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Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury review

A re-release with a little something extra.

Every time Nintendo re-releases an old game on its current console, it’s a reminder that the Wii U died so that the Switch could live. I don’t just mean that the doomed console’s demise made room for its successor in the marketplace. The amount of content that comparatively few people played on the Wii U that Nintendo can fall back on in case it has a slow software quarter or two has given the Switch a more robust library than it would have had otherwise.

There’s also a timelessness built into the design of most Nintendo games, especially the ones where the main mechanic is “jump.” Stuff that might seem dated in, say, a first-person shooter from just a couple of years ago isn’t a factor in most Nintendo games, and especially in Mario games. (That being said, this lax approach to gameplay updates can come back to bite you, as in the case with how woefully pathetic Super Mario 64’s camera still is in the 3D All-Stars collection.) Nintendo can re-release every game they’ve ever published and have them translate smoothly to modern tastes.

When it comes to Wii U re-releases on the Switch, Super Mario 3D World is the one that I’d guess a lot of people have been waiting for. It’s a major Mario release that was on the least-owned Nintendo console, and one that a lot of players probably missed but heard a lot about. It gained a sort of heightened status over the years—the kind of snobbish “cult classic” of a mainstream oeuvre. Someone might say that “Super Mario 3D World is the best game in the series” in the same way that a film critic would proclaim that King of Comedy is Scorsese’s best film when Raging Bull and Goodfellas exist.

Super Mario 3D World is a very interesting Mario game in how it fluidly combines the series’ 2D and 3D level design, and it’s a good game in general. But it’s not the best Mario game. Yet it might be the best Wii U re-release for the Switch that Nintendo has given us since Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and that’s thanks to the game that’s packaged with 3D World, Bowser’s Fury.

For better and worse, Super Mario 3D World is practically unchanged in its transition to the Switch. The game does benefit from the structural hardware benefits that Nintendo’s hybrid console brings to the table. Having two built-in controllers with the Switch’s Joy-Cons makes starting a couch co-op session a breeze, and Switch Online introduces a surprisingly smooth online multiplayer experience—an especially significant addition when we’re all still stuck at home. It also smartly translates levels that previously required the Wii U’s gamepad (specifically its touchscreen) by allowing players to opt for the Switch’s motion controls if they’re playing in docked mode. Still, it’s a little disappointing that this half of the package didn’t get any significant updates. There are no new levels, no new collectibles, nothing that those who played on the Wii U haven’t already experienced.

Thankfully, Nintendo has sweetened the deal with a whole new Mario experience in the form of Bowser’s Fury. Existing somewhere between a full-blown Mario game and one gigantic 3D Mario level, the surprisingly robust Bowser’s Fury will be reason enough to revisit Super Mario 3D World for Mario fans.

Transitioning 3D World’s platforming mechanics and power-ups to a fully 3D world, Bowser’s Fury teams Mario with Bowser Jr. (who can be controlled by a second player) in an effort to break some kind of evil curse that has turned Bowser into a giant, rampaging monster. To do that, Mario and Bowser Jr. must collect enough Cat Shines (Bowser’s Fury’s version of Shines or Stars) to unlock the Giga Bell, which will turn Mario into a gigantic Giga Cat Mario so that he can engage Bowser in kaiju-style boss fights. Bowser’s Fury might not be as long as a traditional 3D Mario game, but it will still take you a few hours to unlock the entire map, and a few hours after that to find every Cat Shine in the game.

One of the aspects of Bowser’s Fury that’s so satisfying is how the world map is structured. While the entire map isn’t available at the beginning, you can travel between its different islands (thanks to an always-game Plessie, who you can freely control on the water) and earn Cat Shines in whatever order you want. Each island is basically an extended obstacle course that has its own theme and collection of Cat Shines; one uses the invisible platforms from 3D World’s later levels, while another tasks you with scaling a series of skyscraping towers. It’s the gameplay version of a Mario mixtape.

The other aspect that’s specifically unique to Bowser’s Fury (at least in the Super Mario series) is how the gigantic cursed Bowser will periodically attack Mario and Bowser Jr. Having a background-filling Bowser raining fireballs down on you is a surprisingly fun and tense way to complete Mario’s standard platforming challenges, and there are some Cat Shines that are only possible to reach when Bowser breaks open the walls that they are trapped behind. In order to get Bowser to leave you alone, you need to find a Cat Shine, as that will light up the island’s lighthouse and scare him away until he shows up again.

Then there are the boss fights, when you earn enough Cat Shines to unlock the Giga Bell and turn Mario into a giant cat. While these fights still use the traditional mechanic of waiting for a specific attack from Bowser that will let you counterattack him to leave him vulnerable, the scale of these battles makes them stand out. The islands, which previously tower over Mario, look miniature when in Giga mode, and the overall presentation is straight out of a kaiju movie. If you aren’t already a fan of Mario games, these fights won’t be enough to make you interested, but it does make me wish we had modern versions of kaiju games like Rampage and King of the Monsters.

As far as re-releases go, Nintendo has given us less in the past. Without Bowser’s Fury, Super Mario 3D World on the Switch would have been just that—the same game that was already available on the Wii U with a few new bells and whistles. But the inclusion of Bowser’s Fury shows that not only is Nintendo willing to still experiment with Mario, even on a smaller scale, but that it also realizes it needs to bring something to the table if it wants to continue to get its fans to buy the same games again.

All images: Nintendo

★★★★☆

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is the Wii U port that Switch owners have been waiting for. Besides the inclusion of online multiplayer, 3D World is the same good game that players already experienced on the Wii U, and fans of the series who missed it the first time around will enjoy its hybridization of 2D and 3D Mario gameplay. But the highlight of the package is Bowser’s Fury, a scaled-down but surprisingly robust mini 3D Mario game that actually takes some chances.

Developer
Nintendo
Publisher
Nintendo
ESRB
E - Everyone
Release Date
02.12.21
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is available on Switch. Primary version played was for Switch. Code/hardware was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.

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