Let’s get one thing straight. Even an “average” Super Mario game is still better than 80% of other video games. Nintendo just knows exactly how to work that plumber, squeezing out every possible ounce of fun in every game that the plumber appears in.
You could argue that the only thing wrong with the Super Mario franchise is that it can be a little stale at times; once you reach Galaxy levels of invention, it’s a little difficult to really play in that space and maintain that originality consistently. That was the main problem leveled at Super Mario 3D World when it first launched on the WiiU in 2013. It’s still undeniably fun but we’ve already seen everything that it’s doing, barring one or two new power-ups.
Knowing this was the game’s reputation before leaping into to play this re-release for the first time, I was hesitant that I’d grow weary of its charm very quickly, something that happens with most Mario games I play.
Yet that expectation never saw the light of day. Super Mario 3D World might just be my favourite Mario game and having it playable on the Switch is an absolute joy. This isn’t even going into Bowser’s Fury, a pseudo-expansion created using assets from 3D World, resulting in a self-contained yet surprisingly large open-world Mario game that leans heavily on exploration and discovery. This is all made possible by the cat suit introduced in 3D World, meow. I was initially ready to write Bowser’s Fury off as a shallow value-add that didn’t do all that much to convince on the quality of what I was playing and yet again, my expectations were dashed. I guess that just goes to show you can’t judge a game by its marketing, right?
Firstly, let’s deal with Super Mario 3D World. You know this game, you’ve seen the format in plenty of other Mario games. Bowser rocks up, nabs some special fairies and traps them in eight dangerous castles spread out across many worlds. It’s easy to see where this game takes flak for being unoriginal because… well, that’s really because it is.
Every overworld feels familiar in its visual aesthetic and you’ll no doubt roll your eyes at how obvious the themes are. This is the desert world, now he’s the ice world and then the cloud world later on. It’s stock standard stuff but Nintendo was clever enough to not limit the actual courses you’ll run around in to those visual constraints.
There are those that stick to the theme but many others that feel like wild curve balls that could be slotted in just about anywhere. It’s worth noting that all these levels can be played in 1-4 player co-op and it’s an absolute blast… if you have tolerable friends. The ability to pick up teammates and just yeet them in any direction if they’re being too slow (or irritating) is hilarious as the soft competition of scoring points just to don that silly crown makes for some tense yet light-hearted fun. I should note that I was only able to play multiplayer locally as I believe online had not been activated during the review process.
The courses in 3D World could be argued to have a very similar issue in that they start off painfully simple. If you know what you’re doing and have any experience with Mario games, you’ll probably be able to get through them all in the space of an hour but when you hit World 4, everything begins to slowly change. This game can be hard. Like genuinely punishing in some places, asking for some wildly precise platforming to really discover everything you need to 100% the level.
The layers of expansive challenge are made all the more interesting by the catsuit, which obviously drops your character (you can choose from Mario, Luigi, Peach or Toad) into a kitty cosplay that allows them to climb vertical surfaces often higher than you think would be allowed. This added verticality, on top of what is already a very vertical game, has allowed Nintendo to really get creative as to where they hide the collectibles in every stage, meaning that you’ll not only need precision, but you’ll also need a keen set of eyes. Super Mario 3D World has maybe my favourite level design of any Mario game and that’s a hill I’ll die on.
Now to talk about Bowser’s Fury, a game that I hope has a deep impact on any and all forthcoming Mario games. While it’s using all established assets, Bowser’s Fury feels fresh. It’s a Mario open world game where instead of jumping from course to course through a series of menus, you hop onto the back of Plessie, the sea monster who gives you a lift around the game’s islands, and skirt along the water until you arrive at the next “stage”.
At the centre of it all is a colossal and corrupted Bowser that occasionally wakes up and rains devastation across the map. In order to take him out, you need to grab Cat Sunshines (basically a new twist on Power Moons from Super Mario Odyssey). Once you have enough of those, you’ll be able to grab a Giga Bell on a nearby island and have a Kaiju fight.
Yet beyond how cool it is to see Cat Mario and Bowser stomp around this little gathering of islands, it feels like a truly new game embracing some of the advancements we’ve seen in the space. Mario isn’t confined to isolated levels, everything flows together beautifully with each island containing a theme and a variety of Cat Shines to collect. Power-ups are treated differently too with Mario being able to hold five of each at any given point, almost like an inventory.
Given that so much of this game revolves around a specific power-up to collect the Cat Shine, you’ll be able to quickly swap out to the one you need and ensure you’re never unable to get where you need to go. The emphasis on the Cat Suit also means the player has so much more freedom in how they traverse the space with Nintendo really flexing their level-design muscles and showing off exactly how well an open-world Mario game could work with the right tools. Bowser’s Fury is also a much bigger experience than I expected, containing far more collectibles than I would have assumed for what was billed as a mini-expansion. It’s an impressive addition, one that I think genuinely adds value to this bundle.
While Super Mario 3D World is still an excellent game seven years later, Bowser’s Fury is the game that really has me excited. I really hope Nintendo was using Bowser’s Fury to test the waters with the playerbase and determine whether such a leap in the game’s design would pay off. For my money, it works better than I ever expected.
If this kind of safe experimental experience is what Nintendo is planning for Mario, a character whose mainline games have been becoming somewhat stale at this point, I’m very excited to see what lies in store for the future of Nintendo’s favourite son.
Last Updated: February 12, 2021