I’ve been slowly but surely been making my way through the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. When the time came for Super Mario Sunshine, I was a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t played it since I was a child, and popular consensus on the Internet was not a positive one.
I was specifically dreading playing a few key levels that I remembered being awful and that I had seen shared opinions of online. They were the infamous lily pad level (which is about as bad as I remembered it), the watermelon level (which I did easily, but mostly because I knew what to expect), and the topic of this article: the Pachinko level.
I remember being so intensely angry and frustrated at this level when I was young. It looked cool, being what I thought was a pin-ball machine, but it made me rage quit. Since then, I remember how hard a time Arin from the Game Grumps had when he played it. It was the most angry he got throughout their entire playthrough of Sunshine. Tv Tropes has it under their “That One Level” section, and many dissenters in general point to this level as terrible.
Imagine my surprise when I was able to get through it remarkably easily. I was trying to figure out why my experience this time was so different from everyone else’s (and even my own previous one) and I’m fairly certain I’ve figured out what it was: the Hover Nozzle.
I decided to use the Rocket Nozzle to enter the area, meaning I couldn’t use the Hover Nozzle. Without it, I was able to explore and play with the level and figure out what I was supposed to do.
The level seems to understand the physics pretty well. When I held the joystick all the way to the left I would safely land on the area with the red coin closest to the start. When holding all the way to the right, I’d land in the middle area with the red coin. I was puzzled, since even holding my joy stick all the way to the right wouldn’t get me to the far right of the stage where the final two red coins were. Then I remembered the simple fact that Mario can dive midair. And lo and behold: doing just that brought me exactly to the far spot with the red coin. It’s almost as if it was designed to be beaten using these simple techniques.
Looking up footage and critiques online, everyone I saw would use the hover nozzle and it wouldn’t work properly. They would claim that it was a strange physics engine error or bug brought on by a rushed release or just generally poor coding. I am now of the opinion that this was an intentional design choice. They didn’t want you to use the Hover Nozzle, because it would trivialize the specific challenge.
Sunshine is known for having platforming heavy levels in which Shadow Mario forcibly removed F.L.U.D.D., since those levels are designed to be beaten without it. This made me wonder why they didn’t do the same for the pachinko level. After all, it would certainly make it more obvious what the developers wanted the players to do then, wouldn’t it?
Then it occurred to me that the F.L.U.D.D.-less levels allow you to come back with it later on, and when doing so add an additional 8 red coins challenge to it. Since the initial level itself is already comprised of collecting the 8 red coins, that means a repeat visit would be fruitless and stick out like a sore thumb. At that point, they were either left with the choice of having the level have no reply value with F.L.U.D.D., making it an odd-level-out, or just let the players keep the waterpack and hope players figure out not to use it.
Obviously, they seemed to have gone with the wrong decision. Most people wouldn’t assume to not use the wonderfully practical platforming tool most of the game is centered on using. Quite the opposite in fact. From what I can tell, most people, when seen that hovering seems wonky, continue to power through it instead of attempting to play without it. Heck, that was my conclusion when I first played. Why would I not use the power the game has granted me that’s typically helpful?
All this to say that the level has a design flaw: it doesn’t teach the player how they’re supposed to play it. They let you keep F.L.U.D.D., and you’re NOT supposed to use it? You have to tell your players that, Nintendo; it’s not very intuitive. That being said, I think the reputation it had garnered is far worse than it deserves. People talk about it as if it were the anti-Christ of Mario levels, when all it needed was a tutorial sign.
Sunshine’s Pachinko Level Isn’t That Bad; You’re Just Doing it Wrong.