Super Mario Sunshine takes on a feel very similar to that of Mario 64. This time around, however, Mario has a little help that makes this game more interesting. This is the first game where Mario extensively uses an accessory (FLUDD) to complete his mission. The pair work together as team, not unlike the teamwork in the Nintendo 64 title Banjo-Kazooie, which featured a partnership between the characters Banjo and Kazooie. When Mario first acquires FLUDD, he can spray and hover in the air using its nozzles. Two other nozzles can be unlocked later in the game to extend FLUDD's functionality - the Rocket Nozzle which propels Mario high into the air, and the Turbo Nozzle which lets Mario sprint super-fast on land and water, as well as break down wooden doors.
The game contains a number of independent levels, which can be reached from Delfino Plaza (the hub or overworld). Gameplay is based around collecting Shine Sprites (or Shines for short) by completing various tasks in the levels and overworld.
At first, each level features one task (called an "episode") which may be completed to acquire a Shine Sprite. The player is then returned to Delfino Plaza and a new task is unlocked on the level they just played. There are 8 episodes per level and you may play them again at will once they are completed. In addition to these Shines, there are others hidden in Delfino Plaza and in the levels, others you can get by completing mini-levels, and still others by collecting Blue coins which are hidden all over. Ten of these coins may be traded for one Shine.
Once the player has collected enough Shines in total, a new level is available at Delfino Plaza, either by the acquisition of a new ability or some plot-related event. Each level has a Shadow Mario–related episode and when these are completed the level containing the final boss is unlocked. The player may choose any available level to complete a new episode, or look for hidden Shines or Blue coins in previous episode, so the game is very open as far as choices for what to do next. In this way it's similar to the earlier Mario 64.
Health and Gold coins
Mario's health is shown by the sunshine symbol in the corner of the screen. You have a maximum of 8 health points. When you get hit by an enemy, fall, or are exposed to various other hazards, you start to lose health. You can get health back by collecting Gold coins which are scattered all over; one Gold coin restores one health point. You can also get a hidden Shine by collecting 100 Gold coins in a level.
When Mario is underwater a similar meter appears showing Mario's breath. This decreases steadily until Mario comes up for air, but it is restored by collecting coins like the health meter.
Within some episodes are eight Red coins. After collecting all eight, a Shine will appear somewhere within the level, which you can then collect to complete the episode. Red coins restore two health points apiece.
Blue coins are hidden all over, sometimes they're just lying there, sometimes they appear as a reward for washing off graffiti, and sometimes you get them be defeating certain enemies. In many cases, the graffiti appears in a pair of identical shapes and if you wash off one a coin appears at the other location, you then have a small amount of time to reach it before it disappears. Blue coins will bring back two health points apiece. Unlike other coins, Blue coins disappear from the game once you've collected them. As mentioned above, you can trade Blue coins for Shines.
Lives and 1-Ups
Mario starts the game with four lives. Every time your health reaches zero, you fall into an abyss, or suffer some other serious mishap, you lose a life and start the level from the beginning. If you run out of lives the game ends and you have to reload start from you last save. You can gain a life by collecting 1-Ups, green mushrooms hidden throughout the game. You also gain a life by collecting 50 Gold coins in a level.
Graffiti and pollution
In addition to restoring the Shine Sprites, Mario must wash away the graffiti and pollution that someone has spread around the island. The graffiti is usually in the form of a capital M, but other symbols appear which, coincidentally, are the same symbols that are found on a PlayStation controller.
The pollution is in the form of toxic goop. It's thick and paint-like, but slightly sweet tasting. Different types of goop are found in different levels.
In homage to Super Mario World, Mario can also ride Yoshi in this game. Yoshi can be used to eat certain insects and birds to produce yellow or Blue coins or Shine Sprites. Yoshi can also eat fruit and squirt the juice of that fruit. This juice can be used to dissolve orange Generators acting as obstacles as well as to briefly transform enemies into platforms for Mario to step on. The color of the Yoshi and the effect of its juice depend on the type of fruit last eaten. Yoshi will disappear if he touches a deep body of water. While Mario is riding Yoshi, a woodblock will accompany the background music as in Super Mario World.
Once Yoshi appears he can be acquired at any time, however he'll be stuck inside of his egg and won't want to come out unless you have something to coax him with. If you go up to a Yoshi Egg you'll see a thought bubble with the food he desires. Go ahead and grab one from somewhere in the area and bring it to him. He'll pop out and you'll be able to mount him for some extra firepower. A Yoshi egg can be found in Delfino Plaza after a certain event that occurs about mid-way through the game. Yoshi eggs are also in most levels but only during certain episodes.