Geoff Keighley
August 23, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

For veteran gamers, Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube, Nintendo, $49.95, E) — the much-anticipated new Mario adventure — will evoke plenty of nostalgia. Over two decades (see chart), games spotlighting Nintendo’s lovable mascot have generated nearly $7 billion in revenue. Not too shabby for a corpulent, mustachioed plumber (presumably of Italian descent) with an unfortunate penchant for red jumpsuits.

Sartorial tastes aside, Mario is one of a handful of truly groundbreaking videogame creations. His last outing, 1996’s Super Mario 64, was a landmark title that ushered in three-dimensional platform games. Six years later, Super Mario Sunshine’s impact will likely be measured on a less epic scope. To most, it will seem nothing more than a jazzed-up Mario 64, with one noteworthy addition: a water jet-pack used by Mario to spray away toxic sludge on a tropical island. There are brief cinema sequences to advance the story behind this wayward waste dumping, but in a curious creative decision, Mario says nary a ”Mama mia!” throughout the game.

He might not talk much, but Mario sure does get around: His adventures take him through seven unique environments, including a sprawling amusement park. The intricate detail of these worlds, however, is ultimately the game’s main weakness. Gone is the minimalist look of previous Mario games, where the focus was on exploring larger-than-life fantasy environments. This time, the designers have dreamed up such overly wrought locales as a bustling harbor, in which Mario must traverse a Fear Factor-like obstacle course complete with elevated struts and wire-mesh gates. Obstacles like these seem unnecessarily difficult and often detract from gameplay.

Which is not to say Sunshine is without memorable moments. The degree of interactivity within the different levels is staggering, and the epic battles against various bosses have to be played to be believed. But we have to wonder why, after 21 years, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto has decided to make problem-solving less important than button mashing. There’s plenty to recommend, but die-hard Mario fans might find Sunshine mixed with clouds.

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