Before I knew it, I loved Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury for a million different reasons. Having never played the initial release on the Wii U, I was struck by how much I’d obviously missed. Regrettably, the title was stranded for the longest time on an unsuccessful system I’ve come to understand was great but very obviously maligned. With the success of the Switch, though, Nintendo has seen fit to unearth many titles that may have otherwise been forgotten on the Wii U, giving them a much needed second lease on life. But this recent release of Super Mario 3D World isn’t just a reissue, featuring a brand new smaller Mario game called Bowser’s Fury that proves to be an exciting experiment and a look at what may be in store for the series. Before we look too far ahead, though, we should look back at the game that makes up the bulk of this package, and which introduced Cat Mario to the world..
I won’t spend much time on the finer details of Super Mario 3D World, because they’ve existed in some way shape or form for the better part of a decade. What I’m ultimately most struck by are the ways in which this game feels so integral to the series progression. The way it approaches world design immediately brought to mind Super Mario Odyssey, the last mainline Mario entry to release, and its immediate successor. Instead of the excess that bogged down Odyssey in the long run, Super Mario 3D World feels like it has the restraint of a simpler game. I guess it is, since it’s essentially a 2D installment where the worlds are 3D instead. The levels are almost comparable in scale too, just reimagined to fill the new dimensions, and the ways in which the space feels like it can breathe in 3D feel miraculous.
Mechanically, 3D World is robust, if a little stiff. Since 3D World, we’ve had Odyssey, which untethered Mario from the ground completely at times. The movement in that game can reach levels that go beyond my comprehension or ability. 3D World isn’t slower, but it’s not as layered. This paves the way for a progression of mechanics that feel breezy in the beginning and absolutely sing as they build in complexity in the bonus worlds. One of the later levels involving a cannon power up absolutely perplexed me when thought about simply, and very little feels as satisfying as when I finally solved that puzzle by thinking just a little outside the box. 3D World feels like a near masterful distillation of what makes the series work-what has always made it work-so especially well.
Because of all this, Super Mario 3D World is just straight up a joy to play—and replay. Since the game is not nearly as excessive as the game after, nor as gimmicky as some of the titles preceding it, it has an unusually calming vibe for a Mario game. Its most devious tricks are reserved for the very end and by then you’ll be so well versed in the platforming language they should only be a slight bump on the road. And the game’s a joy whether you’re playing solo or not, though Nintendo’s comical online infrastructure does rear its ugly head in online play in sometimes detrimental ways. While going through some of the more difficult levels with a friend was a blast, what wasn’t fun was losing control of our jumps due to lag, even if our internet connections were as sturdy as could be.
Despite this minor setback, and because of quite literally everything else, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury sunk its claws into me immediately and refused to let up. This is especially true of the latter half of the equation in the game’s title. Booting up Bowser’s Fury, I had the vaguest notion of what I”d be getting myself into, I just didn’t know how well it’d work.
In Bowser’s Fury, Mario teams with Bowser Jr. to stop the latter’s raging, kaiju-sized dad from destroying a series of islands. This new setting isn’t one Mario’s ever been to before, and the whole place is so sparse it nearly feels like the End of the World from Kingdom Hearts, to be honest. It’s almost as mysterious, too, at the beginning of your time there, but eventually the game gives way and provides not only literal structure (islands emerge from out of the water upon completing goals) but direction too. What follows is an open world Mario game that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and that’s pretty damn fine to me. You go around and collect shines to power lighthouses and the whole game doesn’t veer too far from the established formula of Mario titles before it.
There are some changes, such as being able to carry a variety of power-ups you can cycle between at pretty much anytime. It strips the game of the little bit of tension that comes from sometimes losing your abilities, but makes up for it by mostly giving you the ability to run loose on stages unfettered. Then there’s of course Bowser himself, who pops out of his darkened shell every few minutes, bringing a storm with him before he hounds you across the game world with fire blasts.
In order to stave Bowser off, you have to either collect a shine during one of his tantrums (which will power a lighthouse that scares him away) or collect enough shines to unlock a giant Bell powerup, don a cat suit and fight him yourself. The fights are simple enough that you don’t mind repeating them the five or so times you’re demanded to before you can beat the game. In between these fights, though, you engage in a game of cat and mouse that is often a nice shot of adrenaline during the light campaign.
One of these encounters caught me in between islands, where I had an amazing impromptu sequence occur. I can’t believe the coolest chase sequence I’ve done in a game is Bowser shooting flames at me while I’m riding Plessie, an adorable dinosaur who helps you traverse water, but it is. Ducking into the water and hitting a well timed jump to fly over some obstacles, all while the rain pelts me and the music is kicking is actually one of the purest playing experiences I think I’ve ever had. The final encounter against Bowser leans into this even more and absolutely rules, ratchetting the Bowser fights to their logical and rather awesome conclusion.
Once the game’s campaign is done, there are more shines to collect before you can call it quits, but unfortunately the game reverts to its state before this final encounter. This means that you’d be wrong to think you were done with Bowser’s tantrums, which quickly become an annoyance removed from the context of the main story. He only becomes more irritable the more times you fight him too, staying in his kaiju form for longer stretches of time. This eats into the time and space you sometimes need to simply platform and collect a shine.
Ultimately, the experience is a delight and over before it can grow too tedious. It’s also more substantial than it seems at first, functioning, at least in my experience, as a full game and a satisfying send off to my time with 3D World. In a way, Bowser’s Fury’s restraint in world design and simplicity actually puts it more directly in line with 3D World than Odyssey, feeling like its true successor, but settling for this halfway step between them due to how it was released. Regardless of how both titles were delivered, I’m absolutely delighted with 3D World and fascinated at what a fuller title in the vein of Bowser’s Fury might look like. Here’s hoping we see more like both of these standout Mario titles sooner rather than later.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury was developed and published by Nintendo. It’s available for the Switch.
Moises Taveras is an intern for Paste Magazine and the managing editor of his college newspaper, the Brooklyn College Vanguard. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.