Day 7: It's been a long week, but all good things must end...
It's been a long week, but all good things must come to an end. This will be our last update in our My Week With Mario feature, and I'm going to close off by effectively answering one of the biggest questions people have about the game: How does it compare to Super Mario 64?
Graphically, it's a no contest, and that's fairly obvious so I won't go there. Comparing the music is, I think, also an unfair fight. But there are other areas where it's much closer, and in some cases a split decision.
Take the camera, for one. Mario 64 didn't have a perfect camera… but with the benefit of hindsight, given how nobody's really done any better, it was well ahead of its time. Sunshine's camera is much better in the sense that you can zoom it all the way out (very, very useful) and in general is much easier to manipulate. Moving it around to find a good spot is much smoother than in 64. But the fact is, you do have to move it around all the time, because it doesn't really attempt to do anything. It relies solely on your actions. 64's camera at least had independence in that sense - it did need manipulating, but you can leave it for stretches of gameplay and it'll handle itself just fine. So a little bit of both here.
There's also the control. In general, there's not much to say - both are superb and they share 70% of the moves anyway - but there is one big change. Wall-jumps were quite hard to master in 64, but are ridiculously easy in Sunshine. Given that they're such a big part of the game, I'm not exactly surprised that they've been made easier, but I think it's now TOO easy. The only really annoying control issue in Sunshine is the new swimming controls, which took 64's perfect system and replaced it with an unintuitive mess (see Day 1 for details).
Sunshine has more "classic" Mario elements to it. There are no Goombas or Koopa Troopas, but when you consider all that's been added it almost seems minor. There are Boos, and Bloobers, and Cheep Cheeps. Yoshi is playable. The music. The floating platform mini-levels ("void" levels, as I like to call them) are pretty much the standard linear Mario run-and-jump stages, just in 3D. The breakable brick blocks are back. There also seems to be a greater emphasis on defeating enemies the classic way, by jumping on their head (Mario can't punch enemies anymore, and the spray doesn't affect a lot of them). And the bosses are back.
The levels are a split decision. Each level has a much better design than anything in Mario 64 and is crammed with stuff. But on the other hand, 64 had more levels. Each level in 64 did adhere to typical platform genre clichés - grassy hills, ice world, desert, water world, fire world, ghost house, etc. But although it was somewhat stereotypical, it did give the game variety. Although I do applaud Sunshine's level designers for coming up with creative twists on the tropical theme, at the end of the day it's still all a tropical theme. And, bizarrely enough, there's no underwater level, which would have seemed a no-brainer given the tropical island setting.
Ravi's favourite Mario platformers:
1) Super Mario World
2) Super Mario 64
3) Super Mario Bros. 3
4) Super Mario Bros. 1
5) Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japanese version, aka The Lost Levels)
Ravi's favorite Mario spinoffs:
1) Super Mario Kart
2) Yoshi's Island
3) Mario Tennis 64
4) Mario Golf 64
5) Mario Paint
Ravi's picks for the oddest Mario games:
1) Hotel Mario
2) Mario is Missing!
3) Mario Teaches Typing
4) Mario's Time Machine
5) Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA version)
As I noted yesterday in the chat, unlike in 64, when you pick a shine to get in Sunshine, that's the only shine you can get in the level. The whole level becomes geared towards that particular shine and the others disappear. It's great in the sense that you can never get lost, and having the levels "customise" themselves allows for greater variety in them… but one of the things I really enjoyed about 64 was exploring the levels and stumbling upon a star.
One factor that does go well in Sunshine's favour are the shines. Each shine seems to throw a different trick your way, and it's a lot less repetitive than 64 (which in itself wasn't as repetitive as other platformers), while avoiding the mini-game route that Rare's platformers seem to take. Mario 64, as much as I enjoyed it, basically set the same sorts of challenges every time, while Sunshine pushes you a lot harder and gives you more to do.
And speaking of pushing you harder, the bosses… my god, the bosses. One of the biggest complaints with Mario 64 is that it was rather weak when it came to bosses. Not Sunshine. There are a lot of bosses and they're wildly inventive (my favourite so far being the manta ray I described earlier, though the caterpillar and gambling boo come close). It reminds me of the good old days of the 16-bit era, where bosses were plentiful and extremely varied. And again, they're hard, but not unfair - and I like that.
Depending on your outlook, you might want to include the story as a way in which Sunshine pales in comparison to 64. Sunshine actually HAS a story, and integrates it a little more with the plot, but it's rather on the lame side. I don't mind it too much, to be honest - after MGS2, this is nothing in terms of length or stupidity, really - but a lot of people have complained that they prefer 64's quest for cake and a kiss from Princess Peach.
But there is one thing 64 has that Sunshine absolutely cannot match, however, and that's the "wow" factor. It's not that Sunshine isn't visually stunning, because it is. It's because at the end of the day, as a countless number of people have said a countless number of times, Sunshine is the evolution of 64. The basic design, control and gameplay all originated in 64. But it's also that 64 was something completely new - it may not have been the first 3D platformer (I believe Bubsy 3D, among others, just beat it to the market), but it was the first great one by a long shot. 64's formula has been copied by many, but arguably hasn't been beaten until Sunshine.
And yes, I do think Sunshine is better than Mario 64. It's not exactly clear-cut, but the overall package is just right for me. Sunshine took Mario 64's essence, added to the fun with the waterpack, made it harder (and again: hard, but fair), threw in a bunch of classic Mario references to make fanboys scream, and generally trumped 64. Seeing that Super Mario 64 has been acclaimed as one of the best games of all time, that's no easy feat.
Did it live up to expectations?
I said at the top that I am an insane Mario fan, so it's no surprise to learn that this is my most eagerly awaited game of the year. I had extremely high hopes for the game, and it's lived up to them. I can't say I'm disappointed at all. Like all Mario games, the basic control (running, jumping, stomping) is lots of fun, and the waterpack just adds to that. My sole disappointment is that there are only seven levels, but it's tempered by the fact that the game is a real challenge to complete and the shines are fairly diverse. It's not perfect thanks to camera issues, but it's so much fun that… I just don't care. It's Mario, for crying out loud!