I was going to wait until I finished to post my current impressions but I wanted to write this while this stuff was fresh in my mind.
Mario Sunshine: What can you say? It's still Mario but with the new main moves, hose and jetpack it is a new game and not just Mario 64 with new levels. But, dang!!!...it's hard! Maybe I just get more impatient the older I get. Most levels have only taken a 1 to 3 tries, only a couple up to 8 or 9 but it often just feels hard.
Part of it is being in 3D you often have to fight with the camera. There's one boss that flies around the level. You have to chase him down, get somewhere high like a roof top and hose him down. The problem is you have to keep pausing and picking the look around mode and find out where he is. It's new I guess but it's tedious.
Speaking of which, the camera is one of the worst ever in a 3d game. In Mario 64 I think they said one programmer spent 10 months doing nothing but camera programming. In Mario Sunshine it appears in order to save money they didn't have any programmers programming the camera and it shows.
I just played two levels that seemed like they were made by nazis! One of the lessons from Miyamoto to the rest of the game playing world has been that a game should be fun, not frustrating. Many beginning designers are always trying to "get the player". For example putting some coins on screen just over a pit of spikes off screen so the player will jump for the coins and die. The designer thinks "yea!, I got 'em". The player throws his controller down and curses the game.
Well, Mario Sunshine has several levels that are clearly by beginning designers. Mario Sunshine was supposedly not designed by Miyamoto and it shows. (not that any games by Nintendo are anymore).
In several levels you have to walk all the way to the opposite side of a level from the starting point, then navigate your way to something else and if you mess up (fall off) you have to start over. Total frustration, totally un−fun.
In another level you have to push a giant watermelon from one side of the level to the other. The watermelon is like a balloon. If it touches pretty much anything it pops and you have to start over. There are enemies everywhere and you can't kill them!! F−R−U−S−T−R−A−T−I−O−N. I'm sure it seemed like a great idea. It's very next−gen. Previous platforms didn't have the power to do good physics so things like that didn't happen. But, it's not fun it's just tedious. I think an older Nintendo would have either worked on it until it was fun or cut it out of the game.
Worse, and this brings up another issue, it's BUGGY!!! The balloons jump through things they shouldn't. You push them one way, they touch something and magically (buggily) get displaced 10 feet to the left or right. What the f?
On the amusement park level there are swinging ships. When they get too steep you don't fall off, you fall THROUGH!!! This is not the only place this fall through bug appears.
In another level I finished the goal, the shine appeared and as the camera zoomed back in on me so that I could collect the shine the game had put me underground!!! As soon as I was given control again it declared me dead. That was a hard level too. It had taken me 15 minutes of chasing down a big enemy to finish.
In Mario 64, if I remember correctly, each level had several goals and you could do those goals in any order. In Mario Sunshine each level has 8 goals but in reality you can consider each goal it's own level. When you go into the level you are told what the goal is, the level may have been slightly reconfigured / altered for this goal. I suppose if I think about it that allows them to do more interesting things for each individual goal but it also means you cannot choose your goal. If you are going for shine #3 in level #2 you cannot try for shine #4 until you have shine #3. If shine #3 is too hard to bad for you.
Assuming I'm on the final level, it seems unfinished. In fact lots about the game seems just slapped together. No design, no aesthetic. But the last level is almost like programmer art it's so ugly.
I don't want to get down on the game. It's still way more fun than most any other platformer. Mario is still fun just to be Mario, no goal required. Yoshi is pretty awesome too and through his sounds he's cuter and feels more fun to ride then ever before.
There are inspired game play elements here and there. And there's fun stuff too. Jumping off a wall has been made easier then Mario 64 (or Super Metroid) and there are some levels that require alot of it. It's extremely rewarding to play these levels as you feel like a super pro as you pull them off. Back in the day, when my friends and I used to play Donkey Kong we would all try to compete for "tricky tutorials" as we called them. That was trying to do as many stunts as possible (jumping backward over stuff for example) and trying to play it all smooth and gracefully (never pausing). Well, the levels in Mario Sunshine based on wall jumping totally bring back that feeling.
Another is there are several levels where your waterpack will be taken away and you are just regular Mario. Most of these levels have a theme based on a previous Mario game even all the way back to the various NES an SNES Marios. These levels are all about tricky fun puzzles/moves. Some of them can be frustrating but generally they do bring back the basic fun of what has made Mario so cool in the past.
Over all I still completely recommend this game. I think it's just that of the entire series so far it seems the least polished, the least finished. It might be so. Gamecube has really had no must buy AAA+ game licenses out for it yet and so I'm sure Nintendo was in a rush to get it out. In the past it seems like one of Nintendo's differences from all other companies in the industry was their willingness to miss a shipping date in order to make their games perfect. That has always appeared to work for them. This time though it appears they didn't wait. It will be interesting to see if that was really a mistake on their part. Mario Sunshine is not selling as well as they had hoped. It seems like just a little focus testing would have revealed that the still had some work to do.