A few days ago, I talked about how what makes the Super Mario Land games weird is also what makes them stand out amongst the numerous games in the Mario series. But, of course, they aren't the only strange games in Mario's 30-year run - there's plenty to choose from, be it Yoshi's Island (the one with the baby), Super Mario Bros. 2 (the one with the dream), or Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (the one with the gender identity issues) but the one you might not expect me to talk about is Super Mario Sunshine, a.k.a. the one with the water gun.
And yet, here we are.
Super Mario Sunshine gets equal amounts of love and hate for switching things up by slapping FLUDD on Mario's back, but that's not what makes it weird. And it's not the pineapple-looking people populating the game world who we'd never seen before and now are traveling to the Mushroom Kingdom for sports events, and it's not even the fact that said people mistake a goopy Blue Man Group version of Mario for the real thing, because that's just more stupid than odd. No, even with all that, this is still a true 3D Mario game at the core - He's out to collect 120 shiny things, and he can do almost everything he could do in Super Mario 64, with the exception of punching, because all that would do is get paint on his gloves. His gloves that he inexplicably wears with a short sleeve shirt, but whatever - Mario would look weird without gloves. Granted, his NES sprites didn't wear gloves (his instruction manual illustrations did, though) but that was because it would have probably cost another $10,000 to color his hands differently. That and it seemed like it was mandatory for NES characters to not have hands, and instead have circles where hands should be. But advances in technology changed all that, and now characters can have fully animated hands.
Although some developers kept using circles, because drawing hands is hard, y'all.
But I digress - the paint. The paint is part of what makes Sunshine such a strange game. It's not just regular old run of the mill paint, or even lead paint, but some kind of living paint. The things that Shadow Mario paints have a tendency to come alive, and, oddly enough, usually take the form of a Piranha Plant, because even when you've got paint that comes to life you've gotta go with what you know. The paint also spawns sentient bubbles that try to attack Mario, so there's that too. But outside of the enemies, the paint serves a far more useful, err, use, and that is painting doorways to another world. While that in itself isn't really noteworthy, it's the fact that it's not just the doorways, but evidently Mario is made of paint too. At least, I hope he's made of paint, because otherwise being disassembled at a molecular level every time you enter the warp would hurt like hell.
Here we GAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!
Anyway, aside from that, there's also the fact that, unlike Super Mario 64 (and later, Galaxy), this game doesn't have any power-ups to speak of unless you count some slight modifications to FLUDD, or FLUDD itself, I guess. The closest thing to a power-up is Yoshi, because for whatever reason Yoshis in this game are temporary. The only way to get them out of their eggs is with their favorite fruit (which means Mario must have done something to make them mad at some point) and once you do, the Yoshis have a limited supply of "juice" which can be kept up by eating more fruit. When they run out of juice, they burst into molecules like Mario entering a warp and reappear back in their egg, which is kind of a terrifying existential loop now that I think about it, but this article already has enough unspeakable horrors that we don't really need to go into that. Just know that the use of Yoshis in this game is another reason it's strange.
And then when you take a stroll on the pier to get away from it all, BAM - giant watermelon.
But wait, there's more! While vacationing on Delfino Isle, Mario meets Bowser Jr. for the first time. That's not all that strange since he's now a series regular and can just come and go as he pleases at this point, but what is weird is his claim that Peach is his mother. And that's not the strangest part - no, that would be the part where Peach doesn't deny it, at least not at first. Peach responds to this revelation as if it's more of a sudden realization than an outright fabrication. And speaking of the Bowser family (because I'm moving away from that last point before it gets weird) this was the first game where Bowser was big enough to crush Mario with his pinky finger. This proves that every time Bowser gets his hands on some amazing new power source, the first thing he does is use it to make himself bigger. Still want more weirdness? How about the levels that take away FLUDD and get down to some old school hopping and bopping...in some kind of outer-space railroad void.
"Mario in space? How silly."
Even if you don't like Super Mario Sunshine, you've gotta appreciate that the team was able to experiment with these levels, which led to the logical conclusion that was Super Mario Galaxy.
And that's what it all comes down to - Super Mario Sunshine was yet another experiment in the Mario franchise, and it gave Nintendo plenty of great new ideas to carry into future games while unfortunately leaving other ones behind. Where today Nintendo has mostly settled into baiting fans into buying the next game with nostalgia (not that I'm complaining, Mario games are still tons of fun) back when they were trying to get consumers to come to the Gamecube, they decided to take some chances and try something new. As mentioned, the result was one of the most polarizing Mario games ever made - you either love it or hate it - but no matter what, it's the oddities that come with the game that make it stand out of the crowd and keeps people talking about it over 10 years later. I urge anyone who hasn't had the opportunity to try it out to pick up a copy and take the dive into this sun and surf soaked adventure, because while it may not offer a galaxy of greatness, it's still one of the brighter spots in Mario's history.
(puns definitely intended.)