I've been playing Super Mario Sunshine since I got it way back in September. Though I haven't quite finished it, I feel like I've played more than enough of it to say my piece.
For starters, the graphics were a fairly mixed bag. While things looked good for the most part, it seemed like I saw all of the good graphics early on (in particular, various water effects) and was left with the discovery of innumerable disappointing graphics for the remainder of the game. In some places it was a bad texture, in some places it was a blocky object, in some places it was strange clipping, and everywhere it was stupid looking islanders. It was a shame that there weren't more amazing graphics to find later in the game, because then I would have gotten something for my hard work.
Unfortunately, the player's introduction to the sounds of Super Mario Sunshine in the game's opening sequence is possibly some of the worst sound in the game. From the horrible airplane engine to various grunts, squeals, and cries from Mario, Princess and Toad, it's just ridiculously bad. I mean, I thought Sonic Adventure had bad sound, but this was worse. The sound situation only improves a little from there. The sound effects are incredibly repetitive throughout the game. Mario grunts and cries his way through all of his maneuvers, while all of the islanders Mario talks to make one of about three different guffaws. And off the top of my head, I can't even think of any of the game's music, because it was all drowned out by the sound effects.
So if the graphics and sound weren't that hot, how was the gameplay? Well, I hate to sound repetitive, but like the sound, the gameplay quickly started to get repetitive. The main problem here was that each level in the 8 or 9 worlds (depending on how you count) is set in the same exact place. There are minor variations between each level -- sometimes a river runs dry or a few platforms are repositioned -- but for the most part, each of the 8 levels in each world is identical. While this does have the advantage of letting players become familiar with navigating the larger areas that are sometimes difficult to make mental maps of, it pretty quickly sucks the novelty out of each world (especially the smaller ones) after about the third or fourth level.
In addition to the overall lack of scenery, many of the tasks also get repeated. It felt like collecting 8 red coins, racing what's 'is name to the finish line, chasing down Shadow Mario, and hosing people and places off, made up more than half of the game. To make matters worse, the camera sometimes felt downright antagonistic. I would position the camera just where I wanted it, and as soon as I moved, the camera would slowly drift to the point where Mario was completely obscured by a wall. Admittedly, where the tasks were unique, I really enjoyed them. For example, the two roller coaster tasks were by far among my favorites.
A few of the tasks involved Yoshi, but I didn't feel like they were really exploiting the game play opportunities Yoshi presented (reference Yoshi's Island). Instead, it felt like the Yoshi tasks involved Yoshi just because they made the task so much significantly harder. I seriously didn't play the game for a couple of months after getting to Ricco Harbor 8, which required spending forever getting the fruit dispenser to give you a certain fruit, and then precisely kicking a soccer ball like fruit to the Yoshi egg without accidentally kicking it into the water, and then precisely jumping Yoshi across small platforms above water. Did I mention that Yoshi disintegrates if he hits water, requiring you to go back and play the stupid fruit game again? Jesus christ that was infuriating.
One other thing that pissed me off to no end was what certain buttons do while Mario is on a fence. If Mario is on a vertical fence, A will cause him to jump away from the fence, while B makes him punch the fence. BUT, if Mario is hanging from a horizontal fence, A will cause him to punch upwards while B makes him fall off. The fallout of this is, if you're on a vertical fence, you hit B to punch a gate and get to the other side of the fence, but if you're hanging from a horizontal fence, you press A to "jump up through" the gate. If you forget and hit the wrong button, in the best case you're going to lose a lot of ground. In the worst case, you'll die. SO FRUSTRATING.
As for the big addition to Mario's Sunshine arsenal, the FLUDD water gun backpack? I felt like it added a moderate amount of variety to the game, and the hover mode took some of the emphasis off of precise jumping (which only made the obstacle courses and yoshi segments that much more frustrating). However, it felt like still more could have or should have been done with FLUDD to expand the game play options further.
It was nice to see the little link between Luigi's Mansion and Super Mario Sunshine in that Dr. E. Gadd made the backpacks that the brothers wear in each of their games, but a little more of a tie between the two would have been a nice bonus for those who actually played Luigi's Mansion.
There are something like 120 Shines to earn in the game, but I'm going to beat the game with around 65, and frankly, I have absolutely zero motivation to go back and try to earn the rest of the Shines, much less do I want to try to find all of the blue coins. Even with the help of gamefaqs that would totally suck. Earning the Shines I've already got was pretty hard, and there were several points where I set the controller down boiling with anger at how close I'd repeatedly come to succeeding, but still ultimately failing. Trying to do some of those obstacle courses with a time limit (among other things) to earn all of the shines would probably actually put me over the edge.
So, in a nutshell, the game is hard. I seriously cannot imagine an 8 year old kid playing this game and getting very far at all.
Have I used the word "unfortunate" 50 times by now? It seems like I have, and if I haven't it's only because I've been trying to check my urge to use the word. But really, "unfortunate" is the first word I that comes to mind when thinking about Super Mario Sunshine. In the end, I can only give Super Mario Sunshine 3.5/5. There just wasn't enough good to make up for its multitudinous annoyances. If you know someone who owns it, borrow it. Otherwise, rent it. But I don't really think it's worth buying unless you're a big mario fan.