It's tough for me to review Mario games with an open mind as I'm pretty much stuck in fanboy territory. I grew up with the NES and SNES games and Super Mario 64 was like my favorite game ever, so I was rolling around on the ground like a little girl in orgasmic glee when I first got ahold of this latest edition to the saga.
I've always thought ever since the first Mario game that Mr. Miyamoto is into the recreational use of hallucinogens. I mean come on, Mario eats 'Shrooms and "Fire Flowers" and lives in a land populated by giant turtles, anthropomorphic mushrooms, and clouds with faces on them. This particular game just gives more evidence to the case. The game takes place on this Island called the Isle of Delfino which is populated by these large, walking jellybean people in grass skirts who each have a little palm tree growing out of their heads. Giant pieces of fruit litter the island. Another area is filled with little talking oyster people. Bad guys include giant stretchy octopuses, exploding robot suicide turtles, and goop spitting piranha plants. Miyamoto is SO on drugs. On the plus side everything looks awesome. Graphics are smooth and all fit the same style, cute without being too girly or non-threatening, and it's all animated extremely well. Everything has a rubbery, bouncy quality, like how the citizens bob up and down like balloons when you jump on them. The whole island is filled with little such details.
The game plays essentially just like Mario 64 which is a good thing. The island acts as a hub to the other levels/worlds, some of which are hidden. A few of them are accessed by jumping through pictures on walls just like in the prior game. I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it. The innovation in gameplay for the series comes in the FLUDD waterpack. In the game an evil Mario doppelganger is running around and smearing toxic magical paint sludge on everything, thus Mario must use his talking water cannon to clean everything up. At first it feels kinda gimmicky but the FLUDD becomes an essential part of gameplay from the start. You have the ability to switch to several different nozzles (with more unlocked as the game progresses) which allow you to rocket to extreme heights, hover in the air, zoom across the ground on in the water at amazing speed, etc. And true to Nintendo game mechanics each of these abilities will be tested throughly before the game is over. Without the cannon you've still got all the moves from the N64 game, wall jump, triple jump, forward dash, bootie-slide down hills, etc. Coolest thing of all though is your pal Yoshi the dinosaur is back, who along with the ability to eat anything can now also puke fruit juice on stuff. Awesome.
Instead of stars you collect "Sunshine Sprites," and like the N64 game each level/world has an episodic quality to it. Large portions of the levels change with each episode so you're less likely to accidentally discover a shine sprite out of sequence. The episodes do follow a pattern though, fight a boss, collect 8 red coins, chase shadow mario around, fight the boss again, etc. Each level has one or two incredibly awesome and sometimes incredibly difficult surreal obstacle courses to complete. Most of these levels look like they're made out of blocks, legos, or overlarge tinker toys and the walls are covered with crayon drawings, giving the impression that you've suddenly been trapped in some kind of demented toy-chest land. The rest of the game is pretty easy, but these courses can get hard. I mean it. One has these large platforms that revolve around their Y axis in more than one direction, forcing you to continuously jockey for position to stay on top of it while you wait for the next platform to come into range. Most of these courses take away the FLUDD pack and force you to tackle them old school style, but the ones that let you keep it are even harder. For example one has you floating on a leaf and using the water pack to propel it down a channel of poison water, but the leaf sinks after a limited amount of time...ugh Your jumping around and climbing on stuff skills are put to the limit.
The game is large, with 121 shine sprites to collect, multiple levels each with a ton of hidden areas and crap, it comes borderline close to just being too damn big. Thankfully you don't have to collect all the sprites to finish the game (only about 80 or so.) Thing is you'll want to; You'll want to explore every little nook and cranny to find all of them. Problem is though just as in Mario 64 you don't get any sort of reward for doing so except bragging rights. The citizens of Delfino say different things when if you do it. Not good enough. You should get a different ending, or unlock a new character, or a free coupon for an ice cream sundae or something.
Minor gripes aside this game is a masterpiece. Although it's not as innovative as Mario 64 it damn well excels at everything that game does and gives you more.
Graphics: Very clean, and at times stunning. They're simple but hold their own to games released on the newest Next Gen systems. The various worlds are filled with little details without the slightest hint of fog, draw in, pop-up, or slow down.
Sound: The usual very happy Mario music and goofy music abound. The nonsense talk from the plant headed Delfinians is funny and the squeaky Nokai language fits their characters. The music in the obstacle courses is the theme from the very first Super Mario Bros. game redone in barbershop quartet style.
Control: Spot on, and thank God for that because you'll need it. Things like wall jumps, back flips, and triple jumps are by far easier to execute this time around. The camera can be kind of a punk sometimes, but that seems to be a problem in any 3D game.
Gameplay: Immaculate and decedent, like chocolate.
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