As Super Mario Sunshine turns 20 on the 19th July, 2022, Kate wants to get a few things off her chest about how the game would have been a massive hit today, probably...
ALRIGHT, LISTEN. Whenever I am in polite company, and I mention enjoying Super Mario Sunshine — yes, despite its insistence on collecting ten thousand blue coins, despite its occasionally frustrating camera controls, and maybe even because of its goofy voice acting — everyone tends to swivel towards me, monocles popping off their faces, spitting wine everywhere like a faulty hose, and then all the corseted women in the room faint in horror and I'm forced to pay their medical expenses for saying something so horrific.
Do you know which game was added to Xbox Game Pass this week, a feat which usually means that a game is popular or beloved enough to warrant Microsoft forking out money for it?
I mean, come on! That's just Super Mario Sunshine with less story! Put your monocles back on!
So, here is my thesis: Super Mario Sunshine was simply born in the wrong era. It captured something that humans seem to innately love — making sure that something is very clean — and centred the gameplay around it, which made a lot of people very angry, even though TikTok is currently full of videos about menial-yet-satisfying labour, like pool cleaning and thatched roof installation. I am not kidding about either of those.
We love power washing, just as we love peeling the clear plastic off a new TV, or installing a screen protector on a phone with zero bubbles. A blank slate is immensely satisfying. So, when Mario is tasked with cleaning up all the goop across Delfino Island, even if he didn't make it himself, that's not all that different from the ultimate power fantasy that Power Wash Simulator provides!
Humans, for various reasons, are drawn towards work simulation games. It's only recently-ish that those games have been boiled down to their raw essence, moving away from the story-led work games like Harvest Moon and Slime Rancher, and more towards "doing a thing for the sake of it" games, like House Flipper and Truck Simulator. It's zen. It's relaxing. It seems weird, and maybe it is. But you know what? I work at a desk all day. I can dream about a life where I not only get to go outside, but I also get to wash things.
Mario never really gets to work. He's a plumber who never plumbs; his main day-to-day activities seem to mostly involve jumping and combat, neither of which is really much of a job. Super Mario Sunshine not only gives him something to do, at last, but it requires him to do a good job of it, too. Sure, there's combat, and honestly, those bits are often a bit bad (usually because they involve wrangling a tricky gimmick), but the slime-cleaning aspect never gets old.
I reckon that, if Super Mario Sunshine came out today (which it sort of did, with All-Stars), and maybe if it offered a first-person F.L.U.D.D. mode, people might appreciate it a little more. But apparently, twenty years ago in 2002, the world just wasn't ready for a game about cleaning.
Do you disagree with me? That's okay, we can still be friends. Let's discuss Super Mario Sunshine in the comments!