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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #24—Super Mario Sunshine



Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week is a change from the last few thoughtful and dark shooters, with a favourite that is almost as divisive as it is cheery and fun.

#24. SUPER MARIO SUNSHINE, by Michael Cripe

Super Mario 64 is regarded by many as the most important game ever made. At its worst, the game’s influence is wide reaching and insurmountable on a number of levels. From Bob-omb Battlefield to Bowser’s Castle, the Nintendo 64’s platformer of perfection not only ushered in 3D platforming but 3D movement in gaming as a whole. After the reception—both critical and commercial—careened through the stratosphere, only one question remained: where does Nintendo take the Italian Plumber from here? Some dreamt of a souped-up version of Super Mario 64 called Super Mario 128 that would feature twice the levels, twice the playable characters, and twice the fun. The reality of what was planned behind the scenes, though, was the infamous, risk-taking Super Mario Sunshine.

At some point after Super Mario 64, someone on the development team likely said “you know what Mario needs? A talking water jetpack.” A second stroke of genius would come later, of course, when the game’s premise of cleaning up a graffiti-ridden city would come to fruition.

All jokes aside, for a game that was supposed to be the follow-up to one of the most innovative titles ever produced, some of the initial information about Super Mario Sunshine was off-putting to say the least.

By the time the Nintendo 64 had run its course, the era of the GameCube was approaching. Fans knew that Nintendo needed a home run as did Nintendo, so the stakes and anticipation were high. Sure, the sunny settings of a tropical island and Mario’s monumental increase in polygons were impressive, but the game just gave off a weird vibe in its Space World 2001 trailer.

Another year passed and the sequel final saw its release. To this day, the game’s quality is debated. However, most would recognize that the sunny sequel grows on a lot of its predecessor’s shortcomings.

Super Mario Sunshine is one of the tightest controlling games ever made. If responsive controls are the game’s bread and butter, then the cohesive level design is the main course. Looking out from a Ferris wheel in one zone yields the view of an ocean that looks full of life.

Across the wavy waters, though, are other locales that Mario can visit on a whim, granting physicality not seen in Mario games since. The subtle increase in lighting with each Shine Sprite collected and heat waves present when looking into the distance do not hurt this sense of impact on the world either. In more ways than one, Super Mario Sunshine is a technical marvel, especially for its time.

The camera is not ideal, but still stands a platform above its predecessor’s Lakitu option, and the generally challenging level design ebbs and flows in all the right ways. For example, the notorious F.L.U.D.D. accompanies Mario on his graffiti clean-up journey and serves a number of purposes. F.L.U.D.D. expands on Mario’s move set with the hover nozzle, making for controls that utilize the GameCube controller’s particular design.

Controlling Mario with the water pack feels natural, as the device is more of an extension of the plumber’s classic moves than a redefinition. To account for players becoming too reliant on this new crutch, some segments of the game strip the talking jetpack away. These sections provide genuine tension, as even a slight miscalculation can lead to death.

Super Mario Sunshine is at its best when taking advantage of challenges and newly introduced mechanics , but the negatives are impossible to ignore.

Two words: blue coins. Though not necessary for completing the game, blue coins contradict gameplay that normally encourages freedom of movement. Upon collecting each of the 240 blue buggers, players will be halted by a pop-up menu asking if they would like to save their progress. Some areas are littered with blue coins, leading to laughable moments of constant stop-and-go.

Sadly, some of these oversights can likely be chalked up to a rushed development. Many aspects of the game are pretty polished and it shows, even if the more glaring problems like unskippable cutscenes or some missions that feel like nothing more than fluff also manage to occasionally stick out.

Super Mario Sunshine gameplay screenshot 3

What the game passes on as a story is as comedic. In short, Mario is heading to vacation away from the Mushroom Kingdom to the beautiful Isle Delfino. To his surprise upon arrival, the city has fallen under darkness thanks to a Mario clone who has covered every sidewalk and landmark in “icky, paint-like goop.”

Hilariously, Mario is tried for the crimes of the doppelganger, which leads to a full-on, five-minute court scene that involves Mario behind bars, unskippable dialogue, and Princess Peach shouting “objection.” As part of his community service sentencing, Mario must clean up all the graffiti and collect all of the town missing Shine Sprites. You cannot make this stuff up, really.

Despite the cutscene’s absurdity, these qualities set Super Mario Sunshine apart not only from the rest of the Mario games, but other games in general. The cutscene should certainly have the option to skip it, at least upon repeat visits, but that does not stop the wholly original tone this game opens up with. Not a single thing in Super Mario Sunshine is ripped from any other title before it. Any relics of the past are derived from its own franchise, and even then the improvements make Super Mario Sunshine unrecognizable.

Super Mario Sunshine

Future iterations on the Mario formula would resort back to power-ups, a reliance on familiar enemies, and less unique quirks. Of course, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a great game and its use of power-ups does not detract from its quality. The thing is  that the same-old-same-old cannot fuel the Nintendo flagship forever. Nintendo needs more risks like the leap of faith that is Super Mario Sunshine. Thankfully, Super Mario Odyssey takes a step in the right direction, but Sunshine short hopped so that Odyssey could long jump.

When a game is as successful as Super Mario 64, nothing is more logical for a publisher than to order a healthy dose of the same but slightly different for a follow-up. Thankfully, back when the GameCube released, Nintendo had more in mind than just playing things safe.

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario Sunshine should not exist. Instead of holding its cards close to its chest with the overdone and predictable, Nintendo opted for the pipe less traveled in every conceivable way. A doubling down on narrative, redefinition of gameplay, and drastically new look stand in direct opposition to the smart thing to do. The result is a seemingly rushed game with plenty of issues, yes, but Super Mario Sunshine will always remain an example of creativity and uniqueness shining through the darkness that is an industry chained by the need to make money by way of safety.

Creativity and, most importantly, art need to take risks to push the boundaries of what is possible. Super Mario Sunshine’s linearity and blue coins are a stain on the history of the Mario formula, but the vacation away from the predictable should always be looked back at fondly.

Thanks for joining us for one of the least likely, but still worthy, Super Mario games. Do you have a favourite Mario game of any kind—why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s game could not be more different from a Nintendo romp, as we look at a titan of one of this list’s best represented genres. In the meantime, you can follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

Single-player games coverage. Every day.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #17—Castlevania: Symphony of the Night



Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s game is a classic—a founding title in a genre loved by many to this day.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 4


Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is truly a special game. Few titles within the industry can be labeled as a work of art, and Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is, without a doubt, one of them. Being born of an ideology that a new direction could be what was best for the series after three iterations  of the same style, Symphony of the Night took a leap of faith for the franchise, and looking back on its success, players will have no question that the leap paid off.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place five years after the events of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont traversed Castle Dracula to take down the main man himself and once again reset the Castle’s reappearance cycle .

What is interesting about Symphony of the Night was that  the game begins as Rondo of Blood ends: with the climactic battle of Richter and Dracula in the throne room. Once the battle is complete the game transitions and players are now reintroduced to Alucard, Dracula’s half-vampire son with a human woman. This game is the first time players had seen Alucard since Castlevania III (1989), and this time he is the primary playable character.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 2

Alucard’s introduction within Symphony of the Night as the playable character created a whole new dynamic for the player to wrap their head around. Since Alucard is not a vampire hunter nor a member of the Belmont family, he does not use a whip to slay monsters. Instead he uses a variety of weaponry that players can discover throughout their journey into the castle. Interestingly, the game starts the player off at what is essentially Alucard’s peak performance, as he is able to slice and dice his way through any enemy before him—that is, until Alucard is reunited with Death, who strips him of his abilities and gear forcing the player to start their adventure empty-handed.

The developer ’s choice to start the player completely fresh and weak contributes nicely to the game’s new direction. Unlike previous playable characters, Alucard can equip different armor, weapons, and abilities to further aid him while traversing the castle. Ultimately, Alucard’s goals are to figure out why the castle has reappeared only five years after being destroyed, and locate the missing Richter Belmont. Despite a narrative that captures player attention  immediately, Symphony of the Night proves that its new gameplay direction is what will ultimately steal the show.

As a revolutionary new direction for the Castlevania series at the time, Symphony of the Night was the first entry that did not end after a stage completion or boss fight . Instead, Symphony of the Night surprised players by simply continuing forward. In previous games, after completing a stage, the player would be taken to a map screen to select the next area of play; however, in Symphony of the Night, the map can be toggled with the press of a button and only indicated areas that were visited by the player, with everything else nonexistent until discovered. This promoted exploration and returning ventures to familiar areas, allowing the game to really showcase its roots  and establish a formula that would usher it into the history books.

In addition to the new approach to level design for Symphony of the Night, what is most surprising about the game, and perhaps what solidified it in most gamer’s memory, is the fact that after what would seem to be the final boss fight, the castle would then invert and could be played entirely upside down. For this event to conspire, the player would have to complete specific tasks before and during the boss encounter, and whether or not those tasks were done would determine if the game ended there or continued with the Inverted Castle. As a truly remarkable feature, Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was designed to look just as beautiful upside down as it was during the normal playthrough. Not only was the aesthetic of the castle perfectly preserved in its inverted state, but it also played just as seamless as it did right-side up.

As a testament to the wonderful art and craftsmanship by the developer for this title, the gothic horror atmosphere combined with the excellent sound design of the game only attributed to how incredible Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was. That the artistic integrity of Symphony of the Night has withstood the test of time is truly astonishing. At a time when the industry was shifting to 3D models, the team behind Symphony of the Night chose to go against the grain and create what feels like a swan song for the 2D gaming genre.

Recently, director Koji Igarashi released the long-anticipated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. OnlySP had the privilege of reviewing the new game, and although it exceeded our expectations and presents itself as a worthy successor, it cannot replace or recreate the zeitgeist that was Symphony of the Night. The 2.5D graphics of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are outclassed by the 2D pixel art  of its predecessor. A style decision, yes, however one cannot help but wonder what the final product would have looked like with a 2D template.

Of course, Symphony of the Night cannot be truly praised without mention of its greatest contribution to the industry. Without this game, players would have never known that man is a miserable pile of secrets. Thanks to Symphony of the Night’s original intro battle, the industry will always remember the significance surrounding Dracula’s rhetorical question of “What is a man?”

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a stylish love letter to fans of the series. More importantly, however, is the game’s contribution to the industry and the Metroidvania genre as a whole. To this day, Symphony of the Night is recognized and referenced as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Metroidvania game of its generation.

From the outset, players might question how this game could come with such accolades, but the easiest answer is more often than not the simplest one. For one to understand what makes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night so great and worthy of a spot on OnlySP’s 50 Favorite Games, all they need to do is play it.

Thanks for joining us as we take a look at one of the founders of the Metroidvania genre. Join us next week as we look at a very different game from a different genre—but one that has remained inspirational for years nonetheless.

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