The original Super Mario 3D World was one of the most acclaimed games on Wii U, and with good reason. It’s easily one of the high points of the whole Mario series, drawing inspiration from both its 2D and 3D incarnations to create something wholly unique and wonderful to play. It introduced the world to Cat Mario and paved the way for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The only surprising thing about it getting a revamped Switch release is that it didn’t happen sooner—but boy, is Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury worth the wait.
The main appeal here, especially for people who’ve played the original game, is Bowser’s Fury. I said previously that it feels like it could be a whole new game of its own, and that feeling still rings true after seeing the credits roll. Sure, Bowser’s Fury is shorter than your typical Mario game, but that doesn’t make it any less fresh and full of original ideas, a wide variety of clever puzzles, and plenty of secrets to find and collectibles to collect. It certainly doesn’t feel incomplete, or like it’s just a brief distraction from the main event—for many, Bowser’s Fury will be the main event, and it earns that spot.
Taking place in its own big, open world called Lake Lapcat—think one of the worlds in Super Mario Odyssey, but on a bigger scale—Bowser’s Fury sees you trying to save the world, as usual, but also trying to save Bowser from himself. Something’s gotten into him, and he’s grown very big and very angry. Bowser Jr. wants his old, regular-angry father back, so he forms an unlikely alliance with Mario to find a way to calm Bowser-zilla’s rage.
This lays the foundation for an adventure across a lake full of weird and wonderful islands, each one home to a variety of different platforming puzzles. From scaling cliffs to navigate mazes of pipes, from breaking into an old colosseum to riding Plessie through a jet-ski course, Bowser’s Fury constantly mixes things up and finds new ways to twist the basic Mario foundations. Verticality is big, with most levels being built around towering structures with platform paths that weave through and around them.
But what sets Bowser’s Fury apart is… well, Bowser’s fury. At any given time, the giant Bowser can wake up, causing the sunny skies to give way to rain, wind, and gloom and all manner of new obstacles to start dropping out of the sky or rising up from the ground. In effect, there are two versions of every level in Bowser’s Fury, the standard one, and a second, more difficult one with raining fire, rocks getting in the way, lava, more aggressive foes, and Bowser’s breath of fire.
But there are also secrets and places that can only be reached with the “help” of Bowser’s rage, be it by luring him into destroying some otherwise indestructible blocks or by using some of those new obstacles to forge a new path where there’d otherwise be none. And if you’re up to the challenge, it can be worthwhile trying to time your level completion during a rage—doing so will do a bit of damage to big Bowser, making the upcoming boss fights that little bit easier.
Bowser’s fury is more than just a “hard” mode; this is a game that can flip at any moment, no matter how inconvenient, and with that comes a layer of excitement and unpredictability. It can be annoying, but rarely becomes tedious, and suddenly finding yourself scrambling because Bowser woke up at just the wrong time is a part of the fun. Bowser’s Fury takes a clever, original concept and delivers it flawlessly.
The same can be said of Super Mario 3D World itself, a game that takes influence from both the 2D and 3D Mario games and creates something entirely new. Rather than the big, open spaces typical of 3D platformers (Bowser’s Fury included), Super Mario 3D World is full of discrete, mostly linear levels complete with timers and checkpoints. They’re about starting at the start and finishing at the finish, as quickly as you can and without dying along the way, classic side-scrolling Mario style. Within this, you’ve got levels that largely echo a 2D platformer design philosophy, but with the added element of depth to bring a new layer to the puzzles and possibilities.
Sometimes this means an almost 2.5D sort of game, with a level made up of platforms on a cliff face that leave almost no room for movement along that Z axis; other courses almost replicate the open nature of a Super Mario 64 level, despite operating with a fixed camera. Most levels operate somewhere between those two extremes, mostly following a linear left-to-right progression but along a wide road rather than a tightrope, full of puzzles that mostly resemble 2D Mario but with some neat little three-dimensional twists. It’s not the open levels of Spyro, or Crash Bandicoot‘s style of mostly trading vertical platforming for horizontal; it’s an approach to a 3D platformer that’s not quite like anything else out there (except, perhaps, Super Mario 3D Land before it).
On top of that, it’s full of all the classic Super Mario frivolity and fun. There’s plenty of challenge, especially in the (surprisingly brutal) later levels, but also plenty of ways to manage that if you want to make the game easier or harder for yourself. It’s got the Cat Suit, and all the wall-climbing, claw-swiping antics that come with the Cat Suit. Super Mario 3D World is pure, uncomplicated fun that few other games can match.
The Switch version doesn’t dramatically alter this, but it comes with a couple of nice additions. Online multiplayer is a godsend, and not just because of COVID; as fun as Super Mario 3D World is alone, it’s that much better with friends and family, and having the online option just opens that aspect of the game up so much. There’s a photo mode for folks who like to take and share creative screenshots, complete with a variety of filters and unlockable stamps that you can place directly into the game world itself, not just as a screen effect. There are some handy little tweaks to things like run speed and how quickly dash charges up, making navigating through each level that little bit smoother.
Bringing one of the best games of the whole Mario franchise to Switch, with a few little tweaks here and there, would have been enough to make a Super Mario 3D World repackage an essential part of anyone’s Switch library. But Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury goes a whole lot further, with the addition of what could just as well have been a whole new standalone game, and a brilliant one at that.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is developed and published by Nintendo. It’s available from February 12, 2021 for Nintendo Switch (reviewed).
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.