Super Mario 3D World was a must-play platformer on a console very few people owned. It’s back, and just as good, on a popular system - and with great added content.
There’s a lot riding on Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury for Nintendo Switch. Ultimately, it’s the final and most significant game to be released as part of the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. It follows on from a decent variety of celebratory titles like the Mario 3D All Stars compilation and Super Mario 35, and it’s fair to say that the anniversary has been a little disappointing thus far. That’s why 3D World is important; it might be arriving a little later, but it’s easily the most suitable game with which to celebrate Mario’s lengthy and successful career - and unlike the others, it’s not a limited-time release.
Ultimately, this is a re-release of a game that was released just seven years ago. Super Mario 3D World was already a good-looking, high definition game with gimmicks and level design tricks that worked brilliantly. All Nintendo ultimately had to do was competently port it for a nice, easy win. Re-releases are often inherently less exciting, but this title has an advantage: the original Wii U version was on a console that basically nobody owned. To the vast majority, this is an all-new Mario experience.
For the uninitiated, here’s the deal. There’s 2D Mario, as descended from the original Super Mario Bros., and you 3D Mario, as established by Super Mario 64. 3D World is almost a halfway house between the two, giving you control of Mario & friends in a 3D environment, but often using more defined camera angles and more linear level design to give an experience that moment-to-moment more closely resembles the 2D games. That’s what makes it a fantastic anniversary game - 3D World has a little bit of every flavor of Mario platforming in it.
Up to four players can join forces and tackle levels together, helping or hindering each other to often hilarious effect. There’s power-ups old and new, and clever level design that ensures you’ll never get bored.
Each world on the classically-styled overworld features a range of levels, some built around specific power-ups or gimmicks, others more straightforward platforming challenges. The game is forgiving in structure but with a decent amount of depth and difficulty thanks to optional collectibles and the like.
This was one of the best games on the Wii U, and its status as that has little to do with there being a limited library for that machine. It’s just an excellent game, and one that easily jumps onto any must-own list for the Switch. This is all said without mentioning changes, all of which are smart tweaks on the original.
Characters are a little quicker, for instance. Levels have been tweaked and adjusted here and there. Most importantly, there’s now online cooperative play for 3D World, which is brilliantly silly with the right group. This is a definitive version of a great game. The simple, colourful art style means this looks equally great blown up on a big screen or shrank down to the Switch Lite’s built-in display.
Were this alone the package, that’d be the review. A great version of a must-play game that a lot of people missed out on. Wham, bam, five stars and a must-own if you skipped the original. Cheers. Except… this is only part of the story, as unlike the other fairly stingy Mario 35th celebrations, Super Mario 3D World for Switch is a little more generous - including an all-new, stand-alone experience: Bowser’s Fury.
Bowser’s Fury is an interesting little thing. It’s built within the confines of the 3D World mechanics, but takes place in a fully 3D overworld that is more generally aligned with those fans have experienced in games like Galaxy and Odyssey. This makes it a curiously unique thing. 3D World Mario handles a little differently, with slightly different moves, when compared to the one you get in a game like Odyssey. Even the way he exists within the world is different - typically open-space 3D Mario has a health bar, but this one has the traditional big/small Mario mechanic.
In this it’s an anniversary-appropriate mash-up; the two styles collide. It feels a little clumsy and uncanny at first, but it does eventually click. In an open-ended overworld, the wall-climbing Cat Suit power up becomes particularly important.
The open world is basically made up of small islands joined together by water, and you hop from island to island collecting Cat Shines,a macguffin that helps progress the story. Power ups are scattered throughout, and you can actually pick up and stack them. That means if you take a hit and have four more Fire Flowers in your inventory, you can power yourself back up with one button press. This also speaks to the flow of Bowser’s Fury, where you might want to swap one power up for another on the spot in order to complete a specific puzzle.
Bowser Jr. joins as an AI partner character, but another player can also join in to help out as him. If AI controlled, you can select the level of assistance Bowser Jr. provides - and this seems like a decent conceit to help those making the jump from 2D Mario handle this full open-world with free camera control. On the lowest setting, he’ll leave it to you, but crank it up and he’ll defeat enemies before you most of the time, clearing a path so you can platform and explore.
The biggest hook - quite literally - is Bowser’s transformation into a Godzilla-like form, stomping around and demonically raining destruction down on these picturesque islands. The trailers have teased where this goes, with Mario nabbing a giant power up to become ‘Giga Cat Mario’ - but there’s no point in spoiling how this additional chapter plays out. The important thing to say is that it’s fun.
Bowser’s Fury is a short experience - it’ll take a competent player a couple of hours to see all it has to offer, and a few hours more to drive it all the way to 100% completion - but it’s completely worthwhile. It has some great surprises, which is why I talk about it in such generalized terms. Bowser’s Fury would’ve made a great download-only, budget-price stand-alone - so as a bonus included with an already excellent game, its value can’t really be overstated.
And that’s all she wrote. While Super Mario 3D All-Stars was content rich but low on actual effort, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury feels like a necessary release. It brings one of the best ever Mario titles to a platform people actually own, but also adds a new exclusive that’s completely worthwhile. It easily cruises onto the list of best Nintendo Switch games - and it’s a great start for Nintendo’s 2021. Just don’t leave us waiting too long for an Odyssey 2, yeah?
Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury releases for Nintendo Switch on February 12.