Tropical islands aren’t anything new in video games, but they’re not that common either. Games might visit islands during their running time, but there is a tragic shortage of picturesque sandy beaches, coconut trees, and clear waters. So when a game decides to set its entire duration on one of these tropical islands, I listen. And when it’s a Mario game, that goes double. So it was a very pleasant surprise the first time I picked up Super Mario Sunshine, and not only did I find a great platformer, I found the only game world that I would genuinely like to take a vacation to.
Super Mario Sunshine takes place entirely on the vaguely Hawaii-esque Isle Delfino, a large, dolphin-shaped island that hits nearly every single iconic tropical setting and then some. There’s a lazy beach where residents build sandcastles and drink watermelon smoothies. There’s a fancy hotel overlooking a stunning sunset. There’s even a large volcano at the center of it all. And this huge island isn’t just for show, Super Mario Sunshine invites you to explore every nook and cranny. You can ride the ferris wheel in Pinna Park or take a dive in Noki Bay to your hearts content, free to ignore any of the mission’s objectives.
Everything is united by the port town Delfino Plaza, a hub world absolutely bustling with secrets and optional shine sprites. While you explore the packed area, it’s hard not to marvel at just how different Super Mario Sunshine’s entire theme is from the other Mario games—and other platformers at large. It was a practically unheard of that a platformer would focus around just one level theme rather than a variety of clichéd levels. Other 3D platformers such as Crash Bandicoot 2, Spyro the Dragon, and Banjo Kazooie had somewhat of a scattershot of level themes never connected by an overarching world. Even Super Mario Sunshine’s predecessor, Super Mario 64, will take you everywhere from volcanic wastelands to deserts to snowy mountains. Super Mario Sunshine does have a few of the old standbys like rolling hills and the aforementioned volcano, but besides that, it’s filled with creative new ideas and themes.
How many other games have levels set in industrial harbors? How about haunted resorts? Or vaguely Six Flags-esque amusement parks? Not only does the game buck the trend of your standard set of platformer settings established way back with Super Mario Bros 3, it manages to make a good chunk of its new themes fun and interesting to platform in. Just because the level is set in seaside ruins doesn’t mean that Mario is any less fun to control and have jump around the environment, gathering coins and squashing enemies.
And that takes me back to the start; Super Mario Sunshine’s Isle Delfino isn’t just a fun area to have Mario play around in, it’s a place that I’d like to visit myself. While it is certainly still filled with enemies and stage hazards, the game makes sure that not everything in the world is trying to kill you. Super Mario Sunshine manages to create a true rarity: a world that is not only fun to explore, but a world that is a joy to experience.