Super Mario 3D World is a 3D Platformer developed and published by Nintendo. It was released on the Wii U in 2013. Bowser’s Fury is an expansion / side game developed exclusively for the Switch version. The Switch port was released in February 2021 and costs $60.
The Mario games are like a family of rich and world-famous prodigies. One child won the Nobel prize; their sibling won an Olympic Gold Medal; the youngest was elected President of the United States. Super Mario 3D World is the underperforming middle child that simply earned a PhD and taught at a University. To us peasants, that person would be successful, but compared to the rest of the Mario family’s standards, that child turned out rather mediocre.
In a series that has written and re-written the book on video game design, Super Mario 3D World lacks originality. Visually, it’s almost indistinguishable from any other Mario game — it’s an upbeat adventure through colorful worlds, with exotic themes such as… grasslands, deserts, and snowfields. Mechanically, it’s the same run, jump, “wahoo!” game that you’ve played since the 1980s. If you want to get technical, 3D World is the successor to 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land, a series of linear platforming courses blending 2D and 3D Mario mechanics, which I reviewed a few years ago. Super Mario 3D World is exactly the steak dinner that you ordered. However, while the main course isn’t very imaginative, the side dishes and garnishes have interesting twists that, upon closer inspection, are quite creative. The more I saw these sides develop, the more I appreciated them.
For starters, the story involves Bowser kidnapping — get this — someone besides Princess Peach. Mario and friends travel together to rescue the Sprixie Kingdom from the clutches of the Koopa tyrant, which means that you can play as Mario, Toad, Luigi, or even Peach herself. Up to four players can jump in simultaneously as each character, and the Switch version offers online support for this. Having a playable Peach in a Mario platformer is a rare treat, and I will never not appreciate it.
Secondly, while the levels at first appear to be little more than colorful corridors, they have plenty of secrets and collectibles for the observant player to find. The cat suit is the fancy new powerup this time around. It allows the player to scale up walls, and yes, it’s as overpowered as that ability sounds. However, Nintendo decided to lean into it. Around every corner, you’ll be rewarded for peeking behind said corner. The developers have hidden three green stars in each level to encourage you to “break the game.” In fact, if you don’t use the cat suit and search thoroughly, you may have to replay levels in order to get enough green stars to fight the world’s boss.
In addition, the developers hid one collectible stamp in each level. You can place these stamps along the game’s several flat surfaces in photo mode. It’s a cute garnish that they didn’t need to add, but I love it anyway. In fact, I replayed entire levels just to find good backdrops for silly pictures.
The levels themselves are full of ideas; some iterate upon 3D Land, while others are entirely new. Multiple times during a play session I would reach the flagpole and exclaim, “That was a really neat idea!” One level is a footrace inspired by the original Mario Kart; another is a traditional Japanese house with sliding doors; another uses shadow puppets. Each level has a distinct identity with a well-paced rhythm to the action. The same development team for Super Mario 3D World has been working on Mario games for decades, and all that experience shows. It’s elegant game design prose, flowing from start to end.
Finally, we have the flagpole challenges, located at the end of each level. If you complete it just right, you’ll hit the top of the flagpole to make the flag turn gold, and these gold flags end up being yet another collectible. The flagpole challenges usually condense all of that level’s mechanics into one final hurdle, giving each level a satisfying coda. It’s easy to dismiss these, but the more I played the game, the more I felt like these flagpole challenges really bound the entire experience together.
Throughout the game you can also play several Captain Toad levels, where instead of jumping, Captain Toad walks around a small 3D diorama. I adored these. It’s a welcome change where I had to pause, look around, and plan my path slowly. I understand now why these Captain Toad levels became their own spin-off game. Strangely enough, this spinoff was ported to the Switch back in 2018, years before 3D World would come over. I’m… going to have to buy Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker now, aren’t I?
That’s not the only extra game packed into this cartridge, either. Bowser’s Fury is a brand-new side game that leans towards the nonlinear sandbox Mario. It’s like Nintendo smashed three kingdoms from Super Mario Odyssey together into one open world. Bowser’s Fury begins with Bowser Jr. enlisting Mario’s aid to restore Bowser from a curse. Every 10 minutes or so Fury Bowser emerges from a lake of black goop to wreck havoc on this peaceful world. You’ll have to find places to hide from his fireballs and use his spike attacks as platforms to reach new heights. You can wait until he tires out, or if you find a Cat Shine, you can drive Bowser back into the goop, buying you more time to explore.
After collecting a certain amount of Cat Shines, you’ll unlock that area’s Giga Cat Bell, which transforms Mario into a kaiju-sized golden lion. Upon defeating Bowser, you’ll unlock more parts of the world with more Cat Shines to collect. Bowser Jr. will also help you by fighting enemies and using his paintbrush to uncover power-ups and secret pipes. You can play co-op this way as well, though you can only play with 2 players. The cycle of collecting shines and fighting Bowser continues for about 4 hours until you unlock the last Giga Cat Bell and begin the finale fight. Like other sandbox Mario games, you don’t need to collect every Cat Shine to beat the game. You can tackle any challenge however you like. I found the Bowser mechanic fascinating, but it sometimes means waiting, either for him to go asleep or for him to wake up. The mechanic ends up being more simplistic than I initially thought. I was also ready for the game to end by the 4-hour mark. Bowser’s Fury feels like a prototype for what Nintendo is considering for the next 3D Mario game. I think it’s a solid foundation, but I would want the game mechanics to go deeper to keep my interest for longer.
Considering that Super Mario Odyssey is a must-have Mario masterpiece, and Super Mario 3D All-Stars is important for historical reasons, then Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is an inconsequential Mario game by comparison. That being said, all the little things add up to one of the best 3D Platformers I’ve ever played, and it still belongs in the upper echelon of the Switch’s library.