"Malaise" is associated with what 39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter's speech entailed, calling on the blanket of dissonance and disharmony that was plaguing the country in the post-Vietnam years of the late-'70s. The fundamental problem, the root of all evils (such as American warring over energy or domestic recession) was a withered spirit. Malaise. When the "Malaise Speech" was a question on a high school test I distinctly recall associating the word with "mayonnaise," a condiment I truly and genuinely love, but know a lot of people to find repulsive. Repulsive, off-putting, the Malaise Speech was a lukewarm moment in Carter's presidency... Okay, got it, circle the answer...
Where were we?
I've been a bit stumped by video games of late. Not permanently or for the long-term, mind you; they'll need to pry the memory card out of my spine before cremating me. But lately I've had a tough time motivating myself to start or play anything. Malaise. And yet, after having finished a replay a few weeks ago, I'm still nibblin' on Super Mario Sunshine.
Sunshine was one of my earliest gaming memories. Dates and specifics aside, I got my GameCube the Christmas it was released, Pikmin searing its spicy hot mushroomy cuteness into my brain and very soul for eternity. But it was a bit less than a year later that a particular Italian plumber (Actually, is Mario from Italy? Should we be saying "Italian-American plumber?" "Italian-Japanese?") slipped on some shades and strapped on a sentient waterhose and embarked on a whole new tropical adventure. Coming to theaters this summer, see attached mail-in rebate.
Sunshine was a vibrant hit for me, not least because my only Super Mario experience previously wasn't 64, as many a mature gamer may have had. No, my time with Nintendo's guy was on one of his Game Boy Advance escapades (Super Mario Advance 2) so seeing the mustachioed maestro in full-on 3D was pretty dang neat. I was regaled by the Piantas of Isle Delfino; I positively tortured any Toad I found by hopping on his poor, domed noggin. Children can be cruel. FLUDD's (that self-aware spray bottle) "Hover Nozzle," when I was prompted by the game to use it, was mistakenly referred to as the "Hoover Nozzle" by my amused father looking on while my neighbor and I struggled to levitate with the power of love water. I don't think I ever beat Super Mario Sunshine on my first tango with it, but it lived on in my memory as pure bliss. And why shouldn't it? Years later I'd revisit and find myself equally enchanted. Later still I'd go back for some brutal, pachinko-flavored self-flagellation. I didn't care. The tunes made it all worthwhile.
And recently, having unsheathed my plastic-wrapped copy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars months after the fact, giving that there Mario 64 a run for the first time (it's fine!), I found myself back on Gelato Beach, wondering where they could possibly find watermelon that large.
And I had so much fun.
Life's a little kooky now, innit? I mean, global pandemic and all. This isn't a spiel, I promise, but I think it's worth mentioning and fair to say that I, like nearly every other human being with a brain and a soul, have gone through some strong emotions over the past year-and-change. Video games, among other things, have provided me both solace and anxiety (silly but true!) in this time, but a recent revisit to 'ol faithful Super Mario Sunshine is feeling particularly poignant for me at the moment.
Amidst my disinterest in the medium I fawn over, I still find myself booting up 3D All-Stars for a quarter-hour stretch, grabbing a Shine Sprite here or there, or one of Sunshine's copious Blue Coins. Anything, I'll make any progress in my completed file, any inch off of Mario's bizarre and oddly-draconian debt to the islanders, whose legal begruding of the plumber to clean up their island is the sort of bureacratic nightmare of a Terry Gilliam movie. The way I play Sunshine these days is
A. Turn on game. B. Locate a Blue Coin or two. C. Absolutely lose myself in "Vs Wiggler." D. Turn off game. I'm a man of simple pleasures.
Simple pleasures which, evidently, are all I'm looking for in video games for now. I still love to research and look up and learn and GOD HAND talk on Dtoid about games, but when it comes time to sit down and play them? Eh! But I realize, that's just fine. Hardly an epiphany or something I find revelatory in my 24/7 self-analysis, but yeah, just not feelin' games right now. And ain't nothing wrong with that. Or perhaps it's that I'm well and truly over playing games "just to play them." Who cares if I just want to hop around Delfino Plaza, or literally just walk down the streets in Yakuza: Like a Dragon (my other current game I've got running; Ichiban and Mario would get along super well, I think). Who's gonna stop me?
This isn't, for those who've beared with me thus far, meant to be a soapbox. Sorry. Not feeling particularly existential (at least, I think). Because seriously, how about that Super Mario Sunshine?! It's wonderful! Who cares if some of the physics betray you worse than Judas! Phooey! Who needs perfect platforming when you've got this guy!
I will yield that Sunshine does seem to bear some frustrations and rough edges that Nintendo seems largely disassociated from these days; love them or hate them, Nintendo games are often rigorously smoothed-over experiences, major glitches and the like unheard of. But, perhaps, its the things like a faulty animation or the occasionally baffling physics that endear me to Sunshine overall.
Though, objectively, I think there are a lot of qualities to Mario's sophomore 3D adventure that aren't often mentioned. I mean, for one, look at the world it conjures! Isle Delfino is so vividly realized, and the thing that gets me is how believable it feels. The geography and interconnectedness of the levels feels palpable, both in terms of aesthetic consistency but also the actual layouts. Besides the surreal Dali-esque warps into Shadow Mario/Bowser Jr's wormhole, the levels in Sunshine function as platforming obstacle courses but also, huh, yeah I guess little snail people could live here! The platforms on the water are people's homes that Mario is trouncing upon!
For as vast and truly remarkable as Super Mario Odyssey is, the feeling of connectedness, a sense of place that Sunshine gives through its levels and their uniformity is more transportive, personally. Also in comparison to Mario's Switch soiree, the insane, nearly-quadruple-digit count of Power Moons dwarfs the Shine Sprite count on the plumber's GameCube interlude. But what's that thing they say about kidney stones? "Less is more." I so love tripping over a Koopa shell and finding a Moon in Odyssey, totally unawares, but there's something more satisfying to me, truly, about running through Mario's SHINE! animation each time, and the subsequent reset of the world. There's more impact to the flow of gameplay, with the reset making it feel as if you've reached a destination. An odd case where an erratic pace is preferable over a seamless one? Maybe!
It'd be easy for me to just drop Koji Kondo's Sunshine, mention how much I love Hawaiian shirts, and lean on my nostalgia, calling it a day and proclaiming Super Mario Sunshine to be The Best Mario Game. I won't, and I don't know that it is, overall, because I think the satisfaction one can squeeze from the tropical fruit that is Super Mario Sunshine is neither pure gameplay nor pure charm, but somewhere in the middle. Its platforming, aided by FLUDD, is solid, though maybe E Gadd's little water pistol-who-could isn't fully utilized the way a piece of powerful hardware could be; the subsequent power-ups to FLUDD feel gimmicky, and don't have many applications to Mario's standard leapin' and hoppin'.
On the flipside, Sunshine's overall construction and pacing is phenomenal, with the Delfino Plaza hub a joy to explore, but the gradually-opening other areas and the simplicity with which you can access them a means of keeping the tempo going. Not to mention the levels-within-levels often develop into a sort of metanarrative of Mario making a mess (and then hopefully cleaning it up). You unplugged that there waterfall? Good job Mr Plumber. Now clean up this raw purple sewage water. One might argue Sunshine lacks what some other Super Mario titles excel at, though I'd counter that, in many categories, it has yet to be matched, with a story somewhere between Odyssey's twists and developments and the character-driven shenanigans of Paper Mario; the Piantas are downright homerun additions to the Mario canon. I mean really!
I suppose what I mean to say is that my recent revisit of Sunshine, initially executed as the video game equivalent of Netflix's "play next episode auto-start" with 3D All-Stars already slotted, turned into more than just a waltz down memory lane. Super Mario Sunshine is a masterpiece, though whether it's for the platforming gameplay, jury's out. What my recent crash landing on Isle Delfino does solidify, in my mind, is that this is a game that has shot up on my list of "needs a sequel." There is such overflowing potential for a Sunshine 2, with, perhaps, a truly interconnected world. It would be an evolution of Odyssey's grand stage while setting reasonable technical goals for the devs. I mean, ain't nobody wanna render all that space between New Donk City and the Cascade Kingdom. What do you think we're running on! A Switch Pro? Build up, not out, as they say.
For the emotional detach I currently feel from gaming, it's still with great enthusiasm that I think about gaming. It's a way of life, this gamer's life, and 'tis the life for me. But it's nice to feel that, even when I don't really want to put forth the energy to actually play most games, there's a spot in the sun for me somewhere off the Mushroom Kingdom's continent.