Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury Review: The Best of Both Worlds
Whoever said you can't capture joy clearly never played Super Mario 3D World. It's one of those rare games that distills the essence of fun, and now more people than ever can experience it with Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury on Nintendo Switch.
While 3D World holds up just as well, or even better, on the Switch, Bowser's Fury is the part you should keep your eye on. This little spin-off mode could be (read: hopefully is) the future of 3D Mario.
Both excel on their own, but together, they are essential for any Switch owner.
Super Mario 3D World and Bowser's Fury Review: The Best of Both Worlds
Mario 3D World starts with Bowser, as it must. While Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad are walking along one lovely evening, a clear pipe springs up. Out pops a Sprixie, closely followed by Bowser with kidnapping on his mind and a Sprixie-sized jar in his claws.
What’s a Sprixie? Who knows. Mario 3D World isn't keen on exploring these newcomers to the Mario world, but the Sprixie kidnapping is enough to get Mario and friends into the pipe.
On the other side of that clear pipe is the Sprixie Kingdom, a series of eight worlds plus four bonus areas. It's the setting for what’s easily Nintendo’s most distinct approach to Mario designs.
3D World lays out each course on a Super Mario World/SMB3-style map. They feature the usual themes we’ve come to expect from Mario games over the years, including ice, rocky heights, desert, and so on, but from there, Nintendo completely turns the pattern on its head.
These stages trade uniformity for the unexpected. You’re just as likely to find an autumn waterfall area in the ice world or a green plain stage in the desert world because Nintendo’s more concerned with throwing in as many design ideas as possible than sticking to tradition.
There’s a Galaxy-style carnival stage, a level that reduces the clock to 30 seconds, an entire world of castles — there’s almost no way to neatly categorize 3D World’s levels. While that makes it challenging to talk about how Mario 3D World plays, suffice to say it translates to an incredibly fun experience where you never know what to expect next.
Early stages seem a bit pedestrian and straightforward, but it’s hard not to have fun even with these seemingly basic levels because 3D World’s unique design approach means you can transgress the usual laws of 2D platformers.
Massive walls normally meant to block your way become avenues through a stage and probably hide one or two fun secrets thanks to 3D World's newfound sense of verticality. Turning a corner in a tame side-scrolling segment reveals a 3D run through falling platforms and lines of enemies, and this isn't even taking 3D World's superior boss stages into account.
Later locales ramp up the complexity. Some offer the challenges of obtaining all three Green Stars and a collectible stamp. Still others present an even bigger cocktail of creativity. It’s a non-stop parade of the cleverest level designs Nintendo’s ever given us.
Imagine Mario’s biggest moments — the “Jump Up” segment in New Donk City or grabbing the Tanooki Leaf for the first time — spread that all over 12 worlds, and you’ll have an idea of how it feels to play Mario 3D World. It might not have a few standout “wow!” moments like its 3D counterparts, but it is a tribute to everything that makes Mario so iconic and genuinely just a joy to experience.
That love extends to the smaller details too.
Cat Mario, Toad, and the rest don’t just walk on all fours. They strut like the proud cats they are, accompanied by adorable little pitter-patter footsteps that even “plink” on metal. Luigi shouts “It’s Weegi time” when you pick him for a stage, and it’s hard to describe it all as anything other than delightful.
That dedication to variety means some ideas miss the landing, even as the stages themselves are fun. A few feel a bit unnecessarily rushed, and some additions, such as the superb Double Cherry, absolutely deserve more screen time. Still, complaining because one or two wonderful mechanics get lost in the shuffle of a bunch of other equally wonderful mechanics is something I’m happy to live with.
One big feature with the Switch version is online multiplayer, though unfortunately, I haven’t been able to test that out. Local co-op is as fun and chaotic as you’d expect, and while it doesn’t necessarily add anything essential to the gameplay experience, it’s a heck of a fun time.
3D World on Switch still includes the Captain Toad puzzle levels, where you guide the hapless and jump-less explorer to green stars with movement and stage rotation as your only tools for success. They’re refreshing diversions from the main game and pretty effective advertising for Captain Toad’s spinoff game.
The other part of Mario 3D World on Switch is, of course, Bowser’s Fury, a roughly 5-hour side mode that low-key manages to be the best 3D Mario so far. Bowser’s Fury has no story ties to 3D World — or anything, for that matter — and you can start it immediately after booting up the game if you want.
Mario arrives at Lake Lapcat via a suspiciously familiar piece of “M” graffiti to find something strange taking place. The entire region is covered in sludge, Bowser’s turned swol, and only the power of the Giga Bell can rein him in.
Bowser Jr. is along for the ride this time. He just wants his pappy back to normal and pitches in as either an AI partner or player two, should you give multiplayer a try. The AI is customizable, making Bowser Jr. either the perfect companion for players less familiar with 3D Mario games or a quiet tagalong when you want to forge ahead alone.
Lake Lapcat is divided into multiple themed regions, each with several lighthouses you need to activate via Cat Shines. Each lighthouse sits in its own mini-region with several Cat Shines and five fragments forming an additional Shine.
Admittedly, Bowser’s Fury doesn’t offer the endless buffet of creativity Mario 3D World does. You’ll recognize plenty of shared gimmicks between each mini-region, such as bouncy platforms and spinning metal grates.
Yet thanks to the seemingly limitless number of combinations Nintendo created for how they’re all used, these mini-regions never feel stale or dull. There are plenty of additional challenges thrown in the mix for good measure, including some, like the Bully challenge, that hearken back to the classics.
The other part of what keeps Bowser’s Fury feeling fresh is how the side mode approaches power-ups. Mario can store multiple power-ups — and more than one of each for the first time.
Giving a purpose to each power-up beyond just one or two specific instances is a small change with a big effect, lending Bowser’s Fury a much-needed sense of immersion that I hope also finds its way into future Mario games.
The whole of Lake Lapcat feels the same. Stringing a series of platforming challenges together should feel forced or arbitrary, but it’s the exact opposite.
There’s no empty filler space like some other 3D Mario games — and most other open-world games — so it’s the best of both worlds: an entire game’s worth of material packed tightly together without sacrificing the expansive feel of exploring an open world.
Bowser’s Fury wouldn’t be complete without Bowser, obviously, though there’s a bit less to report here. The periodic Bowser invasions with death flames and lava rain makes the Koopa King a bigger threat than he’s been since the NES days. Seeing Super Saiyan Cat Mario never gets old, but Giga Bell fights are mostly just big-sized versions of traditional Bowser fights.
And that’s okay. Bowser’s Fury gave me much more than I was expecting.
Super Mario 3D World Bowser's Fury Review — The Bottom Line
- Some of the best gameplay in both 2D and 3D Mario
- Stage design is a nonstop train of creativity
- Bowser's Fury is a bold step forward in imagining what platformers can be like
- Love letter to all things Mario
- Some stages could stand being longer or more involved
- The variety means a few design ideas don't get used as much as they should
- Non-stop innovation doesn't quite extend to all of Bowser's Fury
Super Mario 3D World might be almost eight years old, but time hasn't dulled this cat's claws. It's still an absolute blast to play, with a delectable range of designs that never fails to impress. That's made more evident with the Switch's slightly faster speed.
And while Bowser's Fury is short, it's full of so much potential for Mario's future, making this the most easily recommended port-and-repackage of the Switch's lifecycle so far.
[Note: Nintendo of America provided the copy of Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury used for this review.]