Well, it’s finally here. The 35th anniversary of Mario may soon be ending with a Thanos-style snap of the fingers for Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Super Mario Bros. 35, but before we mourn them, Nintendo has one final release to celebrate the big three-five, and this one’s sticking around for good. Super Mario 3D World is one of the last major Wii U games still to get the Switch port treatment, and now it’s finally here with an all-new adventure called Bowser’s Fury along for the ride, too.
The main event in Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is obviously still Super Mario 3D World itself, the 2013 release that ended up becoming the Wii U’s second best-selling game but still sold less than nearly every other major Mario platformer because… well, it was on the Wii U. This is the game’s second chance to shine, but for many players, it’s going to be a brand new experience – so forgive us for a second if you’ve already played it, because we need to bring everyone else up to speed.
One night Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad find a clear pipe outside Peach’s Castle. After Mario and Luigi fix the pipe (yes, they actually do some plumbing for once) out pops a little fairy called a Sprixie. The Sprixie starts to tell them that Bowser is kidnapping her friends when, right on cue, Bowser pops out, nabs her and heads back into the pipe. The foursome decide to head into the pipe themselves, where they end up in the Sprixie Kingdom, and if you haven’t figured out that the aim is to rescue the Sprixies from Bowser then you must be new to this video game lark.
Much like its 3DS predecessor Super Mario 3D Land, at first glance Super Mario 3D World appears to be a free-roaming game similar to the likes of Super Mario Galaxy and Odyssey, but is actually more of a linear platformer like the 2D Super Mario Bros. series. While you’re free to run in eight directions and some stages have open areas, each stage still has a clear path from the start of the stage to the flagpole at the end. The layout is similar to the 2D games, too; you’ve got a world map that lets you travel between levels, and each level has a set of collectables (in this case three green stars and a stamp) to encourage you to explore their nooks and crannies to ‘complete’ them 100%.
As in the best Mario games, Super Mario 3D World is absolutely packed with ideas. Each of its individual stages is guaranteed to introduce at least one new mechanic or enemy to ensure the player isn’t just playing the same thing over and over again. Even when a stage seems to bring back a mechanic you saw earlier in the game – such as a certain type of platform gimmick – they’ll mess around with it by placing it in a new scenario or giving you new power-ups to deal with it. We’ve said this about other classic Mario games, but you know you’ve got a good one when it dedicates just one level to a concept that lesser studios would build entire games around.
Those who’ve already played through Super Mario 3D World won’t notice too many changes in how the game plays and feels. Running speed is probably the most obvious one; all four characters now move a bit quicker (it’s actually more noticeable when walking), meaning the game doesn’t quite have that pedestrian pace it did at times on Wii U. Other changes are less notable; the Cat power-up lets you climb a little higher before its effects wear off and you slide back down, and your roll move can now be performed in mid-air (though is so non-essential that we didn’t even notice it was a thing until after we’d already beaten the game).
The bigger additions to the main Super Mario 3D World mode, then, are the extra features that have been included for the first time. The first of these is a Photo Mode, which can be triggered at any point mid-game by pressing Down on the D-Pad. Much like the Photo Mode in Super Mario Odyssey, this lets you move the camera around and apply filters as you see fit. It’s not always as flexible as Odyssey because some stages are set along a fixed plane and Nintendo obviously doesn’t want you swinging the camera all the way around Mario because there’s no scenery on the other side. Think of it as a sort of cross between the Photo Modes in Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Odyssey – the camera movement of the former with the features of the latter.
One new feature in this Photo Mode that you don’t find in Odyssey, however, is the ability to place stamps on the screen. Back in the day when Miiverse was a thing, Super Mario 3D World’s stamps were designed to be collected and used to add flair to your posts. Since Nintendo’s idea of a chat room Wii U-topia no longer exists on the Switch, the stamps are instead used in the Photo Mode here. You can toggle between them with the D-Pad and place them directly onto the floor or wall. It’s not implemented perfectly; since you have to flip through them with the D-Pad, by the time you’ve reached the end of the game and you’ve got a huge collection of stamps it can take ages to find the one you want, whereas a pop-up menu showing them all would have been much easier. Still, it’s fun to mess around with regardless.
The other main addition in Super Mario 3D World is wireless multiplayer, both locally and online. The Wii U version allowed for local co-op for up to four players, but every player had to use the same console. Now, if a bunch of people in the same household (or elsewhere, once the world isn’t like Mad Max) have their own Switch, you can easily set up a local wireless connection by hitting the R button on the map screen. This brings up a menu that lets you create a room (meaning everyone will use your save file) or join an existing one. Up to four players can take part locally, and each Switch can handle two players in this mode (so you could theoretically set up two Switches in tabletop mode to prevent four people huddling around a single tiny screen).
Online multiplayer is handled the same way – by hitting the R button and creating or joining a room – but it’s strictly limited to people in your friend list; you can’t just join a random game. You can also add a password, in case you want to play with specific people one night and don’t want to have your session infiltrated by that guy you used to talk to on a Rick & Morty forum once and added to your Friends List three years ago, and you just haven’t gotten around to removing him yet because who watches Rick & Morty anymore? Anyway, the point is, you can make a password so he can’t just jump in uninvited and shout “WUBBA LUBBA DUB-DUB” (not that he could anyway, since there’s no voice chat).
It has to be said, though, that our experience with online multiplayer wasn’t quite as smooth as we’d hoped. We already explained in our preview of the game that our initial four-player multiplayer session had a lot of stuttering because one of the four players had a bad connection, and since then we’ve tried playing two-player online with another journalist we know to have a much more stable connection. Even with this set-up there were issues; at the best of times there was some subtle lag (nothing major but enough to mess up the timing of some jumps) and at the worst of times there was more stuttering.
The Beep Block Skyway stage, in particular, is noticeably affected; because this level revolves around blocks that appear and disappear to the beat of the music, this stage literally slows the music down to cater for the sub-optimal performance: it’s distracting, to say the least. We aren’t saying the game is unplayable like this; if you have a few friends online who you’d love to play Mario with, you’re still going to have a good time for the most part. It’s just worth bearing in mind that it isn’t going to be the optimal Mario experience you’d expect to have playing couch co-op or even local wireless. Expect there to be niggly moments, which in a game that often requires fast reactions and good timing, isn’t ideal.
Online aside, then, Super Mario 3D World is just as fantastic as it always has been. Anyone who’s played it before already knows what to expect – the new additions aren’t enough to dramatically change anything – and anyone who missed it the first time around is in for an absolute treat with arguably one up the best games in the linear Super Mario series. And that’s the end, so let’s go to the verdict.
…okay, we’re joking. We all know that the most speculation with this release is surrounding Bowser’s Fury, the new bonus mode that offers a more free-roaming adventure. Ever since it was revealed we’ve seen all manner of over-the-top predictions and assumptions covering all ends of the spectrum, from some who thought it would be a new Odyssey-sized game to those who were almost automatically offended because they assumed that Nintendo was insulting everyone with something that would only last 20 minutes.
The reality is somewhere in the middle. If you’re trying to do the bare minimum and just reach the ending of Bowser’s Fury you’re talking around 3-4 hours depending on how much you like to explore. You’re then probably looking to double that if you want to complete it 100% with all the Cat Shines. The Cat Shines, you see, are Bowser’s Fury’s equivalent of the Stars, Moons and such you would expect to collect in games like Super Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy and Odyssey.
The story goes that Bowser has somehow turned into this new Fury Bowser alter-ego, and only the power of the Giga Bells can stop him. These bells are out of action, though, and you’ll need the power of the Cat Shines to make them work again. In this sense, they work like the various doors that guard the Bowser battles in Super Mario 64, in that each encounter is blocked off until you earn a certain number of trinkets.
The Shines are dotted around Lake Lapcat, a body of water that serves as the game’s map and is populated with umpteen smaller islands of various sizes (it’s an archipelago, if you want to get all nerdy about it). Each of the larger islands acts like a separate ‘stage’, if you will, and each of these have five Shines to collect through various tasks. This could involve turning on the island’s lighthouse, collecting the five Shards hidden on the island, using a key to unlock a caged Shine, or what have you. Get all five Shines on an island and its lighthouse will fully shine, helping to repel Fury Bowser.
In a sense, it’s sort of like what you’d get if you took a Super Mario 64 or Odyssey, shrunk its worlds down to tiny islands and put them all in a single large area, with no loading times or ‘hub world’ to separate them. It feels almost like a proof of concept test to do to Mario what Breath of the Wild did with Zelda, by making one large location to explore with no transitions. Of course, Bowser’s Fury is nowhere near the size or scale of Breath of the Wild, so don’t go thinking we’re trying to say it’s remotely close; it’s just that the general ‘one world, go wherever you want’ concept feels similar.
Accompanying you on your quest in Bowser’s Fury is Bowser Jr., who may be an unusual choice for a companion but is a fun one nonetheless. He’s also concerned that his dad is behaving a bit nastier than usual, so, knowing that Mario is usually the only person who can stop him at the best of times, he reluctantly offers to team up with his old man’s nemesis to see if they can get him back to regular old ‘bad’ Bowser.
Bowser Jr. follows you around as an AI companion, and usually fights enemies and collects coins on your behalf (though if this bothers you, you can change the settings so that he only interacts with something when you manually point at it with a gyro-controller cursor or the touchscreen). Alternatively, a second player can take control of Bowser Jr.; he’s fun enough to play as and his flying controls are intuitive (simply hold the jump button to go higher), but it’s definitely an assistant role rather than a co-star one, because the camera always focuses on Mario. If you’re playing as Bowser Jr., then, expect to go off-screen a lot, though you can always hit the shoulder buttons to respawn.
Every now and then the sky will go dark and Fury Bowser will appear, raining flaming obstacles from the sky and breathing fire at you. This raises the difficulty level up a notch, especially when you’re trying to actually complete a Shine mission at the same time, but his presence is actually necessary to get some of the Shines since his fire breath can destroy the Fury Blocks that are hiding a Shine on each island. There are times when you’ll actually be standing around and waiting for him to appear, then, though if you have a Bowser amiibo (any one will do) you can use that to trigger him instantly.
Bowser’s Fury is a fun little side adventure, but it does have some drawbacks that we’d hope would have been worked on had it been a full game release rather than a bonus adventure. For starters, there isn’t enough variety in the Shine missions. Although each island has five Shines to collect, you almost always know what to expect from three of them: reaching the lighthouse, collecting five Shards and breaking the Fury Blocks hidden somewhere on the island. This repetition extends to the other Shines that can be found dotted around Lake Lapcat itself and aren’t part of any specific island. These too repeat themselves: there are numerous Shines where you have to get through an obstacle course on Plessie, or chase a rabbit, or help a cat find its kittens. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, it just feels uncharacteristically repetitive for a series that prides itself on packing its games with variety.
The performance in Bowser’s Fury also leaves a bit to be desired in handheld mode. While the main Super Mario 3D World mode runs at a solid 60 frames per second almost all of the time, Bowser’s Fury struggles more because of its open-world nature. Playing it docked, you’ll get 60fps most of the time, but you will definitely see noticeable stutters here and there, especially when you swoop the camera around from a high point and see all the other islands in the distance. Play it in handheld, though, and that drops right down to 30fps. This isn’t terrible in itself – plenty of open-world games are 30fps – but it’s a bit jarring if you switch over from docked.
At this point, it may appear that we’re sticking the boot into Bowser’s Fury, but that really isn’t the case; we still had a fun time playing through it and when you consider it’s essentially a ‘bonus’ mode to the main event of Super Mario 3D World itself, criticisms of its slightly repetitive content should probably be considered with the greater picture in mind. If this mode is a test by Nintendo to see if a full-sized game of this nature would work, we’re absolutely up for that because the concept is sound; we’d just expect more variety if that was to happen. Still, as a 5-6 hour bonus, we had fun with it regardless.
The overall package, then, is a fantastic one. Super Mario 3D World was an incredible game on the Wii U and that hasn’t changed seven years down the line. Its online multiplayer may not be the most stable, but its couch co-op and local wireless are perfect (besides, this is really the sort of game that benefits from having other players near you). If you’re the completist type who doesn’t consider a game fully complete until you’ve collected everything, it will take you an extremely long time to get all the stamps in the game because you essentially need to beat every level with every character to do so. Crucially, it doesn’t feel like a chore despite this.
Bowser’s Fury, meanwhile, is a fun little mini-adventure that experiments with taking the Mario series in a new direction and succeeds for the most part. It’s not the longest mode and there’s certainly more repetition here than there is in the main game but it’s still one of the better, meatier added bonuses we’ve seen in a Mario game, especially compared to other re-releases like New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Naturally, you’re going to get the most out of this one if you’ve never played the Wii U version. If you have, and you have no interest in playing it again, you really shouldn’t be dropping full price on it for Bowser’s Fury alone; it’s very much the short cartoon you get before the full-length Pixar movie in the cinema. If you’re still planning on playing through Super Mario 3D World too, though, then the two combined provide a wealth of content to play through.