While 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine may be one of the most divisive Mario games in the series’ long history, it is also so much more than just a moderately rushed 3D Mario game. Thanks to modern science, we can finally and firmly establish that Super Mario Sunshine is not just a Mario game — it is also the game that created the Yakuza series.
You immediately go to jail to kickstart the story
This applies to several Yakuza games and is the inciting incident of Super Mario Sunshine. At the beginning of the original Yakuza, Kiryu takes the blame for the murder of his family’s patriarch. At the beginning of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ichiban goes to jail in someone else’s place. In Super Mario Sunshine, Mario is taken to jail also under false pretenses for crimes that occurred before he came to the island. He is not given a lawyer and is then sent to jail, which hardens him for the journey ahead. When he comes back, the only friends he has are from before he went in.
You are tasked with cleaning up the streets
The streets of both Kamurocho and Delfino Plaza are grimy. In the Yakuza games, protagonists clean up the streets through combat, taking down various punks, gangsters, and ne’er-do-wells. For Mario, it’s mostly about graffiti and mud, but the occasional piranha plant or Shadow Mario encounter in Delfino Plaza draw strong parallels to Yakuza on their own.Parentage is fuzzy. Nearly every Yakuza game has a big revelation about who gave birth to whom. At some point during the game, a character will find out they are not someone’s real kid, or that another plot relevant character is their real mother or father, or what have you. This is not only in Super Mario Sunshine, it is central to the villain’s motivation. Bowser Jr. is told that Princess Peach is his mother and kidnaps her on that basis, only for Bowser to later reveal that he simply made all that up. Which brings us to the next point…
Yakuza is about how difficult it is to be a father
There’s other aspects to it, sure, but Yakuza takes long, distracting walks fairly often to contemplate the meaning of fatherhood. This is a central theme in Super Mario Sunshine through Bowser Jr.’s repeated mischievousness and Bowser’s lies causing it all to happen. Once Bowser talked to his son at the end of the game, he very quickly turned around in subsequent Mario games like The Origami King and Bowser’s Fury to work together with Mario.
Some big burly men will make your life a living hell
Mr. Shakedown. The diaper fetishists. The sea captains. Someone, somewhere, is going to be way bigger than you and just become an absolute pain to deal with. For Mario, these are the Chucksters, Scott Steiner-shaped Piantas that exist solely to throw Mario into a vague direction and hope it works out. These things are menaces.
The final battle takes place at the top of a huge vertical area
The Millennium Tower is a setpiece for the end of nearly every Yakuza game where an important fight takes place. Bowser is sitting in a jacuzzi at the very top of Mt. Corona, relaxing with his son as Mario ascends a series of clouds to get to him. In both gameplay and symbolic terms, both fights end in high places to literally bring the villains down back to the ground as a means to defeat them.
At some point, the coincidences pile up a bit too high. When Mario put FLUDD on for the first and final time, he actually created the first Yakuza game. Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi has said that he wanted to make a game that appealed to a very narrow audience when he concepted out the first game, which also describes Super Mario Sunshine fairly well.