What struck me while replaying Super Mario Sunshine is how Nintendo simultaneously overreaches with its storytelling, while also not being ambitious enough. They try to wow you with lengthy cutscenes full of voiced dialogue, but the moment you are put in control, all that effort seems to vanish.
Super Mario Sunshine has an interesting premise: after arriving on Delfino Isle for a vacation, Mario is arrested and put on trial. The island’s Shine Sprites have been stolen, monsters are rampaging everywhere, and the island’s landmarks are covered in slimy graffiti, all thanks to an imposter who is a dead ringer for Mario. Gaming’s most celebrated hero is treated like a lowlife criminal and sentenced to cleaning up the island.
Then you are dropped off on the streets of Delfino Plaza and none of it seems to matter much.
Outside of the police officers, all the townsfolk have simple dialogue and don’t seem too bothered by the catastrophe that has befallen their community. Sure, there are wanted posters all around depicting Mario, but few people pay attention to them and even fewer seem to actually recognize our hero. Nobody gives him a hard time for upending their way of life and people still treat him like a hero for helping them out, even if they should be convinced that these are problems Mario himself created.
I thought about this for a while, but a breakthrough came when I reached Sirena Beach, home to Hotel Delfino. During the first mission you encounter janitors who are trying to help you clean up the graffiti. While other Piantas cower or give up when they get dirty, these guys bravely pull out their mobs and do what little they can to fight back. Those same janitors then reappear in later missions and levels as well, always dutifully trying to carry out their jobs.
So here’s the idea:
Make it so that the generic citizens of Delfino have antagonistic dialogue when you talk with them, like asking if Mario is the criminal from the posters or blaming the problem of that level on Mario. The hotel manager in Sirena could, for example, insist Mario is obligated to help the hotel because he made it messy in the first place, and the ghosts must be working for him. They could also have random characters turn out to be chucksters who toss Mario aside or have townsfolk randomly play their animations for when they are angry, simply because Mario came near them.
The janitors could then be one of the few characters who believe in Mario’s innocence and try to help out. The fallen hero teaming up with the common man to save the island and prove his innocence. The janitors are a perfect fit for Sunshine‘s themes of cleaning up and fighting pollution, and it would be a nice way to give some love to a profession that isn’t always given the respect they deserve.