A lot of platforming games have one level or section that manages to embed itself in the collective consciousness. This could be because of art style or music, but often it’s the sensation of playing through the stage itself that embeds into your memory and perks you up when it finally arrives. Banjo-Kazooie’s Click Clock Wood, for example, plays with what you expect in that game just enough via its multi-seasonal approach to that world to leave a lasting impact. I replayed BK a month ago and I still felt that same excitement over twenty years later.
The reason I bring this up is because Super Mario 3D World is essentially made of these kinds of levels. Not every stage hits, of course. But as Toad and I sped through this game I’d already dove deep into on Wii U, I realized just how well done the majority of it is, and how exemplary its highs are to drive another full playthrough. To have all of that, and then see that Nintendo has basically made an entire separate game consisting of those best pieces with Bowser’s Fury, firmly places this pairing as a Switch must-have.
Super Mario 3D World
As much as I want to jump right into Lake Lapcat, Super Mario 3D World deserves its due as the foundation of this release. First released in 2013, it marked a leap forward for the handheld experiment that was Super Mario 3D Land. Though the Wii U launched with New Super Mario Bros. U, this was the system’s true Mario magnum opus and has managed to remain fairly unique in the plumber’s 35 year history.
It’s easy to just say “Classic Mario, but 3D!”, and to a point that’s apt, but the change in direction it brought can be felt throughout the game, and to its betterment. Super Mario Odyssey may be untouchable as an exploration based Mario experience, but 3D World is peak “Course” style game, with Super Mario Galaxy existing in the middle between them. Watching and listening to the game makes that superlative nature clear enough, but there’s no greater indication of that appeal than this game inspiring much of Super Nintendo World’s design.
Still, it’s actually playing Super Mario 3D World that gets the real praise. It did take some time to readjust to this game’s skillset (which has been slightly expanded on Switch compared to Wii U) but once you get going you won’t want to stop. What really sells this one though, like I mentioned, is the levels themselves.
Stages like Shadow-Play Alley toy with visuals and perspective, Beep Block Skyway introduces rhythmic timing and Double Cherry management as you slide through space, Mount Must Dash pays tribute full tribute to Super Mario Kart, and Hands-On Hall is a just weird enough to work touch-based trek through Bowser’s first dalliance with Japanese architecture. I could keep gushing, but trust me when I say every stage (even the more forgettable ones) has something to offer.
All of my time with this 3D World release has been solo, which I’d say is ideal if you’re all about completionism or testing your platforming prowess. From previous playthroughs though, multiplayer shifts what makes this one so enjoyable. Suddenly it isn’t about getting Green Stars – it’s about getting Green Stars first. Having the highest score gets you that sweet, sweet crown which doubles as a massive target on your head for “friends” to try and help themselves to. Just try playing tag in Sprawling Savanna and tell me it isn’t great.
Mix that with the variety of playable characters, all carrying their Super Mario Bros. 2 characteristics, and it’s worth mixing things up with some multiplayer if you can. Multiplayer’s even been bolted onto Captain Toad’s levels, finally letting you live your Toad Brigade dreams. Online has finally been added as well, letting you get a group together from the game’s map screen. Again, I focused on the game’s single player experience for this review but if you’ve got a group to party up with it makes those madcap moments all the more reachable.
Lastly, if we’re talking strictly comparisons between the Switch and Wii U versions, the newer system wins out in nearly every way. Most notable to me was the game’s faster pace. Movement speeds are increased, while loading times are decreased. Where it falls behind is in levels specifically designed for the GamePad, which are more than playable and adjusted to account for the previous controller, but ultimately they lose that feeling of full integration they previously had. You can pour one out for Miiverse and all it brought to 3D World as well.
If that’s the price that must be paid for Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury’s second half, though, it’s payment well spent.
It’s hard to share my thoughts on Bowser’s Fury without making my consensus and opinion known, so I’ll just come out and say it: this is an incredible (albeit condensed) slice of Mario. While it uses the same skillset, as well as similar aesthetics and sensibilities, from 3D World, Bowser’s Fury definitely brings in some of the best Odyssey had to offer.
For one, Lake Lapcat is massive by series standards, so much so that aquatic dinosaur Plessie is necessary to traverse it. Like Odyssey’s Kingdoms, it carries a singular ‘theme’ throughout its entirety. That theme just happens to be cats.
I held off from mentioning it during 3D World’s section, but the Super Bell/Cat Mario vibes are omnipresent in Bowser’s Fury and yet it never felt stale. This could be that the lake has three distinct biomes that break off any monotony, but I’m more inclined to credit it to just how much fun it is to hop from its islands and objectives without any real pause.
Instead of getting a collectible and then being sent to a map or hub, or needing to transfer yourself over to a separate locale, everything is laid out on Lapcat’s waters seamlessly. Once you have enough Cat Shines to access each section, that freedom can be fully felt and appreciated. Its main islands each have their own set of Shines to earn but it was in skimming across the lake and exploring its more satellite islands that the potential of this setup made itself known. While I won’t make bold predictions of this being the future of Mario, the cat’s out of the bag as far as how they can take the series in more interesting and streamlined directions.
The gnarliest guy around
Of course, this platforming paradise didn’t get its name from nowhere. Looming on the horizon is Fury Bowser, the biggest and baddest Koopa you’ve ever seen. Every time Bowser wakes up the world goes darker, rain starts boring down, and suddenly there’s a rain of blocks and fire to contend with. It’s up to you to either avoid him until he subsides, or help him pick on someone his own size via the new Giga Bell power-up central to this adventure.
As a concept, these invasions work in how they can add extra pressure but also manage to occasionally be helpful. Setting aside that some Shines or secrets can only be gained during Bowser’s outbursts, the platforms that spawn with him sometimes crop up in spots that can cut a section’s difficulty down. That still comes with the risk of getting burnt to a crisp, but the added tension definitely made for some of my most impressive feats of jumpery.
I do feel that the mode’s bigger achievement is the lake and its layout itself. The way every island would change to suit its current Cat Shine made bopping from one lighthouse to the next and then back again a fun game of “what’s going to happen next?”. Maybe we’ll have a game someday where Luigi is dealing with a colossal King Boo, but I’d take the stage design over the titanic tussles any day.
Just a quick getaway
Mario’s not at this one alone, though. Instead of up to three Mushroom Kingdom friends he’s picked up a sidekick in the form of Bowser Jr. His assistance and pointer-like qualities were welcome when playing alone, but a second player can also control the Clown Car. This will run similarly to passing the Joy-Con to let someone play as Cappy, and can be a fun time for less experienced players. 3D World may have it beat as a multiplayer experience, but BowJu does offer up some humor to contrast Bowser’s own anger issues.
The only real disappointing part of Bowser’s Fury is its brevity. Gathering up enough Cat Shines to face off with King Koopa for the final time doesn’t take too long at all, though there will still be more to see and do once the credits roll. Based on how I cleared whole islands before moving on to the next I actually had barely gotten to the last main area of Lake Lapcat before I was railroaded into the last, big encounter.
My best piece of advice on that note is to not treat Bowser’s Fury as something to “clear” like a checklist of collectibles or landmarks. Let the natural flow of things steer you and Plessie and Bowser Jr. across its carefully crafted excursions. If an island looks interesting, go to it. If you get annoyed by a Cat Shine halfway through trying, swim to a nearby island instead. The idea of “beating a level” isn’t iron clad here at all and backing out to a menu is gone for a reason – just float along with the current instead.
Two amewsing adventures
As a whole Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury may not match up with the dream vacation that was Odyssey (still the gold standard for the series) but it doesn’t have to. These distinct types of Mario games are coexisting perfectly on Switch, further complimented by nearly every other platformer the plumber has starred in. What you get with this set isn’t one massive adventure, but instead a revolving door of exemplary courses and boundless fun throughout.
3D World might be the more complete package here, but it’s Bowser’s Fury that’s setting a new bar for this type of Mario game and potentially games as a whole when it comes to structure. Nintendo’s sure to pull from this experimental standalone going forward, and seeing the series evolve in real time reiterates just how storied and necessary Super Mario is. Put less broadly, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is a game you need to get your paws on.
Release Date: February 12, 2021