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SummaryA vacation from the Mushroom Kingdom - lighten up and enjoy it.
The Good1) Above all, the music is the best thing in the game. Koji Kondo has decades of experience doing his thing, and despite the continued use of MIDI sounds, SMS is some of the tightest platform music ever. It manages to convey a "feel" for the spirit of the game, reflect the tropical surroundings, and move the action/mood of the game forward all at the same time. It's really amazing what the music does for the game, and it should serve as an example for other platformers as to how easily a game is enhanced with quality stage ditties.
2) Nintendo manages to convincingly incorporate the new scenery and characters into the Mario world. I'm typically pretty picky about arbitrary additions to Mario/DK (Rare's Kongs, I'm looking at ALL of you), but I think the Piantas, Petey Piranha, etc are okay additions. Like I said, I'm not crazy about them, but I think they're not as offensive as other attempts to expand the Empire.
3) For all the grief it takes, the water pack is still a fun little gadget for platform gaming. C'mon, you know you enjoy blasting bee hives and anthropomorphic venus fly traps. It's fun!
4) Good level design in that the same level is used repeatedly for different objectives but fails to become stale thanks to the water pack tricks "opening" new areas of each level to explore.
5) Though not as impressive as the music, which I feel is up there with the best of any platformer I've played, the visuals are lush and stunning. The coronas produced by aiming your camera into the sun are a nice touch. Good looking game in many respects.
6) Play control is fairly tight. I would say "absolutely tight" if it weren't for the blasted camera in a few choice areas, which I'll mention in the "Bad."
The Bad1) Though I love the Mario world, STOP MAKING MARIO GAMES INTO COLLECT-FESTS!!! I can't say that emphatically enough. I loved the use of coins, flowers, and stars to give Yoshi's Island some extra replay, but the "Shine Get!" collect-fest is too much, Nintendo. I'm praying it's not a sign of things to come in the Mario Universe (though I know better).
2) The camera, while good in many places, is so bad in a few places as to negate all the good. I'm sure that a lot of work goes into making things work in this game, and I've given Nintendo more than enough credit in the "Good" section for some of those things. But to have bad camera control after the design experience of Mario 64 (which had a better camera, IMHO) is inexcusable.
3) Not really many fun "secrets" in this place, like SMB's so-called negative world, SMB3's warp whistles, or SMW's Star Road. Would have been a nice touch.
4A) I found most of the boss fights boring. I'm being picky on this one, but I thought I'd throw it out there. They just didn't excite me, maybe because the non-conventional structure of the game didn't make things feel to me like things were "building-up" to a boss fight.
4B) This ties in with 4A: I felt the incorporation of the "bad guys" and boss fights wasn't well considered. The jump to the fight with Bowser Sr. seemed sudden to me--I understand the big "build-up" to the final fight is easier when the worlds and levels/stages are numbered, and you know how far you've got until the big battle, but Nintendo should have thought of a non-traditional way to incorporate the final fight to match the non-traditional themes (for a Mario game/platformer, at least) in the remainder of the game.
5) Finally, I'm about the only person I know who thinks that the "old school" SMB-in-3D bonus stages were entirely unnecessary. I think they're a concession to Mario fans thrown in by the game's designers because they were worried this vacation would be too "different" for Mario fans. I dislike those bonus stages because they deviate from the theme of the game. Instead of bonus stages, I would've appreciated it if the designers put more thought into how to fit the bosses and boss fights into the game more cleverly.
The Bottom LineThe title of this review says it all. This game is clearly a "vacation" from the Mario series--everything in the design is screaming it: for example, the mushrooms, fire flowers, and goombas take a backseat to palm trees, evil goop, and durian kicking.
People who expected this game to be the fabled "Mario 128" or a true successor to Mario 64 aren't being fair to the game or the game's creators. Again, it's pretty clear from everything in the game (from the opening FMV of Mario's flight to the use of tricks and devices unfamiliar to the rest of the Mario world) that this game was designed to be not just a vacation for Mario but for his fans as well.
As a goofy aside (but one I'll try to relate to the overall message), I have a condition in which I often experience music as flavors, and whenever I play SMS or even just hear its music, I have the sensation of tasting fresh, slightly unripe mangoes on the roof of my mouth. And to me, that image is the intent with this game: it's not meant to be a heavy flavor, like ice cream or a thick sauce, but instead light, bright, and flavorful, like a sweet, slightly tart young mango or a citrusy sorbet.
If you dislike SMS, you should dislike it for being "light, bright, and flavorful." But don't dislike it for reasons its creators can't control. I like the game because I take it for what it is: a fun game that's very easy to pick up and play for a half of an hour or so. In the space of time you play it, you'll typically find yourself humming along to music and enjoying the sun-drenched visuals and relaxed characters and surroundings. A great addition to any GC library.