Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
This is such an odd game to talk about because it’s so many things to so many different types of people. Do we talk about it like we never played the 2013 original, as if we were coming into it fresh? Do we compare the two versions and see what this adds as if we are returning Wii U owners? Do we base our thoughts just on Bowser’s Fury, the only new part of the package, as if we were die-hard Nintendo fans always trying to keep up with their new releases?
Guess we’ll do it all.
It's a 3D World
Let’s start with Super Mario 3D World. There are really two ways you can look at this, as a standalone game, or as a port.
As a game in its own right, Super Mario 3D World is and always has been great. It was widely considered one of the best games the Wii U had to offer, and one of the best takes on 3D Mario to boot. It expertly blends 3D style gameplay with 2D style stages and power-ups. There are tons of secrets to find and an especially expanded endgame that allows you to progress from extra world to extra world in a constant string of unlockable content. The power-ups are great. Multiplayer is great. It’s just a great time, all around.
However, that’s only really true if you’ve never played it before. If you have played it before, then Super Mario 3D World kind of pales as far as a port goes. Nintendo added… nothing. Not a single thing. There are no new characters. No new secrets. Everything is exactly where you found it last time. You would have thought that Nintendo would at least let us play with the secret character, Rosalina, out of the gate but, no, you have to unlock her just like you did in the original.
In fact, I’d say this version of Super Mario 3D World is actually worse than the one on the Wii U. The graphics aren’t noticeably better in any way, but the controls are actively worse. The basic platforming controls are fine, but controls that used the Wii U Gamepad’s touch screen now require you to use the IR Cursor and motion controls and they just aren’t as good.
The only other notable change is to stamps. In the original, you found collectible stamps in order to use them on social media posts in Miiverse. But Miiverse is defunct, so instead, you can now use the stamps to doodle over your pictures in photo mode. The only problem is that these last generation graphics don’t really make you want to take photos. You’ll barely fool around with it for a few minutes and from that point on, stamps are just another collectible for completionists.
You can play the game in online multiplayer, which is neat, but frankly, the netcode just isn’t up to snuff which is par for the course for Nintendo titles. You’ll encounter skips and slowdowns and lag and it’s just not a fun time unless everyone you know has a perfect connection and is also fairly local.
There are only really two positives worth pointing out for fans who have already played the original. Everyone has a speed increase, which actually does a fair way toward balancing each playable character. Also, the Captain Toad levels are now playable in multiplayer.
Sure, Super Mario 3D World is fun to revisit, but Nintendo missed a golden opportunity to do something special here. Heck, all they could have done was add a few new characters and that would have been enough. A few new stages would have also been welcome. Heck, even a few new collectibles would have been OK. Instead, we get the game exactly as it was before and… it's fine… I guess. It just feels like a missed opportunity.
The fury of Bowser
Bowser’s Fury is kind of a beast all its own. It is, for all intents and purposes, a completely new game. Mario and Bowser Jr. are transported to an archipelago of Lake Lapcat, a huge open-world island map that has been taken over by black good (shades of Super Mario Sunshine here.) Not only that, but Bowser himself has been taken over by the goo and turned into essentially a gigantic kaiju. The only saving grace is that Bowser can only harness his new power for a short time. The rest of the time he spends hibernating ominously in the background.
Bowser’s Fury is completely built around this one concept. While the physics and power-ups are a copy-paste from Super Mario 3D World, everything else is different. There are no levels. There are no lives. The fixed camera perspective has given way to a fully controllable 3D viewpoint. You can only play as Mario with a second player joining in as Bowser Jr. if you like, but he’s simple and limited, much like how a second player could control Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey. While Mario’s life still depends on power-ups, Bowser Jr. can bank a treasure trove of them, effectively giving Mario a stack of hit points.
You are essentially playing through two versions of the same world. When everything is bright and sunny, Bowser’s Fury plays like any world you might find in games like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy. Wander around a big level, avoid some enemies, partake in some platforming challenges, find collectibles, you know the drill.
But when Bowser awakens, everything changes. Giant spikes of molten metal rain from the sky. Enemies become possessed by some sort of dark power. Bowser’s intense fire breath fires at you from the background. Everything gets a whole lot more dangerous.
And everything gets a whole lot more interesting as well. You see, you need to use Bowser to solve multiple puzzles. The spikes that rain from the sky create new platforms that open up new routes to explore the world. Bowser’s fire-breath can destroy obstacles that you have no other way to destroy. It has similarities to light/dark world mechanics from games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
Managing Bowser’s awake and asleep state is key to progressing through the game. When he’s asleep, time will eventually awaken him. He will rise from the muck in the background, rain will start to pour, and the game will essentially warn you right before he goes on a rampage.
You can force him back to sleep in one of three ways. You can find a Cat Shine, which is the game’s main collectible. You can find a Mega Bell, which allows you to become a gigantic Lion themed Cat Mario to take him on yourself, or you can just wait out his tantrum.
For a while, Bowser’s Fury is really engaging. You get to ride Plessie from island to island, climbing lighthouses and collecting hidden Shines in an attempt to collect them all and face the secret final boss. However, things start to get repetitive as you work your way down to the last few shines. Bowser’s constant temper tantrums make for an unwelcome interruption when you are trying to scour the map for a collectible you overlooked. Sure, you can fight him to make him go back to bed, but this too gets repetitive and, in a way, makes the final confrontation feel overly familiar.
Luckily, Bowser’s Fury doesn’t overstay its welcome. You can beat it in about three hours, and you can 100 percent it in about 10. It’s a satisfying take on the 3D World formula but, again, it really feels like Nintendo should have done more.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is about as good as you can expect it to be. Nintendo wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. They just wanted to put an already great game onto a console that didn’t flop. Well, that’s what this is, with another mini-adventure to boot. Still, Bowser’s Fury feels like too much and not enough at the same time. While it’s a great little open-world Mario title, it’s no Odyssey… heck it’s not even Sunshine. It’s great that Nintendo put so much effort into producing additional content for this re-release, but honestly, we would have been happier if they updated the core game rather than including this add-on.