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Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury review: Everything old is new again

If you were one of the few million people who stuck with Nintendo through the Wii U years, the Switch era has likely created a lot of feelings of deja vu for you. For every full-fledged sequel like Super Mario Odyssey or Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch, you’ve had to face at least one warmed-over Wii U port like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker, or Hyrule Warriors Deluxe (to name just a few).

While it’s nice that these underloved Wii U games are getting a new lease on life (and a new fully portable play option) on the much more popular Switch, the idea of paying full price for a light update to a game you bought less than a decade ago on the Wii U might feel a little grating.

For its latest Wii U rehash, Nintendo seems to have acknowledged this issue to some extent. The Switch port of the excellent Super Mario 3D World comes packaged with Bowser’s Fury, a brand-new bit of “open world” content that extends 3D World‘s gameplay ideas in some interesting new directions. The result is a package that should have any 3D platforming fan at least taking a second look, even if they already bought the game a few years ago.

A new kind of 3D Mario

If you missed out on Super Mario 3D World the first time around, you might have to adjust your expectations for a 3D Mario platform game a little bit. Much like the 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land before it, 3D World generally avoids the wide-open areas and level-specific goals of games like Super Mario 64.

In their place are more linear levels, full of direct paths and relatively narrow passages that present something more akin to the “just get to the goal” challenge of old 2D Mario adventures. There may be a few twists and turns along the way, but those twists are laid out at stark 45- or 90-degree angles, with only minor detours on the obvious path to that ending flagpole. There are plenty of hidden trinkets for completionists, but also the simplicity of old-school 2D Mario where you always generally knew which direction to go.

The main benefit to this design is that there tends to be a lot less wandering around semi-aimlessly, searching for a hidden goal with only a vague hint to guide you. It also means a lot less fiddling with a shaky camera system to get your bearings; the camera in 3D World generally remains locked in an isometric perspective that provides a clear view of your environment to know what to do next.

On the downside, that wide-angle isometric camera can also make it a bit difficult to gauge distances in three dimensions. You have to rely heavily on your character’s shadow to know where you’re about to land, and even then it can be pretty easy to misjudge your distance from an enemy or your landing area for a small jump. It’s not an impossible challenge to overcome, but it can become an annoyance.

Despite the simpler formula, 3D World does a good job keeping things fresh with bright, colorful level designs and interesting new architecture. New features such as maze-like transparent pipes, trapeze-style swings, periodically disappearing blocks (timed wonderfully to the catchy music), and even doubling cherries that let you clone your character make sure things don’t get too repetitive. The levels are short and varied enough that they don’t wear out their welcome, and there are plenty of inventive and challenging mini-bosses that make the Koopa Kids look a little boring.

3D World also benefits from the re-introduction of the same non-Mario player characters that long-time gamers may remember from Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES. Just as in that game, Luigi’s high, fluttery jump, Peach’s long, floaty jump, and Toad’s extra speed give players some welcome extra options for traversing different types of levels. And the cat suit is an instant classic top-tied Mario item, letting players climb walls to hunt for secrets and slash at enemies in addition to a fun, TMNT-style angled jumping attack.

Renewed Fury

For those who think Super Mario 3D World is a bit too linear, the brand-new “Bowser’s Fury” mode is also here to provide another take on the same basic engine. Here, Bowser has been infected and made skyscraper-sized by some inky black goop, which is also destroying the idyllic environment of an island archipelago. Bowser Jr. recruits Mario to help get his dad back from super-sized inky evil to just plain, normal-sized goofy evil (without spoiling too much, I’ll say you shouldn’t be too surprised if a giant-sized Mario shows up at some point to take on this larger-than-life threat).

To do this, Mario has to find a number of “cat shines” scattered across the mode’s many islands (Bowser’s Fury leans hard into this familiar-thing-but-now-with-cat-ears idea in a way that ends up feeling a little saccharine). The focus here is exploration, not simple survival and traversal, and the ability to hold multiple different items in reserve at once helps make that traversal a bit less fraught.

Some of these shines are hidden in plain sight and simply require traversing some well-designed platforming challenges or beating a small set of enemies to collect. Others are almost too well-hidden—I drove myself to distraction hunting for the last of five “shine shards” scattered in hard-to-reach corners of some islands.

A lot of the shines revolve around guiding the slippery Plessy the dinosaur across large, open expanses of water that separate islands, often guided by a path of golden coin hoops. Then there’s a set of shines that require you to get some help from Bowser, who periodically wakes up to darken the sky and rain fiery destruction on Mario and a set of blocks that only his fire can destroy.

The islands themselves make good use of the now-free-floating camera and vertical space to feel a lot less claustrophobic than those in 3D World itself. That said, taken individually or collectively, they’re not nearly as expansive or varied as the areas in, say, a game like Super Mario Odyssey.

And after just a few hours of play, the whole thing starts to feel a little sparse and padded with repetition. Each small area needs to be run multiple times to collect different cat shines, often with only minor changes to keep things fresh between each run. By the time you’re climbing a transparent pipe-maze tower for a third time—now to collect a set of blue coins that have magically appeared on the run—you may start to find the whole thing a little limited and monotonous.

Bowser’s Fury is a decent diversion for the four hours or so it’ll take an experienced platform player to beat (with maybe four more hours of diversion for completionists). Overall, though, it feels like a half-baked proving ground for some new gameplay ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out as they would be in a standalone Mario release.

But Bowser’s Fury works just fine as an added bonus packaged with an under-appreciated platforming gem from the Wii U era. If you’ve never played 3D World before, this is a great chance to catch up on a fresh take on 3D Mario design. If you’re mainly interested in Bowser’s Fury, though, maybe wait until the strong ideas get expanded into a full, standalone game.

The good

  • People who never owned a Wii U get a fresh new take on 3D Mario.
  • Inventive level design never feels stale.
  • Four different player characters and plenty of fun items.
  • Faster running speed helps with the original’s sluggish pace.
  • Online play option seems to work well in limited testing.
  • Bowser’s Fury gives a glimpse of a more “open world” playstyle.

The bad

  • Locked camera perspective can make it hard to judge depth/position.
  • Bowser’s Fury gets pretty repetitive pretty quickly.

The ugly

  • Having to wait around for Bowser to wake up in order to break some otherwise unbreakable blocks.

Verdict: Buy it if you missed out on 3D World the first time. Try it if you just want to see what Bowser’s Fury is all about.


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