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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Review: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S.

Super Mario 3D World will be remembered as one of the better moments of Nintendo creativity, even in the context the long, storied and ridiculously prestigious history of its most visible mascot. Thankfully, what was once a Wii U exclusive has moved to a console that people actually own, and all those people with Switches that skipped the Wii U now have no excuse to miss out. Even for people who aren't normally platformer fans, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is essential.


Even those that did own a Wii U and Super Mario 3D World should be sure to pick up this game, because the “bonus” – Bowser’s Fury – also represents Nintendo at its absolute best. Bowser’s Fury is a magnificent romp through some of Nintendo’s most inspired creative moments, ever, and were it not so short it would almost certainly have been spun out into a stand-alone release. It actually works better as a short experience, as it has allowed Nintendo to adopt a breathless pace of unbound creativity, but it did mean that Nintendo needed to piggyback it onto something, lest the gamers decide it “lacked value.” By throwing the port of Super Mario 3D World on top of it, we get to play Bowser’s Fury as it was probably intended, padding-free, and it is an early contender for the game of the year.

What I really love about this collection is the changes in perspective. Super Mario 3D World plays like a side-scrolling Mario game, just in three dimensions. You’re still moving from left to right, broadly speaking, but you can also explore up and down to an extent, and Nintendo does take full advantage of this additional dimension to give you nooks and crannies to sniff out, walls to climb, and secret areas that are a joy to discover simply for the joy of discovering a hidden treasure.


Super Mario 3D World has some minor elements I don’t like, of course. For example, I can’t stand how many different collectibles platformers have, especially when missing those items starts to gate off progress, and on the Switch, some of the touchscreen controls that were present in the Wii U original (remember that console had a screen in the controller have been turned into motion controls when playing the Switch in docked mode, and they’re not good, at all. But then those niggles are well and truly overpowered by the stuff I love, such as the fact that no two levels are remotely similar to one another, or that one of the “minigames” - the Captain Toad adventures - was deemed so good that the good captain got his own spinoff game that has become one of my favourite puzzlers of all time. And then there's the Cat Mario power-up. What an inspired addition to the power-up roster kitty Mario is. He jumps, he climbs, he swipes... it's like the entire game was built around his mobility at times and then Nintendo realised that there needed to be other power-ups as well. Indeed, there are a couple of moments where Cat Mario seems to be too valuable and the level loses a lot of relevance without it, but that "overpoweredness" is blessedly rare, and for the most part kitty is simply a playful addition that encourages and rewards curious exploration… you know, just like a cat does.

Bowser’s Fury, meanwhile, shifts that perspective to a behind-the-player one, more like Super Mario 64, Sunshine, or Galaxy. That shift in perspective allows players to directly compare two very different approaches to Mario platforming, side-by-side, and with the takeaway that a change in perspective can mean a big change to the experience. You’re doing much the same thing, fundamentally, but it feels vibrant and fresh when you come at it from a different angle. It’s a clever juxtaposition on Nintendo’s part to highlight just how much of a focus Nintendo has over crafting experiences, rather than shoving existing formulas into new games.

Of course, every second and frame of both titles in this collection is bristling with colour and energy. Nintendo’s games rarely “age”, as they’re focused on art direction rather than technical brilliance, and that’s certainly the case with Super Mario 3D World. It’s the tiniest little details in the animation, rhythms in which every character on the screen moves, and subtle way that the design guides your eye to help you navigate through it that helps the game stand out as a visionary bit of visual design. Bowser’s Fury is no different. The shift in the perspective gives you a wider view of the world, and allows you to get excited for the kind of adventure that you know is coming up, just from the outlines and geography ahead.


I don’t have too much else to say about this collection that I didn’t already mention in my review of the title on the Wii U. There is one particular passage in that original review that I wanted to call attention to here: “I laughed out loud the first time I saw Goombas skating around on an ice level in an oversized ice skate, and jumped for joy when I realised that, after defeating the enemy, I could jump in said ice skate and slide around myself. Another truly inspired level requires players to run over panels that are lying on the floor, but if they touch them a second time the panel reverts to being unlit. All the panels need to be lit to proceed to the next section, so players get to experience some light puzzle gameplay in here too.”

To me, that is the epitome of the Mario experience, and what distinguishes it from other excellent, but lesser efforts, like Sony’s recent Sackboy platformer (which is also in 3D and adopts the same perspective and flow as 3D World); it’s the minute attention to detail and making sure that every moment of the game has the potential to delight and surprise. Unlike Sackboy, levels aren’t long for the sake of replaying gimmicks and you’re never encouraged to go through the motions. Throw in a giant Bowser and wonderfully quirky (temporary) ally in Bowser Junior thanks to Bowser's Fury, and it’s amazing to think that after decades of doing this, Nintendo still doesn't seem to have hit the bottom of the creativity well.

For so many people, Super Mario 3D World is going to be an all-new experience, with the bonus of an all-new half-game in Bowser’s Fury. For the rest, it’s an excuse to play through a masterpiece of game design and then, as a bonus that almost overshadows the "main" event, there’s the new Bowser’s Fury to play through. Either way, this is an exceptional first release for Nintendo in 2021, and it’s a safe bet that the Switch is in for a big year, even as those new generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft start to pick up steam.



- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb


Review: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury (Nintendo Switch)
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