Rating: ESRB Rating – E for Everyone (Comic Mischief), PEGI Rating – 3 (Violence that is set in a cartoon, slapstick or child-like setting that could be upsetting to very young children).
Platform(s): Nintendo Gamecube (2002), Nintendo Switch (2020)
From the Cover Synopsis of Super Mario Sunshine (2002/2020) by Nintendo:
“Mario has traveled to Isle Delfino for a little rest and relaxation but what are the chances of that panning out? The locals seem to have a bone to pick with the legendary plumber, as it seems that someone dressed like him has been polluting the town with some sort of ooze.”
Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Super Mario Sunshine (2002/2020) is a wonderful game for caregivers to play alongside their children. Some caregivers may remember the title from its original release in 2002 and enjoy the time spent helping their child navigate the complex and unique levels that lead up to the development of later titles such as Mario Galaxy and Mario Odyssey.
The target audience appears to be children ages 7 and up due to complexity of the game and the story plots. It also appears this game would be best for any family that enjoys Mario titles with puzzles and neat boss fights. While this game does not directly address foster or adoptive care the game does have some themes involving family dynamics and children’s natural curiosity for knowing their heritage so this game may spark some meaningful conversation with children as they play the game with a caregiver.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
As mentioned before, foster and adoptive care is not directly referenced in this game as Mario, Peach, and the gang all head to Isle Delfino, but this does not mean your child won’t identify with some key plot points. During the course of the game it is revealed that the Shadow Mario causing all the trouble on Isle Delfino is actually Bowser Jr. He has been told by his father, Bowser, that Princess Peach is actually his mother so Bowser Jr. has kidnapped her to reunite with her. After this revelation Bowser Jr. takes Princess Peach to Bowser, where he is also having a vacation of sorts nearby. The game progresses by Mario continuing through the game, having more battles with Bowser Jr., and eventually locating where Bowser is holding Princess Peach captive. After the game is beaten there is a scene where Bowser admits to his son that Princess Peach was never his mother and Bowser Jr. acknowledges this but still vows to grow up and defeat Mario for his father’s pride.
While Bowser and Bowser Jr. did not explicitly discuss Bowser Jr.’s draw to search for his mother, this is still very important to note as children who have been separated from their family of origin will have the same curiosity about their own origins. This is very natural, as evidenced by the booming popularity of DNA and ancestry testing in recent years for many people whether they were fostered/adopted or not. It is easy for caregivers to feel intimidated by these discussions but so very important for caregivers to provide a caring ear and shoulder to cry on as children wonder and even pursue more information about family of origin. It is also important that we face such questions with age-appropriate honesty as we see in Bowser Jr.’s circumstances. Had Bowser been more honest about Bowser Jr.’s mother’s identity this entire conflict could have been avoided.
Thankfully, caregivers can note that this game has no online capabilities separate from that of the basic Nintendo Switch system for the reboot so there is no risk of cyberbullying or contact with inappropriate contacts for this game. While the game is lacking in diversity and representation many children can still see themselves in the struggles of various characters throughout the game.
Curiosity About Family of Origin
As mentioned before, it is very important to note that children who have been separated from their family of origin will have the same curiosity about their own origins. This is very natural, as evidenced by the booming popularity of DNA and ancestry testing in recent years for many people whether they were fostered/adopted or not. It is easy for caregivers to feel intimidated by these discussions but so very important for caregivers to provide a caring ear and shoulder to cry on as children wonder and even pursue more information about family of origin. Caregivers should remember that though your child may enjoy living with you and the relationship you share they would not be in your home without the fracturing of their biological family and other kinship connections from before they came to you. Even in infancy these losses can be felt in the body without the formation of visual memory. For this reason caregivers need to be prepared to give space for grief as the child grows and better understands their origins, like Bowser Jr. when accepting Princess Peach is not really his mother (though Bowser did not handle much else well.)
Honesty Between Parents and Children
As seen in this game, a lot of consequences came from Bowser’s dishonesty with Bowser Jr. Whether the lie was by omission or commission Bowser Jr. was affected directly by Bowser not being honest with his son about who his mother was. Bowser Jr. likely still has questions about who his mother truly is and it was sad this was never resolved in the game. There will be times that we don’t know the answers to every question our children and in those times it’s perfectly acceptable to admit you don’t know. However, we need to remember that when children are not provided information or are not given the full truth they will fill in the blanks with their imagination and this can be a scary place for your child. For this reason it is good to be open and honest (with age and developmental appropriateness in mind) with our children about their origins so that they can integrate their past and present and be better prepared for their future.As seen in this game, a lot of consequences came from Bowser’s dishonesty with Bowser Jr. Whether the lie was by omission or commission Bowser Jr. was affected directly by Bowser not being honest with his son about who his mother was. Bowser Jr. likely still has questions about who his mother truly is and it was sad this was never resolved in the game. There will be times that we don’t know the answers to every question our children and in those times it’s perfectly acceptable to admit you don’t know. However, we need to remember that when children are not provided information or are not given the full truth they will fill in the blanks with their imagination and this can be a scary place for your child. For this reason it is good to be open and honest (with age and developmental appropriateness in mind) with our children about their origins so that they can integrate their past and present and be better prepared for their future.
This game features fantasy cartoon violence. Most of these acts are not realistic or easy for a child to mimic. However, caregivers will need to be prepared to discuss appropriate boundaries with others if their child is prone to mimic battle scenes with their friends and maybe take these sequences a bit too far.
Throughout the film there are lots of slap-stick sequences that are silly and funny. There are also sequences of criminal activity (such as vandalism and theft) committed by Shadow Mario in which he is framing Mario. Caregivers should be mindful about this and be prepared to remind children that such activity is not acceptable behavior and will result in consequences such as those that Mario faced.
This may be triggering for children who have witnessed abductions or lived in situations where this was a real fear. This also could be equated in a child’s mind with being removed from the family of origin. Regardless of the reason children could find the theme of Princess Peach being kidnapped on screen as challenging due to past traumas. Even if a child has been told they are safe they could respond to messages from their limbic system that put that child on alert due to past traumas that the body remembers without a visual memory.
Who is your favorite character in the game? Why do you like them?
Caregiver Note: This may seem like a “fluffy” question, but it is important to ease your child into conversations of this nature. Suddenly jumping into a hard topic without context can be difficult for your child, especially if they struggle with abstract thought since this is usually developed in adolescence if ever. For this reason your child will need to see an example of what you are discussing, such as in a movie, book, or video game, to better understand the discussion.
Why did Bowser Jr. kidnap Princess Peach?
Caregiver Note: Bowser Jr. kidnaps Princess Peach after being deceived about her being his mother. While this would usually feel very random, experienced players knowing that Bowser is frequently kidnapping Princess Peach and liking her can quickly draw on their own the conclusion that this is why Bowser would tell Bowser Jr. she is his mother and lead to her abduction in yet another game. However, newer players may not be as familiar with this plot point and need help connecting this. They may mention too that Bowser Jr. wants to get to know his mother and believes Mario is the bad guy. This may lead Bowser Jr. to believe he is the good guy in this situation in abducting Princess Peach. Many times children are receiving all sorts of messages from others that may lead to behavior that we see as defiant or negative. It’s important to remember though that all behavior is communication (ABC) so if we look at behavior we can often decode the motive behind this behavior. For this reason we can quickly see that Bowser Jr. is not trying to be mischievous for the sake of trouble but truly believes he is helping or doing good and cannot be wholly blamed for the sequence of events he instigates on Isle Delfino.
Why would Bowser Jr. want to talk to Princess Peach if she was his mother?
Caregiver Note: As we’ve discussed in other parts of this guide, children are wired to long for their biological connections and history. This is in part due to attachment, which is formed in early childhood with primary connections. This becomes the blueprint for future relationships for that child as humans are relational beings that grow and learn in social relationships. As a result, it is natural for Bowser Jr. to pursue any leads he may have on his mother’s identity and this (in my humble opinion) sinks Bowser to an all new low in this manipulative tactic to fulfill his desires for a relationship with Princess Peach. In addition to the kidnapping in general being problematic, the lying to manipulate his son (a minor) to do his dirty work is extra icky. This deception could have further implications on Bowser Jr. too in that it affects his ability to trust his father in future matters especially once he’s older. In the meantime though, Bowser Jr. very much treasures and longs for the pride and attention of his father so he accepts his father’s deception at the end of the game and vows to continue to improve in his skills to defeat Mario. We may also see this response in children defending or explaining away their parents’ behavior due to their attachments to these family members as well. It is important for caregivers to be respectful of these relationships and be able to handle their own negative emotions about these connections away from the child. Remember, when we insult a biological parent we are inherently insulting a part of our child’s identity so this is an area where caregivers should be very careful and mindful about their tones, body language, and word choice.
How do you think Bowser Jr. felt when he realized Princess Peach wasn’t his mother? How would you feel?
Caregiver Note: This is a great area to let your child practice empathy, taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. This is also a great opportunity for them to explore their own feelings about hard news. It appears from Bowser Jr.’s response to Bowser at the end of the game that he slowly realized that Princess Peach was likely not his mother but continued on the charade likely due to wanting this connection to be real. Though he may have felt like Princess Peach being his mother may have been incorrect in the back of his mind I’m sure hearing this confirmed was still difficult for Bowser Jr. and there were lots of emotions connected to this. This likely was also a motivation to continue to pursue Mario later as this gives him something else to focus on instead of grief.
ACTIVITY: F.L.U.D.D. Cotton Ball Race
Caregiver Note: This is a fun game and way to teach a calming technique! For this game you will need straws and cotton balls. Designate a start and finish line. Then, pretending to be Mario’s F.L.U.D.D. system you can blow the cotton balls to the finish line! This can be done many times in times where maybe your child is under-stimulated and needs a mood-boosting activity. For an added step you can also use tools around the house to make your own straw and decorate it. This would be a great way to keep hands busy while discussing the game as well.
Why did Bowser Jr. think that Princess Peach was his mother?
Caregiver Note: Bowser Jr. was told by his father that Princess Peach was his mother. This was likely an overt manipulation by Bowser to meet his goals to make Princess Peach his girlfriend as implied in other games. This means that Bowser lied to his son.
Why do you think Bowser would allow Bowser Jr. to think this?
Caregiver Note: Bowser certainly benefited from Bowser Jr. believing this lie. Bowser Jr. carried out the lionshare of work to retrieve Princess Peach while Bowser enjoyed a nice vacation on Isle Delfino. So he was able to achieve his goals while putting in minimal effort and benefitting from the lie.
If Bowser doesn’t tell the truth about who Bowser Jr.’s mother is, do you think it will be easy for Bowser Jr. to trust his father in the future? Why or why not?
Caregiver Note: While Bowser largely benefitted from lying to Bowser Jr., he did risk something very important in his lie: his relationship with his son. Now, we do see at the end of the game that Bowser Jr. accepts the truth of Princess Peach not being his mother and vows to continue to work towards defeating Mario to make Bowser proud, but as he grows older this may not continue to be the case. As Bowser Jr. grows and better understands the situation and dynamics with his father, he may not be able to trust so easily. This is especially true if Bowser continues to lie about other issues. For this reason, even though we are hopefully not the bad guys, caregivers should also be mindful of this and strive to tell the truth to their children. Often caregivers will be tempted to give little lies to their children as no one likes to see a child upset, disappointed, or grieving. However, it is important to be a supportive connection for a child that they can trust. It is also important to allow your child to learn how to properly grieve disappointment or sadness so they are able to integrate these experiences and grow into adulthood.
How do you feel when adults don’t tell you the full truth? Is it better for adults to be honest if they don’t know the answer?
Caregiver Note: Allow your child to answer these questions honestly. These may be questions to check in with later as your child grows older and is better able to respond. It is likely that they will prefer to be told whatever information they can know and for caregivers to be honest when they don’t know and have a caregiver model such honesty.
How can we work to try to be more honest with one another? What is a good way for me to communicate with you when I can’t talk about everything just yet? Or when I don’t know?
Caregiver Note: Again, allow your child to lead this part of the conversation and be prepared for if you hear something maybe you don’t like. Be mindful of your tone and body language to ensure that you are open and ready to communicate as children who have been through trauma are quite attuned to tone and body language that may convey negativity so this may affect their ability to express themselves.
About The Reviewer: Rachael Rathe
Rachael B. Rathe is an East Tennessee native with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with a Minor in Child & Family Studies from The University of Tennessee Knoxville. She has worked in mental health since 2013 and in foster care/adoptions for a private provider agency since 2014. Rachael was inspired to work in the field after working with children and teens on a volunteer basis 2008 – 2013. Rachael’s ideal self-care day involves snuggling on a couch with her kitties (Tabitha, Fergus, and Rufus) while enjoying a good movie or book. She also enjoys galavanting around conventions concerning all things nerd and geekery.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its reviews to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.