The wait is over. In Japan, Nintendo released Super Mario Sunshine, marking Mario's first appearance as a leading character in a GameCube game. We've had a chance to play through a few of the different levels in the game and have become familiar with some of the gameplay mechanics. For the most part, Super Mario Sunshine plays similarly to Super Mario 64, since Mario's repertoire of moves is nearly identical, but you won't find Mario swatting at enemies with his fists or feet. Instead, Mario is equipped with a water cannon that not only cleans graffiti and grime around Dolphic Island but also functions as a weapon that can stun enemies, leaving them open to Mario's lethal butt-stomp attack.
The game begins with Mario, Princess Peach, and Kinojii (an older version of Toad with glasses) sitting in a plane on their way to Dolphic Island for a long vacation. When they finally land, the three characters notice dark slime covering a part of the runway. This is where you'll get to control Mario for the first time. You have to run around the slime and pick up the cannon that's sitting next to a few of the island's local residents. After hearing a brief speech from the talking water cannon (which speaks with an excellent robot voice), you have to guide Mario back over to the slime and start shooting water at its center. While you're doing this, small creatures will constantly be crawling out of the ooze, and though they're fairly easy to deal with, they will actively attack Mario if he gets too close. When you've shot enough water into the center of the slime, a large piranha plant will erupt from the center. You'll notice right away that the piranha plant opens its mouth every few seconds, which gives Mario an opportunity to shoot water directly into its gullet. After Mario hits it three times, the piranha plant will go limp, and the slime will disappear, leaving behind a sun icon known as a "shine." The shines essentially function the same way the stars in Super Mario 64 function--you'll need a specific number of them to progress through the game.
When the first confrontation is over, Super Mario Sunshine transitions into a surreal scene, which shows Mario being arrested by the local security force, thrown into the slammer, and then put before a judge who pretty much explains that Mario's guilty for spraying graffiti all over the island. Mario's sentence includes orders to clean up his mess, but shortly after he gets under way, his translucent doppelganger appears yet again, and kidnaps Peach. Not only do you have to chase him around a small section of Dolphic Park, but you have to shoot your water cannon as well. This is a little difficult at first, because you have to get used to shooting the water cannon while under pressure and timing Mario's jumps accurately, but since the translucent Mario frequently stops to leave his mark on the ground, you should be able to beat him in no time.
Once the real graffiti culprit has been discovered, Mario attempts to track him down by going into the first level of the game, the portal to which appears underneath a statue in the main town, which serves as the hub area for the game as Peach's castle did for Mario 64. There's a particularly cool effect where Mario's body breaks into dozens of little dots just before he enters the portal.
The first area, Bianco Hills, is where you'll become a little more familiar with Mario's water cannon and some of his other abilities. Thankfully, you're given a brief glimpse of what you need to do to get the first shine in the level, and there are arrow signs that point the way, so there's very little wandering around not knowing what you're supposed to do. In the first portion of the level, you'll get to test Mario's bellyslide on a small portion of wet land that leads into a small stream. Just above the stream is a rope that Mario can use to cross the stream, either by walking precariously across the top of it or by hanging from it and moving hand-over-hand. In fact, when Mario's in the hand-over-hand position on a rope, he can use his water cannon to spin himself around and gain a little extra momentum before soaring into the air. Of course, he can also use the water cannon to help glide across the skies for a brief period of time.
After taking some time to explore the environment, you have to make your way up the hills, to the top of a lighthouse where Mario will encounter the first boss, an enormous piranha plant. Just like with the other piranha plant you encountered earlier in the game, the main goal is to fire water into its mouth when the opportunity presents itself. However, in this fight, not only do you have to shoot water into its mouth, but you also have to perform a butt-stomp on its belly. Once you've repeated that process a few times, you get the next shine and go back into the hub area where another mass of slime has gathered.
Whenever this happens, it essentially means that a new area has opened up to you, though some of the later levels in the game don't really require you to take on any more slime-covered piranha plants inside the hub area. The next level is actually a little different from the first one. It takes place in a shipyard with metal gratings hanging from the air, squid swimming through the gorgeous-looking water, and a large oil slick that can actually harm Mario if he doesn't dive beneath the surface. This is where you'll get to perform the classic Super Mario World gate move: Mario hits a specific part of the metal grating, causing it to flip around and move him to the opposite side. This level is also a perfect example of the nonlinear nature of the game. You can either take the difficult route and collect additional coins, or you can take a much easier route that doesn't really reward you with anything. Regardless of the path you choose, the first shine for this particular level is guarded by a large squid, which shoots slime and flails its arms wildly about. Mario can either grab one of the tentacles and tear it off, or he can go directly for the squid's face, and pull at his lips.
When you've defeated the squid, you'll have to go back to the levels you've already been to in order to collect additional shines so you can move onto later levels. Interestingly, not all of the action in Super Mario Sunshine revolves around platforming. In fact, there's one level where Mario has to ride around on a roller coaster while firing at a boss and protecting himself from bullet bills at the same time. There's also a portion of a level where Mario has to race through a small obstacle course atop an octopuslike creature. In addition, there are some smaller levels that Mario has to travel through without the aid of his water cannon.
Visually, Super Mario Sunshine looks somewhat similar to Super Mario 64, albeit with higher polygon counts and slightly sharper textures, though some textures in the game look a little questionable. Generally, Mario Sunshine has a vivid and lush look, but nothing in the game is incredibly detailed. The special effects in the game look really impressive. The water in each level has a really nice-looking distortion, and the real-time reflective effects (such as those seen in the level with the four giant mirrors) are quite incredible.
Needless to say, we're pretty excited about the game, and there's still plenty to be uncovered, including Mario's dinosaur buddy, Yoshi. Check back with us all this week for more impressions and media on Super Mario Sunshine.