The popularity of the Nintendo Switch has not slowed since it came out in 2017. It makes sense for Nintendo to gradually port over many of their best games from the disappointing Wii U to Switch. Some of their best work would go unplayed if it weren’t for this initiative.
The Wii U’s second highest selling game was Super Mario 3D World, and yet it is the lowest selling 3D Mario game ever made. Since it was exclusive to a console that most people never played, Super Mario 3D World was practically a new game waiting to be played.
Being a simple port would not be enough for Nintendo. Super Mario 3D World on Switch would have to be something more. The core game got tweaks and the added scenario Bowser’s Fury; a glimpse into Mario’s possible future and showcases Nintendo’s masterful approach to game design. Can Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury offer much for veterans or those who missed the vanilla Wii U game?
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Platforms: Wii U (as Super Mario 3D World), Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Price: $59.99 USD
Anyone going into a Mario game knows that they can expect Bowser to begin the story by kidnapping someone, and then Mario would have to make his way through a variety of platforming challenges and obstacles. Sometimes the details vary; like Mario being forced into community service, or traversing the galaxy. It’s pretty much expected that the story is always an excuse for some stimulating gameplay.
Super Mario 3D World is no exception, and plays it very straight with some minor differences. Princess Peach is not kidnapped this time, and is fully playable and comes with her own unique gameplay mechanics. The most defining distinction that Super Mario 3D World has is that it has four-player co-op… If making progression harder for everyone can be considered “co-op”.
Super Mario 3D Land was the predecessor on the 3DS, and was the first time an original 3D Mario game was executed on portable hardware. Unlike the Super Mario 64 DS port, 3D Land was tailor made for the 3DS, and had very focused and linear 3D level design with a goal pole at the end of every stage.
This was 3D platforming in its most purest form. While some fans bemoaned the loss of the open ended adventure style 3D platforming, 3D Land established a new sub genre of platforming Mario games that would be separate from the likes of Sunshine, Odyssey, and both Galaxy games.
Anyone who owned a Wii U would understand how wonderful Super Mario 3D World was, but now Nintendo would show Switch owners what they have been missing. There were many improvements and refinements from Land to World. The level linear select screen was replaced with an expansive world map, where each stage gets a creative diorama to represent each area.
This was a small touch that invites the player to get more immersed in the setting. Keeping gamers always in control of Mario and the rest of the gang is seemingly a new paradigm at Nintendo, and this is even further realized in Bowser’s Fury (more on that later).
If there was one aspect that is doomed to get lost in this 3D style of Mario game, it would be logic and reason. In Super Mario Sunshine, there was a profound sense of place and setting put into making Isle Delfino believable. Every location had a theme and was connected in a way that made sense. Later levels would bee seen in the distance, further establishing how fleshed out the world could be.
This design philosophy was further realized in Super Mario Odyssey. Entire cultures were crafted to make the setting feel authentic, to draw the player in. There might be a warp to a subspace location that had a very abstract collection of assets that are designed to provide a healthy gauntlet for Mario to negotiate. This compromise kept things engaging while also allowed flexibility to the designers.
In Super Mario 3D World, this attention to reality is thrown out the window, and every location is a strange abstract mash of floating platforms, blocks, and nonsensical structures. Even when exploring on the world map, there is no consistency of themes between stages in the desert land or the arctic regions.
Everything is all designed in service of the gameplay, and making interesting challenges or creative scenarios for Mario and company to collect Green Stars to further unlock more stages. Every level follows a three act structure of introducing a gimmick in a safe way, re-imagining the gimmick in a dangerous way, and then climaxing the gimmick at the flag pole.
It is a simple and effective design flourish that keeps every stage unique. As the difficulty rises with progression to much later stages, some old concepts are brought back in a new way and are mixed with new challenges.
The Double Cherry power-up clones Mario, and there can be around eight clones in some instances. When this becomes really interesting is when this ability demands the player to manage and control all of these Marios while sliding down a surface that vanishes according to the background music’s rhythm. The tension rises as there is a reward for making it all the way down without losing any Mario clones.
Through out the entire game, Super Mario 3D World is constantly mixing ideas and stage mechanics to create stimulating challenges. It becomes hard to stop playing because every new stage has something new to see.
Having each character support a playstyle helps make replaying stages fresh. Toad is the fastest runner, but has a weak jump. Luigi’s jump is floaty, and has the highest vertical leap. Peach is the slowest, but is great for beginners for her gliding ability. And for those who unlock her; Rosalina’s ability to spin-attack makes her useful for aggressive players.
Super Mario 3D World on Switch has noticeably increased the movement speed of all characters from the Wii U original. The Switch version of Peach moves as quick as the fastest character on Wii U. This adjustment has also been extended to how some power-ups work; like the fire balls which have a much shorter cool-down between shots.
These changes make Super Mario 3D World on Switch a much more energetic experience. There is a greater sense of momentum and all characters are able to perform an air-roll for quick areal evasive moves. The controls feel tighter and snappier, which will make it very hard to go back to the vanilla version.
The four-player mode degenerates into incoherent shenanigans where everyone inadvertently sabotages each other. It was madness on Wii U, and on Switch it is turbo madness. Another adjustment that the Switch port has is that the Captain Toad puzzle diorama stages all support up to four players now, and everyone hilariously gets in the way of each other.
The improvements in Super Mario 3D World on Switch are enough to make it a definitive way to play it over the vanilla original. The only aspects that are disappointing is the lack of options and other bonus features that seem like they would have been obvious.
This upgraded port missed the chance to include more playable characters. Yoshi seems like an obvious choice to have since he has a flutter jump and a tongue to grab distant power-ups or to spit out enemies.
The hefty and rotund Wario should have been included to have a character to match the speed of how characters used to move in the Wii U version. Having some more options like this would have made the $59.99 USD more agreeable.
For whatever reason, Super Mario 3D World still has no option for full 3D movement, and control is still restricted to eight cardinal directions. This is especially confusing since Bowser’s Fury has full 3D movement, and feels so much more natural to control. This should have been an option for 3D World.
Just what is Bowser’s Fury anyway? Most would consider it an expansion of 3D World, but that would suggest that it would be more of of the same. Bowser’s Fury is a remix of 3D World ideas through the lens of what a next gen Super Mario Sunshine could be like.
Bowser’s Fury has an ominous opening for a Mario game. An angry storm clouds the horizon of the ocean and fire reigns down from the sky. Bowser, now the size of a mountain and shrouded in black and murky muck, is now like a force of nature. His horned extremities are tempered with the heat of a burning star, and eyes glowing with a blind hatred.
This is the biggest and most imposing the King of the Koopas has ever been depicted. He resembles something that Godzilla would fight, not a dumpy Italian plumber who yells “Yipee!” or “Wahoo!” when he jumps. This new form he’s taken is enough to spook his own son, who has been pushed to the point of desperation that he begs for help from his father’s enemy.
Bowser Jr. and Mario will have to work together if they hope to restore Bowser back to his old self. This makes sense, since this demonic incarnation of Bowser is a much bigger threat than anything Mario has faced. Thankfully the trio are located in an area that is made up of uninhabited islands. The real danger is if Bowser makes it to populated areas, and it’s up to Mario to stop him.
Despite being another simple premise that serves as an excuse for the gameplay, Mario shows a bit more personality here than he usually does. He constantly scoffs at Bowser Jr.’s pleas, giving him a disdainful look. They make an odd couple for sure, and seeing them interact is amusing.
Naturally, the real star of Bowser’s Fury is the grand sense of freedom and discovery. Mario is unbound from the limitations of 3D World; he isn’t restricted to eight-way movement, and the camera control has been set free into full 360 degree manipulation.
This may sound like it is just Super Mario Odyssey, but it still feels distinctly 3D World. Mario’s power-ups are all here and accounted for and function exactly the same. There is no arbitrary timer that makes the abilities temporary, and Mario is even able to stock up to five of each power-up in his inventory which he can quickly use in a pinch.
Bowser’s Fury is probably why the speed of 3D World was modified. The land mass to play in is enormous; possibly one third of a game’s worth. Mario needs the extra mobility to be able to negotiate these locations without them becoming a chore to explore.
Unlike 3D World, Bowser’s Fury’s level(s) are not an abstract construct of obstacle designs. There is somewhat of an internal logic behind these islands, and it is rooted in some kind of mythical cat lore. Some of these structures appear to be ancient ruins, and have some kind of Sheikah-esque technology powering them.
There are windmills on spires, some kind of plumbing facility that is covered in pipes, and even some magical floating islands. The atmosphere is very light, but inspires a profound sense of wonder and imagination. Amidst all this intrigue and whimsy is Bowser himself, who hibernates between attacks. His enormous shell is always on the horizon, making for easy orientation.
Bowser and the Cat Bell power-up are instrumental to every thing in Bowser’s Fury. The collectible in this game is a Cat Shine, and it is the only thing that can keep Bowser at bay. If he is out and about, acquiring one of these feline tokens will make the area’s lighthouse a bit brighter, aggravating the King of Koopas and driving him off for a while.
Mario will have to eventually expand his own reach to new areas if he hopes to get more Cat Shines. This is because every hub has a Giga Cat Bell; that requires Mario to unlock it by having the appropriate amount of collectibles. Why would anyone need a Giga Cat Bell? To square off against Fury Bowser in a clash of colossal proportions, naturally.
These tussles look impressive, but are very simple boss battles from any other Mario game. Mario is barely ever truly vulnerable, since there is always a large cat bell lying around to restore small Mario back into his big cat man form. There is not much to these battles, since Mario’s abilities are designed around mobility and platforming; not so much fighting.
Bowser’s Fury truly does feel like an evolution of the 3D Mario concept. Control is never taken away, and Mario’s range of abilities has a lot of potential thanks to the many power-ups brought over from 3D World.
Many of the gimmicks and stage concepts are recycled in a creative and new way; by allowing freedom to explore in a vast and open environment it evokes memories of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. There is no timer anymore, and the easy-going ambiance allows players to absorb the world and appreciate the setting without a nonsensical countdown to a death.
Impressively, Bowser’s Fury runs at a pretty stable 60 frames per second. The huge spectacle from Bowser’s attacks, assorted islands and the thunderous giant cat Mario battles push the Switch hardware to its utter limit.
At times it feels like the designers came up with a basic idea of; “What if we took a bunch of 3D World levels and put them all together in one large map?”. This is a stroke of genius, and the simple approach is what makes Bowser’s Fury such an elegant and appealing experience.
There is so little fat or padding. Unlike in Odyssey, which had an absurd amount of collectibles that a majority of them felt inconsequential, Bowser’s Fury has fewer but makes each one more meaningful. This is not exactly substantial enough to be considered a full priced game, but if it was $19.99 USD, it would feel like money well spent.
Bowser’s Fury is a short and lean experience, but never feels like it needed to be longer. It is very carefully paced so it has a sense of completion when it draws to a close. It will be interesting how the boys at Nintendo will expand upon this new approach of open-world Mario in the legitimate next 3D Super Mario game.
Is Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury worth the time and hard earned dollars of the veterans who played it on Wii U? The new Bowser’s Fury scenario certainly helps make a strong case for it. The various improvements also enhances the experience in a way that makes it hard to ever go back to the original.
The precise gameplay and demand for tight controls make the online mode worthless, since this kind of game requires the fastest internet speeds for all players. It is not a reason to play this at all, and is much smoother with local co-op.
Anyone who missed the original on Wii U, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is a must own for their Nintendo Switch library. It may not make a whole lot of sense, but the platforming action is so focused and confidently designed. It is a constant stream of creative ideas and stimulating gameplay that is very hard to put down.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.