The benefit of hindsight has allowed the masses to realize the true value of Super Mario 3D World in the years since its launch. When it first released on the Wii U, there was no shortage of disappointment amongst the core Mario fanbase about its perceived lack of ambition, and how Nintendo had chosen to make the series’ mainline debut on a new console not focused on a completely new idea the way Super Mario has traditionally done, but instead chosen to expand upon the ideas of the handheld-focused Super Mario 3D Land.
Like the vast majority of the Wii U’s library though, Super Mario 3D World has now been given a second lease of life on the Switch, and this improved re-release of the game only serves to make abundantly clear that it was so much more than what many initially perceived it as. What Super Mario 3D World is is a joyful bundle of creativity and unadulterated fun. It is one of Mario’s best outings in his illustrious history, and on the Switch, it’s better than ever.
"Super Mario 3D World is one of Mario’s best outings in his illustrious history, and on the Switch, it’s better than ever."
And “creativity” really is the perfect word to describe this game. Almost each level in is completely unique in its own way, each focused on a single central hook, idea, or mechanic that it uses to its maximum potential, before discarding it and moving on to the next one. What makes the breathlessly enjoyable execution of all of these mechanics stand out even more is how infrequently Super Mario 3D World reuses ideas. Other than a few stages that are similarly themed or some boss fights that pop up on more than one occasion, you’ll rarely ever play through a course that riffs on an idea that’s already been tackled by the game before. Each level plucks out a separate piece of Super Mario from its rich history and squeezes it until the last drop of potential has been dripped out of it. Considering how meaty the game is and how many levels there are in its dozen worlds, that level of creativity and variety becomes even more impressive.
What helps, of course, is the ingenious level design. Whether you’re playing through a relatively simple course with breezy platforming challenges, or one with a strict time limit that you have to rush through, or a larger one with much more room for exploration, or one that challenges you with formidable platforming gauntlets, Super Mario 3D World never fails to hit the mark where its level design is concerned. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it some of the best level design ever in a platformer. Excellent implementation of power ups (especially the Super Bell and the Double Cherry) also deserves special praise.
Meanwhile, there’s also a surprising amount of replay value here. For starters, Super Mario 3D World offers a meaty post-game once the credits have rolled, which has some of the best levels in the entire game. On top of that, with multiple characters to play as, each with their own unique movesets that present unique advantages and disadvantages (some of which are often taken into account in specific challenges within certain levels), going through older levels manages to remain enjoyable and feel fresh even during replays. Exploring hidden nooks and crannies to look for stamps and any stars that you may have missed also serves as a great motivator to do quick runs through courses that you’ve already cleared- especially since courses are usually pretty quick and snappy. Finally, there’s co-op, which is an absolute blast, and comes with its own brand of chaotic fun. Playing 3D World with a friend is a completely different flavour from playing it solo, but it’s no less enjoyable.
"Other than a few stages that are similarly themed or some boss fights that pop up on more than one occasion, you’ll rarely ever play through a course that riffs on an idea that’s already been tackled by the game before."
Super Mario 3D World’s Switch re-release also boasts faster and snappier movement and platforming than the game’s Wii U version, turning an already excellent platformer into an even better one. Clearly, this would have been worth the price of entry even if Nintendo had just stuck with bringing 3D World over to the Switch. But there’s a whole new 3D Super Mario adventure added on as well in the form of Bowser’s Fury– and if it’s any indication of the direction Nintendo are going to take with future Mario games, I cannot wait to see where the series goes from here.
Bowser’s Fury is a completely separate mode, connected to 3D World only through some paper-thin similarities (like the whole cat motif), to the extent that you have to launch it from the game’s splash screen as its own separate game. Set in a fully 3D environment where, unlike 3D World, you have full camera control, Bowser’s Fury adopts a sandbox, open world approach similar to Super Mario Odyssey, Sunshine, and 64. The central conceit is as strange as it can get- Bowser has been possessed by some strange black goo that has turned him massive and monstrous, not just in size, but in his general disposition as well. In his desperation, his son, Bowser Jr, turns to Mario for help, and the two set out to look for Cat Shines scattered throughout the many islands around Lake Lapcat with which to beat back Fury Bowser and turn him back into, well, regular Bowser.
I’ve always been of the belief that handcrafted linear platformers are far more enjoyable than ones that take place in more open-ended and sandbox environments. While I certainly get the appeal of the latter, there’s an undeniable appeal to the tightly focused and dense platforming challenges that the former approach offers (when properly executed, that is) that suits my tastes much better. Bowser’s Fury, though, is the best of both worlds. From the get go, you’re given complete freedom to explore Lake Lapcat and head in whichever direction you want. Your progress is often blocked by swathes of black goo that cover vast stretches of the region (the same goo that’s taken hold of Papa Bowser), which you can clear by collecting more Cat Shines and activating lighthouses.
"In Bowser’s Fury, no matter where you go, no matter what you engage with, you’ll always find some fun activity."
And no matter where you go, no matter what you engage with, you’ll always find some fun activity. Most of these are tightly designed platforming gauntlets that call back to the best design philosophies of Super Mario 3D World itself, and all in all, there’s enough variety on offer in the activities for the game to keep delighting and surprising you throughout its runtime. As you progress, areas keep evolving and changing as well, often presenting you with new challenges and opportunities, which means going back to earlier areas of the region is also encouraged. Riding Plessie around the lake is a big focus here too, and some of the activities and challenges focused on that are a ton of fun, owing to controls that feel much tighter and more enjoyable with full camera control going hand-in-hand.
Owing to the complete freedom you have to explore the island at your own leisure and tackle whichever activity you want, Bowser’s Fury also implements an interesting take on collecting and stocking up on power-ups. You can have a total of five of each power-up item in the game stockpiled at any given time, and any time you want, you can switch one out and opt for a different one. It’s an incredibly smart system that works very well with how the game is structured, allowing you to swap power-ups at a moment’s notice depending on what activity you’re tackling in Lake Lapcat.
Every once in a while, Fury Bowser also awakens from his slumber, which is an event that goes hand-in-hand with a dramatic storm. These dynamically occurring weather changes see Fury Bowser attacking you with everything from fireballs to massive stone blocks to jets of flame, all while you’re going about your business in the open world. It’s a great way to inject tension and variety into the proceedings, especially since these sequences add new elements to the world that are not otherwise present. Meanwhile, the Fury Bowser sequences never outstay their welcome either. They don’t last awfully long on their own as it is, while getting your hands on a Cat Shine while Fury Bowser is awake also immediately sends him back to sleep.
"Dynamically occurring weather changes see Fury Bowser attacking you with everything from fireballs to massive stone blocks to jets of flame, all while you’re going about your business in the open world. It’s a great way to inject tension and variety into the proceedings."
There are also some Cat Shines that you can only get to during these sections, since they’re blocked by obstructions that can only be destroyed by Fury Bowser’s attacks. This, I would say, is the one aspect of the dynamic weather mechanic that I found a bit frustrating. Having to wait around for Fury Bowser to wake back up and let me get to the Cat Shines I wanted to get to would only serve to halt the pace of a game with otherwise excellent pacing. Meanwhile, you also take Fury Bowser on in set-piece boss battles every now and then after collecting certain numbers of Cat Shines, and though these fights are never too challenging, it’s always a lot of fun to go up against the behemoth big bad as a gigantic Cat Mario. The sense of scale in these fights is amazing, and it’s the kind of visual spectacle I never expected to see in a Mario game.
It is, however, a tad disappointing that the core platforming moveset in Bowser’s Fury feels so limited for a 3D Mario adventure. Where sandbox Super Mario games in the past have been defined by boundless freedom of expressive movement, where you can chain together jumps and maneuvers endlessly to get to what might ordinarily seem like an inaccessible area, Bowser’s Fury makes use of the same moveset as 3D World itself. But while that moveset works perfectly within the context of a more condensed and linear adventure like 3D World, I think having that limited moveset in a sandbox Mario game feels at odds with the central premise of complete freedom.
Co-op in Bowser’s Fury also leaves a lot to be desired. When two players play together, one controls Mario, while the other plays as Bowser Jr- though the latter is not all that fun to play as. He’s like a slightly better version of Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey’s co-op. Bowser Jr constantly hovers, which means there’s no platforming to engage with when you’re playing as him, and he takes no damage, which means there’s never any challenge either. He can attack enemies, and he can paint graffiti at certain spots in the world to produce power-ups for Mario, but he rarely ever feels like more than an afterthought.
"The sense of scale in the boss fights against Fury Bowser is amazing, and it’s the kind of visual spectacle I never expected to see in a Mario game."
Some issues aside though, Bowser’s Fury is an excellent new chapter in the long and illustrious history of this iconic franchise. At 3-4 hours long, it’s also a pretty meaty adventure, and it, too, has quite a bit of post-game content, which means you can easily spend 6-7 hours exploring Lake Lapcat. Meanwhile, Super Mario 3D World itself is as good as it has always been, which is to say it’s one of the best Mario games ever made. Needless to say, this package is an absolute must-have for anyone who has a Switch.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
Super Mario 3D World has some of the best and most varied level design ever in a platformer; Lots of replay value; Chaotic, enjoyable co-op in 3D World; Movement and platforming in 3D World are faster than the Wii U release; Bowser's Fury strikes the perfect balance between sandbox exploration and tightly designed platforming; Smart implementation of power-ups in Bowser's Fury; Exploration in Bowser's Fury is almost always rewarded with fun and varied activities; Dynamic weather system in Bowser's Fury injects even more variety into the experience; Boss battles against Fury Bowser are an unexpected visual spectacle.
Getting to Cat Shines that are exclusively available in Fury Bowser sequences can a bit of a pace-killer; Limited moveset in Bowser's Fury feels at odds with the sandbox approach; Co-op in Bowser's Fury is disappointing.