From his barrel-hopping days of the early 80s to his recent globe-trotting 3D adventure in 2018, Mario has a unique knack for staying relevant.
While other mascots have come and gone, Nintendo’s flagship hero remains a fixture of the gaming world; an icon that players of all ages and backgrounds can recognise from his comical moustache alone. It’s quite the achievement – both his iconic status and his glorious facial hair – but it’s easy to see why Mario is still such an enduring figure when playing his most recent re-release, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury.
It’s a mouthful of a title, but that’s pretty fitting considering Mario’s latest outing is absolutely brimming with content. Not only does the bundle come loaded with the Wii U’s criminally underrated Super Mario 3D World, but it also lumps in a concise but equally ambitious new escapade in Bowser’s Fury. The pair definitely share DNA, with Bowser’s Fury featuring the same control scheme and power-ups of its re-released partner. However, they are, in essence, two different games and worth looking at separately for their individual merits.
The bulk of the bundle comes through Super Mario 3D World, providing Switch players who never experienced the Wii U title with an opportunity to learn exactly what they were missing. As always for a Mario game, there is a confidence in 3D World’s slick, substantial, and stylish platforming that can only be described as masterful. From the momentum of Mario’s movement to the intricate, creative design philosophies of its maps, 3D World often feels like an imaginative theme park, its stages perfectly paced attractions.
The core premise will be familiar to Mario fans. Shocking no one, Bowser has returned, once again finding himself in the business of kidnapping princesses. He’s decided to shake things up this time though, leaving Princess Peach behind and nabbing seven fairies instead. It’s up to Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad to come to their rescue, venturing across various worlds as they attempt to thwart Bowser once again.
As always, it’s a fairly hands-off plot, and that’s all it needs to be. What you’re here for is a hearty injection of sublime Mario platforming and 3D World is more than happy to oblige.
At its core, the game acts as a cross between Mario’s 3D and 2D titles, with levels taking place in a 3D space but utilizing fixed camera angles. For the most part, it works well, although the perspective can make it hard to judge depth, leading to some fiddly jumps and frustrating deaths.
As for our moustachioed hero, he’s slightly less nimble than he was in Odyssey, although he’s definitely no slouch. His move set includes the ability to jump, roll, run, crouch, spin, ground pound and – when using a power-up – attack. As always for a Mario game, it’s simple to pick up but challenging to master, as fluidly combining each move becomes essential to reaching 3D World’s trickier goal poles.
And yet, the core gameplay isn’t what makes this Mario adventure shine. Over its 8 worlds, the wealth of ambitious ideas, brain-teasing mechanics, and well put together stages are 3D World’s brightest achievement. It feels as though every level is playfully toying with a new gimmick; platforms that switch when you jump, enemies that need to be used as tentative trampolines to reach new areas, darkened rooms that switch to a 2D, silhouetted perspective. There’s even a stage that riffs on Mario Kart, as players boost and slide down a momentum focused racetrack.
These concepts are made exponentially better by Nintendo never letting a single one wear out its welcome. Levels frequently evolve ideas over the space of a few minutes, offering tightly packed, succinct stages that focus heavily on a specific gimmick before retiring it and moving on to the next fun-fuelled course. There’s rarely a moment where you’re running through the motions in 3D World and barely a second where it loses its rapid pace.
Partner that with the fact the entire game can be enjoyed in a hyper-fun, chaotic four-player cooperative mode – which, admittedly, can get a little too chaotic at times – and you have yourself an outstanding slice of Mario action. It even performs phenomenally in handheld mode; so well, in fact, that I wound up spending the majority of my time with the game undocked.
But the fun doesn’t end there, as Bowser’s Fury is also available to launch from the moment you boot up the game. The best way to describe this short but memorable side-experience is like a mouth-watering taster for the main course coming down the line.
Bowser’s Fury sees Bowser return (shocker!) but this time he’s akin to Kaiju, growing to the size of a skyscraper using some mysterious black goop. Teaming up with Bowser Jr to defeat his father, Mario has to traverse a cat-themed lake to defeat him.
It’s all a set up for a unique take on the Mario formula, offering a large, open map filled with platforming challenges that gradually unlock as the player collects “Cat Shines”. The catch is that every few minutes Bowser will awaken, making platforming more dangerous by showering the map with fire until he returns to his slumber.
It’s a premise that facilitates a fun Mario adventure that blends 3D World’s best ideas with Odyssey’s more open-world design. Before long, it becomes a three-hour remix of some of the Nintendo mascot’s best moments, whether that’s speeding across Lake Lapcat on the back of Plessie or battling against some of the series’ most iconic enemies.
But the hook here is Bowser, and the supplementary experience offers some notable ideas when it comes to the notorious dragon’s role. His shift into Godzilla mode offers the opportunity to go one-on-one with the iconic antagonist in giant form, but he also becomes an essential part of gameplay, as players can use his fire to break blocks and reach new shines, for instance.
Finding giant cat bells at lighthouses, Mario can even the odds by matching his opponent in size. Sadly, this is the weakest aspect of Bowser’s Fury, as battles with the villain are frequent and, unlike the rest of the game, not loaded with interesting new mechanics. It makes them repetitive, especially during the latter half of the adventure.
But it’s nowhere near enough to ruin what’s already an ambitious bonus offering and one I definitely hope is an indication of where Nintendo hopes to take the series next.
Although we’ve seen several Mario re-releases on the Switch, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury manages to deliver one of the more compelling offerings in that line-up. Not only is 3D World a masterful Mario experience that many missed, thanks to the Wii U’s lack of popularity, but Bowser’s Fury boasts an experimental new venture for returning players to indulge in. Whether you’re a diehard fan of the 2013 platformer or one of the numerous players who missed it, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is a superb excuse to return to the Wii U classic.
Game: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Out Now