Back when Super Mario Sunshine was released in 2002, signs were everywhere that Nintendo had finally, unequivocally lost its freaking mind: Link's recently revealed Wind Waker makeover; Metroid Prime's apparent reinvention as some sort of first-person shooter; Mario's weird water cannon and sudden tree-hugging tendencies. Years later it's much easier to peg Sunshine for what it actually is: one of the most entertaining, satisfying, and solid 3D platformers ever made.
The plot is simple: Some shadowy, Mario-shaped figure is wreaking havoc (and sullying Mario's good name) on the tropical resort island Delfino, gunking the place up with unsightly graffiti. To stop the citizens from whispering sordid things about him behind his back, Mario must now clean up the island and release the armada of enviro-friendly Shine Sprites hidden throughout the scenic sub-islands.
Each of these levels is an ingeniously wrought hyperplayground, and even though there are multiple tasks to be accomplished within the same area (fight a boss, collect eight red coins, win a race, explore a labyrinth, catch Shadow Mario and so on), there are enough sub-areas and new twists accompanying each task that the levels rarely get boring. The game's mechanics are ripped directly from Super Mario 64, the archetype for all 3D platform-hopping games. Sunshine's wall jumps, triple-hops, and backflips feel completely natural, thanks in part to the GameCube controller, which was clearly designed with this kind of gameplay firmly in mind.