Few games fill me with dread quite like Super Mario Sunshine.
In 2002, when I was 10-years old, I finished the game on 119 shines, missing a single blue coin.
Years later, armed with a Prima strategy guide, I went through every level again diligently ticking off every shine and blue coin to “clock” the game properly.
After hours of work I realised to my horror that I’d made a mistake. Somehow by game’s end, I had 239 blue coins.
Crushing is the word I’d use to describe it. I was so traumatised that I never booted up the game again.
Enter 2020 and Covid-19 lockdown.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars rears its head while we Melburnians are under the rule of an 8pm curfew.
What could be more poetic than exacting my revenge on a game with a final level aptly titled Corona Mountain?
Gone is the Prime strategy guide, replaced by a more efficient internet checklist. This time around would be different.
I arrived on Delfino Island determined to finish what I started 18-years ago.
I’d already tracked down all 120 stars in Super Mario 64. How hard could its sequel be?
Super Mario Sunshine is a brutal game, plagued with lengthening gimmicks and ultra-precise, punishing platforming.
‘Game Over’ was a screen I met regularly.
Critics have long blasted the game’s linearity compared to Super Mario 64 and its challenge levels where Mario is stripped of the F.L.U.D.D. device, but often ignore the game’s demand on your time, in addition to lives.
Ricco Harbour’s final shine, ‘Yoshi’s Fruit Adventure’ claimed more than an hour of my life.
Not because I’m a bad platformer, but because I missed a critical fruit which makes the challenge doable.
Super Mario Sunshine does not hold your hand. It demands excellence in skill and exploration.
It’s a design philosophy unheard of in 2020 beyond the Souls series (yes, I just compared Sunshine to Souls), so much so that using a guide to beat it isn’t shameful, it’s necessary.
I was using a checklist. YouTube was absolutely essential, but the combination was not infallible.
Once again, I found myself on 239 blue coins and my anxiety went through the roof.
I had exhausted my checklist, but I was still missing a single blue coin.
Just as I was resigning myself to a lifetime of failure (at least in Sunshine terms) I made a fateful discovery. The generally useless world map screen which I’d never needed before, contained a blue coin counter.
I knew I was missing one coin in the hub world and after scouring the tunnels I found that final, fateful blue coin.
Exchanging them for 24 shines in that hut with the mole (he may be an otter?) was one of the most satisfying moments in video games.
Anyone who is not a completionist will never understand.
After all, what does one arbitrary shine sprite or one blue coin really matter if you enjoyed playing?
Well I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy Sunshine in 2002 and not much has changed in 2020.
I admire Nintendo’s team for trying something different but the game’s rushed development is poorly hidden.
There’s a lack of variety in worlds and enemies and F.L.U.D.D.’s two alternate nozzles are rarely used.
Sunshine killed Mario’s long-jump and backflip, and stripped the fun of power-ups from a franchise built on them.
Sunshine narrows a player’s options and routinely blocks alternate areas and challenge rooms with bars, dismantling the genius of Super Mario 64’s level design which encouraged exploration.
Blue coins are not a motivator, they’re a chore.
They’re a replacement for 24 missing challenges Nintendo didn’t have time to make as it rushed to prop up the struggling GameCube.
Sunshine is by no means a bad game, but it is bad by Mario’s lofty standards.
As I snagged that final shine on the Island’s dredded pinball level and watched my counter tick to 120, the relief was overwhelming.
An 18-year-old monkey was finally off my back and I never have to play Sunshine again.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is out now on Nintendo Switch.