Last week’s re-release of Super Mario 3D World on Nintendo Switch brought with it a wonderful surprise: Bowser’s Fury, a delightful side game that brings back the fun of open-world Mario games by combining the feline festivities of its sister title with some of the tropical beach and paint-by-numbers elements of Super Mario Sunshine. It recalls the relaxed but cheery vibes of idle days spent exploring its worlds at leisure and enjoying the low-stakes thrill of having your lazy curiosity rewarded with Sprites or Stars. Its homeworld of Sprixie Kingdom is a satisfying mixture of the puzzles and obstacles and environmental hazards we’ve come to know in the series over the past two decades. This unexpected gem has made it worth the price of repurchasing Super Mario 3D World for the Switch.
But can we take a moment to shed a tear for little Bowser Jr.? The game’s premise is so dark. The open-world of Lake Lapcat fluctuates between a classic day and night cycle that is dictated by Bowser’s temper tantrums, and each mood swing transforms the beach into a nightmare. New obstacles or environment features arise, all as fireballs rain down from the sky. When Mario first arrives, he is greeted by Bowser Jr., who begs for his help. To tame the beast that is his father, they’ll have to remove black goop from the Giga Bells on the islands to free them so they can ring again. As they collect Cat Shines together, the tragedy of their unlikely partnership is reinforced by the game’s second player mode (a vast improvement over the old days of the glorified busy work that was sprite collecting in games like Super Mario Galaxy), which lets little Bowser Jr. participate by collecting coins and smash enemies with his paintbrush. While it’s a great feature if you have a younger person to play with, at face value, it’s a dash of “daddy’s little helper” spirit that heartbreakingly reinforces the game’s core narrative, which is the sad tale of a child asking another grown-up to help him beat up his own dad.
It’s definitely one of those Nintendo things that you’re not meant to take too seriously, but if you think about it too hard…woof. This isn’t even the first time I’ve been concerned about Bowser Jr.—it wasn’t all that long ago that we were all still wondering if his mother was Princess Peach, which logistically is horrifying in more ways than one. I feel sorry for this poor little Bowser Jr., terrified of his daddy’s anger problem, trying to navigate Bowser’s volatile mood swings, and asking Mario for help. While admittedly it is a problem that children, likely the target audience, would identify with, it’s also tragically one that they should not have to. What a depressing theme for a child’s game.
It’s probably just my empathy meter working in overdrive and a younger Holly might have seized upon this with much more gravitas than I care to now. All the same, I’m rooting for Bowser Jr. No one should have to consult an adult, much less one of their mortal enemies, to reign a parent with an anger problem. You’re a brat, Bowser Jr., but you deserve a better father.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.