Isle Delfino sucks as a location. Yeah, I said it, and the more I look back on the game the more I think it's true and that the place just lacks any of the interesting sights you find on a real world island.
The main problem therefore is simple... the whole place is just an extended beach resort. It's accurate to the title I suppose, the whole restoring Sunshine to the island by collecting Shine Sprites premise, but it doesn't lend itself to a memorable video game setting alone.
As a result, the worlds are just boring. I mean, look at them for God's sake!
Delfino Plaza- Least exciting town design on the planet. No real attractions bar the Shine Gate. Zero difference in elevation between areas. Feels nothing like a real coastal town.
Bianco Hills- A pleasant enough first world, but it's still a standard 'grass land' equivalent, the tropical island version of Bob-omb Battlefield.
Ricco Harbour- Interesting, as far as the girders and boats section goes. That was excellent level design. Pity about the entirely lacking in content insections set on the shore, or the fact two whole missions are devoted to Blooper riding in the general area and a sewer respectively.
Gelato Beach- Standard beach area. Good to include it, but by definition any non story missions here are going to be quite dull by the fact the area itself is such.
Sirena Beach- A haunted hotel. Another beach. The hotel was okay in design (but rather small), but the beach area was completely void of interesting content despite the beautiful looking sunset and scenery. The later 'clean up' mission made that even clearer.
Pinna Park- Very interesting idea, and a fun level in general. Could have done with a new and far better eighth mission.
Noki Bay- Fairly good design, but it feels like the area wasn't used to its full potential.
Pianta Village- Some decent ideas, but a horrible design for a so called 'village'. Really, change the name or area's design, sinceI don't think you'll find a single person who'd assume it was an inhabitable community at first glance.
Corona Mountain- Total failure of a level. This should have been a full eight mission world with far better level design and an interesting volcano themed landscape to go with it.
Airstrip- There was no reason to even have more than the first shine sprite here. Heck, there wasn't really a purpose in having that here either, we could have easily gone straight from the Piranha Plant boss to the courtroom scene and kept the shine sprite for a more important task.
A lot's missing from the location to make it feel more like a proper living world, a real place that people would actually go on their holidays. In my opinion, here are a few locations that should have been added in, as well as some changes to be made to the existing ones.
Add a castle type section. Yes, it's arguably a bit cliche for the Mario series, but this isn't unrealistic for the setting at all. Look at the list of castles on Wikipedia, and see the sheer number in mediterranean countries. For example, it seems every Spanish island in existance has at least one castle located there, and you'd have thought a place like Isle Delfino would have some interesting architecture like that after maybe some Crusaders went there or something. That could have allowed them to introduce all the clever level design and Mario game stereotypes found in the other platformers, and unlike with Super Mario Galaxy 2, actually gave the castle a good reason to be there.
Heck, what about other interesting buildings? Where's the cathedral type place most real life Isle Delfino type areas tend to have? Places like Turkey have plenty of interesting religious buildings that are both found in tourist filled beach areas and have enough in the way of design to be both stunning to look at and a prime video game location.
Or the temples and ruins? Like the ones most Greek islands have? Or the type that Rome has because the Romans was influenced by Greek architecture? Nintendo can't honestly be saying the only buildings the Pianta people made were Pianta Village, can they? Where's our ruin type area with all kinds of secret passageways, crumbling statues and references to a thinly veiled rip off version of the Greek pantheon? Hey, you could even bring together the tropical island resort 'cliches' and those from Indiana Jones and Donkey Kong Country, and certainly make the game feel like a more interesting platformer to boot.
But enough of older buildings and man made objects, there should be a cruise ship type level, set just off the coast of the island. The ideas for this level archtype have to be near endless, because you could:
1. Have a mission or two in the deep ocean where Mario is just free to swim the crystal blue waters, avoiding sharks and other predators, and exploring underwater ruins and coral reefs. The underwater parts of Noki Bay and the coral reef from Gelato Beach would probably make more sense to be in this 'world'.
2. Other missions could cruise around various islands and mainland locations, letting Mario go and find new areas, new characters and new secrets with every shine sprite.
3. Have a mission or two set inside the ship itself, with all the fun and havoc that Mario charging around the decks and exploring the engine room would cause.
4. If you're really 'daring', make a mission like Titanic where the ship hits a rock and sinks. The objective could then be to get Mario out of the sinking ship before it takes on too much water and his air meter runs out. Dodge water that's flooding in! Avoid tables, chairs and other non nailed down objects flying towards you because the ship capsizes. Desperately charge through various rooms and passages looking for an exit of some kind! Heck, you could even have it so the shine sprite is found on the lifeboat or have the mission timed!
Other possibilities are endless, don't you think?
You could have a jungle to explore, with the usual tree climbing, vine swinging and not at all Donkey Kong Country like feel that brings. Maybe even have you dodging Mario equivalents to crocodiles (Kremling reference?), piranha fish, snakes, etc.
A safari could be a good setting, with lions, hippos and wildebeest.
Or a cave type area, based on the many, many subterranean tunnels and open areas that can be found around the world. These areas can be found nearly anywhere in real life, so it doesn't seem too implausible Isle Delfino might have a similar series of tunnels and caves. More interestingly, unlike Hazy Maze Cave from Super Mario 64, such a system could well be more natural and less like a mine, with various rock formations and perhaps even underground rivers and lakes of a greater degree than the one that Dorrie was found in back in the Nintendo 64 days.
Let's not forget another gaming staple that could well have been introduced in this game either, pirates! Nice timing too, since Super Mario Sunshine did only come out one year before Pirates of the Caribbean did, and many of the standard pirate tropes would have made for a good Mario level.
There'd be dodging cannonball fire, exploring ancient galleons of the kind K Rool used in the Donkey Kong Country series, pirate enemies, climbing the masts of the ships and fighting the ship captain (who'd probably be allied with Bowser and co in some way) as a ranging storm goes on in the surrounding area and strong waves smash into the ship every few seconds. Think something like this:
Heck, even Wario Land did it twice, so why don't the main series Mario games make a level like this? Especially in a game where it'd fit perfectly.
Another concept would be another natural location, like some mountains or cliffs or something. Waterfalls, rivers with a strong current, maybe a few cliffs, dangerous walkways... that sort of thing. I know that Noki Bay was similar, but it'd make more sense for a place like this to be inland... heck, I even visited such an area once in real life.
That's just what they could have done for new levels (and the ones listed would be more than enough to bring it to a similar length to Super Mario 64) Old levels could be improved too...
Delfino Plaza for one should have been a hill side town, like many real world capital cities on smaller islands. The roads should go downhill towards the beach (which would make the area far more interesting than the completely flat foundation Delfino Plaza seems to have), and the buildings should be flat roofed and and overlook various cliffs. This would make the town look less like a planned community or city built in the middle of nowhere and more like a historic centre of commerce located in it's current spot for defense reasons.
Ricco Harbour should be a bigger area, with more scaffolding at greater heights. Make the stars take a lot more climbing to get, in the style of the traditional 2D platformers. Obviously, remove the Blooper riding missions, which add nothing to the game whatsoever and replace them with just about anything else. Maybe have a small village with more than one street alongside it, like Jolly Roger's Lagoon from Banjo Tooie and locate the last two or three shine sprites there. Have one Blooper fight take place in the village centre/fountain area, and the other on the helipad to make it the best of both worlds.
For Gelato Beach, not sure. The coral reef would have been moved to the cruise ship set level, so a good replacement might be surfing or such like. Maybe you could even have a flight power up here and have a few missions in the air, since real world beaches tend to be good places to go hang gliding and well, Treasure Trove Cove from Banjo Kazooie was a good inspiration too.
Pinna Park was fine, bar the final mission. Just replace it and add a new ride in to set the last task on.
Sirena Beach is fairly okay, it'd just need to remove the pointless 'clean up the beach with FLUDD' mission and replace it with something else. Perhaps also expand the hotel building to have more rooms and floors.
How about even letting Mario go on the balcony and roof, and end up back outside the hotel if he falls off?
Noki Bay is fine, although it'd need some new missions to replace the diving ones, and the altogether pointless 'red coins in a bottle' task.
Pianta Village just needs a building overhaul, to look more like a town made from actual houses, with a style remniscient of a proper settlement. The giant tree theme was fine, just put an interesting village locale there and keep the same missions.
As you see, just a few changes and a bit more thought on Nintendo's part could have made this game into a true classic like Super Mario 64 or Galaxy, with at least as many worlds and just as much variation without even having to diverge a little from the tropical island theme.
Apart from some horrible town design that looks nothing like a real town, the levels in general just needed some more variety to fully capture the feel of a holiday on a island in either the mediterranean or down by the equator, and to make the setting have more appeal for those of us (who make up a fairly large part of Nintendo's audience, considering what kind of people play video games) who aren't beach lovers who just like hotels and sun bathing all day long. Mario Sunshine should have taken in some cues from the kinds of locations that really exist on these islands and that non beach goers visit to make Isle Delfino truly feel like a tropical resort one would want to visit.
Waluigious says: Mario Sunshine would have far better received with pirates in it.