3D Mario games have become some of the most beloved 3D platformer games of all time, with their unique level design and more recently their fantastic soundtracks. I am no exception, having played Super Mario Sunshine extensively on my Gamecube during the time my age was in the single digits. Later on I had played Super Mario Galaxy as well as its sequel and then played Super Mario Odyssey almost as soon as it came out, and still loved all of it.
That being said, I had never actually played Super Mario 64 all the way through. Yes, there I was at 19 years old, a huge fan of 3D Mario, and yet I had not played the game that not only marked the beginning of my favorite line of Mario games, but is also known as one of the most famous and influential games that Nintendo has ever made. I played a bit of the game at my cousin’s house whenever I went over there, but that was about it. By the time I learned how to emulate, the drive to play other games overtook it and it sort of fell to the back of my list of games to play. I was a fake fan. But not anymore. When a totally legal PC port of Mario 64 was created earlier this year, I decided it was time. So I did it. I actually did more than beat Mario 64. I 100%ed it.
This experience left me craving more 3D Mario, oddly. I decided that I seriously wanted to replay Super Mario Sunshine, one of the most nostalgic games in existence for me. So I did, and I 100%ed that too, which I had never actually done before even though I played this game to death as a kid. I’m not always this much of a completionist, but when it comes to Mario games, I usually have a blast doing it even if I want to die after falling to my death having two coins left till I get 100, or looking for those last blue coins that would be impossible to find without a guide.
So here I am, a lifelong 3D Mario fan who finally beat Mario 64 for the first time and who played Mario Sunshine for the 2432475th time, except this time to completion. Oddly enough, I completed this journey shortly after Super Mario 3D All-Stars released on the Nintendo Switch, though the port collection has been shown to be…questionable. Regardless, I realized it was a perfect time to release an article concerning my recent playthroughs of two of the three games included in 3D All-Stars. I’m going to assume you as the reader already know quite a bit about
3D Mario, though I will explain some things, and I will split up my analysis into four sections for each game: level design, boss fights, mechanics, and how hard it was to 100% each. Letsa go!
That’s Where “So Long, Gay Bowser” Comes From?: My Mario 64 100% Completion Playthrough
If you can’t tell by the title of this section, yeah. That’s how little I actually knew about this game. I only ever got to about right before the first Bowser fight, which is only about 1/4th of the game overall, so a lot of this stuff was new to me. I may not have the same affection for this game as I do Sunshine then, since that game came out of the womb with me, basically. Thus, I am a little worried I won’t do this game justice in my analysis compared to Sunshine, but I digress. I enjoyed the game a lot and was glad to have finally played it through for the first time. Just so you know, I won’t look like a fool when I say I’m a 3D Mario fan and someone asks me my opinion of Mario 64.
Okay, Mario 64 is one of the first games of its kind, so I have to give it the benefit of the doubt with level design. To my spoiled Gen Z mind, a lot of the worlds, while they have their own charm, seemed really clunky to me. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy them, but when you’ve fallen off the same edge trying to get that last red coin 4 times in a row, you start to get a little salty about how the level is set up. And the classic non-cooperating Nintendo 64 camera only makes it all worse.
Despite these nitpicks I have that almost definitely have to do with the age that this game came out in, the levels had nice variety and I enjoyed a lot of them, with the major exceptions of Shifting Sand Land (I rage quit like several times on that world, would have been a little easier had I realized the shells could go up the pillars) Snowman’s Land, and Tiny Huge Island, which I felt were all really weak. In addition, I found the first few worlds to be exceedingly simple, but it would be unfair to say that that wasn’t because the game was the first installment of 3D Mario.
Strangely enough, all of the worlds that I often hear people complaining about, such as Tick Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride, I had very little trouble with. I died a total of 3 times in Rainbow Ride compared to what must have been 30 in Shifting Sand Land (if you can’t tell, I hate that world with all of my being). I liked both of those last worlds too, I thought they had a fun layout even though it’s really easy to fall off. In fact, I would say they were my favorite worlds in the game, they had a lot of interesting and delightful platforming. Maybe I had just gotten a lot of practice from the past worlds and such. My one complaint with Rainbow Ride, I think, is having to do that little carpet spiel every time you enter the world, and the roads that involve more carpet taking also leave me tapping my foot sometimes while waiting to get to where I’m trying to go. Aside from that, Rainbow Ride is quite neat. This is coming from a Rainbow Road enthusiast though, and though that’s Mario Kart and thus a way different format, maybe I shouldn’t be trusted in reviews of these things if I go for the places suspended in air that are apparently hard to get around for most people.
Mario boss fights in general tend to be very simple and can be completed in 5 minutes or less if you’re good at the game, and this was no exception. There are, admittedly, not many bosses in Mario 64. You have some classic fights in 64 like King Bob-omb (literally just throwing him around till he gives up) and the Whomp King (you defeat him just like all the other Whomps by ground pounding his back), and it doesn’t get much more complicated from there. I definitely do not think the bosses were unnecessary and not fun, but they felt a lot more fluffy to me than the bosses in other Mario games, and that’s my only real problem with them. My favorite boss in the game is Eyerok, who, ironically, resides in my personal hell, Shifting Sand Land. He’s just a cool golem-like creature possessed by an ancient spirit who is angry with Mario for disturbing his sleep, and you defeat him by attacking the eyes in his hands. Probably the most raw entity in the game.
Now, on to the Bowser fights. There are three in the game total, each one consisting of you hurling Bowser at a bomb near the edge of the platform you are fighting him on. Each fight is harder than the one before it due to having to throw the Koopa King at more bombs each time and more obstacles you have to avoid being added each time. By the 3rd and final fight, if you accidentally throw Bowser off the edge, he will jump back and tilt-slam the platform. This honestly made me feel nauseous, so I wasn’t a fan of that part. That being said, I really enjoyed how challenging I found the Bowser fights despite them being so simple. Sure the only thing I have to do is chuck him at explosives, but considering Mario does so by spinning him around by the tail to gain centripetal force, it’s hard to aim. So even though it’s simple, it’s challenging, and I like that. Or maybe I’m just bad at the game, I don’t know.
Oh, and this isn’t really related to the actual boss fights, but something I really like about Bowser in Mario 64 is his foreboding presence in the castle. From what I played as a kid, the malicious laugh you hear along with the ominous jingle when entering the castle for the first time/attempting to open doors you can’t yet terrified me in such a good way. So too, that hallway where the portrait of Peach turns into Bowser the closer you get to it. Experiencing these things again reminded me of how they made me feel when I was little. And though I didn’t get to this point as a kid, the endless stairs brought about the same emotions. It was just a neat memory that was brought up through the way Bowser seems to be spying on you in the castle.
The special mechanics of Mario 64 was where I felt there was a lot to be desired. Firstly, there are three power ups that you can get. The Flight Cap (lets you fly for a period of time), the Metal Cap (turns you into Metal Mario, which makes you virtually invincible and allows you to walk underwater), and the Vanish Cap (allows you to walk through certain walls). My main beef is with the Flight Cap, which took me SO long to be able to remotely control well and learn the ins and outs of how to not fall to my death while using it. You do eventually get used to it, but I only did around the last area that I needed to use it in. Overall, it just caused me a lot of pain, which I’ve heard is the general consensus anyway, so at least I know I’m not crazy. I’m indifferent to the Metal and Vanish Caps, they’re fine, just not really enjoyable as a game mechanic. I think what bothers me is that every one of these powerups can only be used for a period of time, so instead of having fun I’m getting anxious trying to complete the task I need to finish before my power runs out. I don’t plan to bring Galaxy into this article too much, but that’s something I enjoyed about that game: I had a lot of fun just hanging out as Bee Mario or Boo Mario, and those were unlimited, save for when you got hit by an enemy.
I also don’t enjoy how much the game relies on cannons. It shoots lower than where you aim, so if you’re not used to these things you can miss and fall into oblivion as a result. Other Mario games have cannons of course, but Mario 64 cannons are too abundant and clunky in my opinion. I’m probably just nitpicking there, but every time I had to use one I would internally groan because I wasn’t too good at aiming them.
Difficulty in 100%ing
Mario 64 I wouldn’t say was challenging to 100%, but there were definitely a few moments that made me question what I was doing and if I was wasting my life trying to accomplish this. I mean, it’s not like you get anything special for 100%ing the game, and I died or had to start over a lot trying to get the 100 coin stars in every level (again, curse you Shifting Sand Land). Despite this, I have to say that many of the main stars don’t take much time to obtain. Most levels are really short, the only challenge that could cause a lot of time consumption on those is trying to find how to get some of the later stars in each world. Even then, I admittedly looked up guides on how to get those. So honestly, the real difficulty comes in with, again, obtaining the 100 coin stars as well as a few of the harder levels (of which were not very abundant).
I can confidently say I do not regret spending the time to 100% the game, because once I got past those levels that made me fume I had a lot of fun collecting all the stars and experiencing everything the game had to offer. Still, none of that compared to what I had to endure at the end of my playthrough. I had saved the last star to be the final Bowser fight, and once I completed it and the credits rolled, my foot slid off my chair and hit the corner of my desk drawer extremely hard. I didn’t break anything, but I was wincing in pain as the happy music played and Mario eventually said “thank you so much-a for playing my game!” A not-so-small price to pay for being able to say I 100%ed Mario 64, I would say.
What’s this Icky Paint Like Goop?: My Super Mario Sunshine 100% Playthrough
It felt really good to play this game again after not doing so for years. Like I expected, it was a nostalgia trip like no other for me. I heard that sweet succulent voice acting and was like “ah yes, I am home”. Since I actually 100%ed the game for the first time in this recent playthrough, I got to experience everything the game had to offer for the first time, and it felt good. There were rocky points, but I had a lot of fun with this playthrough seeing the cutscenes again, playing all my favorite levels again, and more.
Overall I like Sunshine’s level design. The platforming is good…except when it’s not. The world that comes to mind when I think of bad platforming in Mario Sunshine is Noki Bay. This world is basically walls with some floaties in the water next to the walls, with a few platforms over it. On one side you have some cliffs you can traverse while on the other you can find a bunch of labyrinths that appear in the wall when you spray a little stone relic in the wall with FLUDD. The latter isn’t so annoying if you aren’t trying to get all the blue coins, which I certainly was. Then again, the entire game isn’t annoying unless you’re looking for blue coins (more on that later). I like Noki Bay, the aesthetics and the music are all very nice, but it was definitely tedious to get around.
Other than that, I have no real gripes with the level design. If anything, I could be critical and say that Bianco Hills and Gelato Beach are kind of bland and that the grates under Pianta Village are a bother to traverse. It’s not out of this world good, but it’s pleasant at the very least. The highlights of platforming for me were the Secret Stages. They get pretty creative sometimes, and I just love how ominous the “other dimension” you fall into is, considering Shadow Mario takes FLUDD the first time you do it, it’s usually dark, and the music is slightly haunting.
My favorite world by far is Sirena Beach, because although it’s relatively small and confusing sometimes on where you need to go, I thoroughly enjoy most of the levels in it, and the beach and the hotel are really just pleasant to hang out in. I really like how this game deviated from having the usual haunted house level in Mario and made the haunted area not so creepy, just a tropical hotel with some Boos hanging out. Though I do enjoy a good spooky Mario level. I also quite like Pinna Park, it’s fun to maneuver around all the amusement park rides. Except the roller coaster levels make me want to die just a tiny bit, because just like the Bowser tilt-slam in 64, they make me nauseous. I don’t do well with extensive motion, if it wasn’t obvious.
Oh, one thing I can say for sure is this game really has a red coin fetish. I didn’t realize how many there were until this playthrough. Seriously, there are at least 2 red coin levels per world as opposed to strictly one per world in Mario 64. Granted 64 has 15 worlds + Peach’s Castle and Sunshine has 8 + Delfino Plaza, but it really did get excessive. And that isn’t counting the Secret Stage red coins where you can get a Shine Sprite by going back to every single Secret Stage to find red coins on that stage before time runs out.
I am so split on Mario Sunshine boss fights, because I have fun with them, but a couple get reused. The goopy Proto Piranha appears, I want to say, 4 times in fairly quick succession? Granted he’s the easiest boss in the game, but still. Additionally, Petey Piranha appears twice and Gooper Blooper appears three times. There’s added difficulty every time a boss reappears, but it never gives enough variety, in my opinion. The bosses that don’t reappear, however, I enjoy a lot. My favorite boss in the game by far is the Phantamanta, a literal manta ray-shaped shadow that tracks goop around on the group that you have to squirt, and then it splits into smaller versions of itself until you have a bunch of tiny Phantamantas coming for you and you have to eradicate them all. It’s one of the more challenging and haunting fights, I vibe with it a lot now, even though it caused me a lot of trouble when I was little.
You, of course, fight Bowser in this game, but only one time at the end as opposed to a few times like in 64. Unfortunately, this is also my least favorite Bowser fight in any 3D Mario game. It’s just…so bland. You have to make your way to the ground-pound-able platforms, rocket nozzle your way into the air, and then ground-pound from high up. That’s it, no special tactics, other than maybe finding an efficient way to avoid the Bullet Bills and Bowser’s fire. The only raw thing I remember about it is the dialogue, which I don’t really want to specify what it was here since it’s sort of a spoiler (though, I’m not sure who cares about 3D Mario spoilers). So unfortunately for me, the endgame is a bust. The world you traverse to get to the Bowser fight, Corona Mountain (insert funny COVID-19 joke here) I also find exceedingly boring and simple.
When Splatoon first came out, I joked it was the opposite of Mario Sunshine, because a big part of Mario Sunshine is cleaning goop left by Shadow Mario. Goop eventually kills you if you walk in it for too long and some goop is also electric or flaming hot, so it’s clearly a problem. This is where the main mechanism that sets Sunshine apart from other 3D Mario games comes in: FLUDD. A talking water pump device that Mario wears on his back. FLUDD I think sort of set the bar for Mario to have a quirky companion in each of the 3D Mario games that allows him to have special abilities for that specific game (the Luma in Galaxy and Cappy in Odyssey). So FLUDD can, you guessed it, squirt water and thus clean up goop, as well as drive some other mechanics in the game. He can also use other nozzles, such as the Hover Nozzle (lets Mario hover in the air for a short time), the Rocket Nozzle (shoots Mario high into the air) and the Turbo Nozzle (propels Mario forward at high speed). I really enjoy FLUDD’s mechanics, they’re exceedingly fun for such a simple concept. It’s part of what made the game so endearing to me as a kid, my young mind was just thrilled by being able to float around the world using this magical water machine. I’m still reminded of that feeling from when I was younger as I play the game, since this mechanic is used excessively throughout the game.
Yoshi also exists in this game! Except he dissolves Infinity War style when he touches water. And he needs fruit every 5 or so minutes or he could perish. It’s weird. He lets you do the usual Yoshi stuff, jump pretty high, eat enemies, etc. But in this game he also has the ability to regurgitate his stomach contents and spray juice. This juice can turn enemies into platforms (a mechanic necessary for exactly one level in the whole game) and disintegrate a special goop that FLUDD cannot wash away. The juice (and Yoshi) also change color depending on the last fruit he ate, and this somehow dictates how the enemy platforms you create will move? It’s odd, but at least the sound Yoshi makes when he squirts juice is adorable.
Sunshine also has a few…not so great mechanics. Thank goodness you only encounter the boats a total of two times, because wow, I hate them. You move the boat you’re in by squirting in the opposite direction of where you want to go, except this process is ever so slightly jacked up that if you squirt even a little of the ways off, you can run into the pillar you’re trying to avoid. I’m also not a huge fan of the tightropes, there are areas that require the traversing of quite a few of them, and it just gets confusing as well as time consuming, since Mario can only go so fast across them. I think tightropes can be fun in Mario games, it’s just while I was playing this one I was thinking “wow this is a lot of tightropes”. It just got annoying.
Difficulty in 100%ing
There’s always something in 3D Mario games that makes 100%ing them annoying. In Mario Sunshine, it’s the blue coins. These coins are just hidden across the worlds, and if you get 10 of them you can trade them in for a Shine Sprite. The problem is that there are 240 blue coins. Yes, 240, for a total of 24 Shine Sprites that need to be obtained this way. I naturally knew where many were located just from playing the game multiple times, but turns out that was only about 180 of them. After beating the main game, I had to go on the blue coin finding grind. Even with a guide, I couldn’t actually remember which ones I grabbed, and I would also get paranoid that I didn’t grab ones that I actually did know the location of, so yeah, that was fun.
The other factor that bothered me in 100%ing the game was, again, the red coin levels. Specifically, the ones in the Secret Stages. Whenever I finished a Secret Stage, I would feel like I had to immediately go back and do it all over again to do the red coin level, which I never actually wanted to do, but I did it for the sake of completionism. You don’t do anything special for 100%ing this game either, apparently just a different end screen if you were to fight Bowser again, which I did not want to do just for a png file that I can find on the internet anyway.
So the question is, as someone who had not finished Mario 64 before and played Mario Sunshine many times over in my childhood, which game do I prefer now that they’re fresh in my mind? The answer isn’t surprising: I prefer Sunshine. Almost all of the components I analyzed for each game I feel that Sunshine did somewhat better. However, it isn’t so by very large of a margin. Mario 64 was still a really good experience and I’m glad I finally was able to finish it after all these years. It’s also really fun despite the occasional frustrations, just like any other 3D Mario game.
Also, I think I’m still biased towards Sunshine. There are so many memories I have of sitting in my basement, just exploring all the worlds. I liked all the colors, FLUDD, and the funny Piantas that yelled “nooo!!!!” when I squirted them. Playing the game reminds me of my childhood, and although things were going wrong in my life even back then, I didn’t realize it. I miss that naivety we possess in childhood, and Sunshine sort of brings that back for me, if that makes sense. Talking to my online friends here at Story Arc and beyond, I’ve noticed that I tend to to hold Sunshine in higher praise than most people, and again, it’s likely due to nostalgia.
So honestly, my conclusion from all of this is this: I’m a big fan of 3D Mario. It’s hard for me to not include almost the entire series in my favorite games of all time. They’re utterly fantastic, even with all their obvious flaws and after all these years of playing them. I will probably end up playing Galaxy again soon, once I have access to my Wii again. Maybe I’ll write about it as well when the time comes, as it is arguably one of the greatest Nintendo games of all time, and I feel odd leaving it out of this article. Regardless, the Mario games I recently played mean a lot to me as well as many other Nintendo fans, and I was happy to engage with them and express my feelings about them in this blog.
(Mario voice) Thank you so much-a for reading my article! I will continue to write video game reviews in this sort of format, as well as more content about K-pop and anime, the two other large areas of pop culture I thoroughly enjoy. Keep watch for more from me if you’re interested at all. If you have any comments or recommendations you can contact me on Twitter at @ChimieLynx. Maybe even check out the somewhat small amount of fanart I have posted while you’re there, hint hint.