one: The music! I didn’t feel anything playing Sunshine, but it resonated in my heart and soul playing SM64, first as a child in 1996 and again as a grown man in 2017, where I played it on the 3DS (using the DS copy which is a pretty good improvement IMHO). Funny thing is that the same guy did both! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koji_Kondo#Works) Sunshine didn’t have a bad soundtrack of course but it just never hit me the same way SM64 did.

    SM64 had more of a spacy, mysterious, atmospheric route, while Sunshine was a little more upbeat and “beachy”, as the overworld was a tropical resort. However I don’t think this was where Koji shined with his composition. Just listen to Dire Dire Docks compared to Ricco Harbor or Gelato Beach!

    While we may disagree on the “better” game due to probably a hundred reasons, I’m sure we can arrive at the conclusion that we’re both very excited for the newest 3D Mario installment in December 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m absolutely pumped for Odyssey! A lot of people think like that when it comes to older games so I don’t disregard it, I just like to view a game or any piece of entertainment as it stands today. I respect SM64 more than Sunshine, I would definitely consider it a classic more than its sequels.

      Yeah man, the music category was so hard! It was basically deciding between traditional catchy music or original catchy music.

      I do think you should give Sunshine another shot one day, maybe wait for a remake (hopefully on 3DS), I never had a problem controlling Mario except for the garbage Pachinko level. He just felt so loose. I may be wrong but I think Sunshine is the only game you can backflip without getting a running start.

      Thank you for the feedback on the new blog type! If you have any recommendations for the next Versus I’d love to hear them.

      Like

  2. I think these are quite hard to compare considering how long it was between each game. Your points are fair, but I’d say whilst Sunshine is better by modern standards, 64 is more important from a media development standpoint.
    I’d certainly sooner play Sunshine again over 64!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a fair decision. I am not sure how I would approach those games if I were to review them nowadays, but I think their scores would be close. Super Mario 64 is a feat, but the fact it was basically the first 3-D platformer means that a lot of what it did has been vastly improved over the years, and Super Mario Sunshine certainly took advantage of the five-year gap it had in relation to 64. It’s overall far more polished and smooth, even if it has some pretty annoying Shines (including, and especially, the blue coins), which makes it worse in pure level design terms.

    Like

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