Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury (Nintendo Switch): A Full Review 🍄🎮
Playing this classic reborn for the Nintendo Switch will remind you why you fell in love with gaming in the first place.
Well, this is finally here. Mario's 35th anniversary may soon end 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 a final release to celebrate the big three-five, and he's sticking around for good. Super Mario 3D World is one of the last major Wii U games yet to be treated to Switch Port, and now it's finally here with a new adventure called Bowser's Fury 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 being Wii U's second best-selling game but still sold less than almost any other major Mario Platformer because... well, it was 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 me.
One night, Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad found a clear pipe outside Peach Castle. After Mario and Luigi fix the pipe (yes, they're actually doing some plumbing for once) there's a little fairy called Sprixie. The Sprixie begins to tell them that Bowser abducts her friends when Bowser pops out right on the cue, 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 realized that the goal is to rescue the Sprixies from Bowser, then you must be new to this video game lark.
Like its predecessor in 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land, Super Mario 3D World appears to be a free-roaming game similar to 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 beginning of the stage to the end of the flagpole. The layout is similar to 2D games, too; you have a world map that lets you travel between levels, and each level has a set of collectibles (in this case three green stars and a stamp) to encourage you to explore their nooks and crannies to 'complete' them by 100%.
As with the best Mario games, the Super Mario 3D World is packed with ideas. Each of its stages is guaranteed to introduce at least one new mechanic or enemy to ensure that the player does not just play the same thing over and over again. Even when the stage seems to bring back a mechanic you saw earlier in the game – such as a certain type of platform gimmick – they're going to mess around with it by putting it in a new scenario or giving you new power-ups to deal with it. We've said this about the other classic Mario games, but you know you've got a good one when it dedicates just one level to a concept that smaller studios would build whole games around.
Those who have played Super Mario 3D World will not notice too many changes in the way the game plays and feels. Running speed is probably the most obvious one; all four characters are now moving a bit faster (it's actually more noticeable when walking), which means that the game doesn't have that pedestrian pace that Wii U did at times. Other changes are less noticeable; the Cat power-up lets you climb a bit higher before it wears off and you slide back down, and your roll move can now be made in the middle of the game.
The larger additions to the main Super Mario 3D World mode are the extra features that have been included for the first time. The first of these is Photo Mode, which can be triggered at any mid-game point by pressing Down on the D-Pad. Like the Super Mario Odyssey Photo Mode, this allows you to move your 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 to swing the camera all the way around Mario, because there's no scenery on the other side. Think of it as a kind of cross between Smash Bros Photo Modes. Ultimate and Mario Odyssey – the camera movement of the former with the characteristics of the latter.
One new feature of this Photo Mode that you can't find in Odyssey, however, is the ability to place stamps on the screen. Back in the day that Miiverse was a thing, the Super Mario 3D World stamps were designed to be collected and used to add flair to your posts. Since Nintendo's idea of a Wii U-topia chat room no longer exists on the Switch, the stamps are used in Photo Mode. You can switch between them with the D-Pad and place it directly on the floor or wall. It's not done 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, while a pop-up menu showing all of them would have been much easier. Still, it's fun to mess around with anything.
The other major addition to the Super Mario 3D World is wireless multiplayer, both locally and online. The Wii U version allowed local co-ops for up to four players, but each player had to use the same console. Now, if a bunch of people in the same household (or anywhere else, once the world isn't like Mad Max) have their own Switch, you can easily set up a local wireless connection by clicking the R button on the map screen. This brings up a menu that lets you create a room (meaning that everyone will use your saved file) or join an existing one. Up to four players can participate 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 clicking on the R button and creating or joining a room – but it is strictly limited to people on your friend list; you can't just join a random game. You can also add a password if you want to play with specific people one night and you don't want your session to be infiltrated by the guy you used to talk to on the Rick & Morty forum once and added to your Friends List three years ago, and you just haven't gotten around to remove it because who's watching Rick & Morty? Anyway, the point is, you can make a password so that he can't just jump in uninvited and shout "WUBBA LUBBA DUB-DUB" (not that he could do anyway, because there's no voice chat).
It has to be said, though, that our experience with online multiplayer has not been as smooth as we had hoped. In our preview of the game, we explained 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 been trying to play two-player online with another journalist, we know that we have a much more stable connection. Even with this set-up, there were problems; at the best of times, there was a 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 down the music to cater for the sub-optimal performance: it's distracting, to say the least. We're not saying that the game is unplayable like this; if you have a few friends online with whom you'd love to play Mario, you're still going to have a good time for the most part. It's just worth bearing in mind that it's not going to be the best Mario experience you'd expect to have with co-op play or even local wireless play. Expect there to be niggly moments that are not ideal in a game that often requires quick reactions and good timing.
Online aside, then, Super Mario 3D World is just as fantastic as it has always been. Anyone who played it before knows what to expect – 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 probably one of the best games in the linear Super Mario series. And that's the end of it, so let's go to the verdict.
Okay, well, we're kidding. We all know that the most speculation with this release is about Bowser's Fury, a new bonus mode that offers a more free-roaming adventure. Since it was revealed, we've seen all sorts 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 in the middle of it. If you're trying to do the bare minimum and just get to the end of Bowser's Fury, you're talking about 3-4 hours depending on how much you like to explore. You're probably looking to double that if you want to complete 100 percent of it with all the Cat Shines. The Cat Shines, you see, are Bowser's Fury's Stars, Moons equivalent and the kind you'd expect to collect in games like Super Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy and Odyssey.
The story goes that Bowser has somehow turned into this new alter-ego Fury Bowser, and only the power of the Giga Bells can stop him. These bells are out of action, though, and you're going to need the power of the Cat Shines to make them work again. In this sense, they work like the different doors that guard the Bowser battles in Super Mario 64, in that every encounter is blocked until you get a number of tricks.
The Shines are dotted around Lake Lapcat, a body of water that serves as a game map and is populated by a dozen smaller islands of various sizes (it's an archipelago, if you want to get all the nerdy about it). Each of the larger islands acts as a separate 'stage,' if you will, and each of them has five Shines to perform different tasks. This could involve turning to the island's lighthouse, collecting the five Shards hidden on the island, using the key to unlock the caged Shine, or whatever you have. Get all five Shines on the island, and the lighthouse will shine to the full, helping to repel Fury Bowser.
In a sense, it's kind of like what you'd get if you took Super Mario 64 or Odyssey, cut its worlds down to tiny islands, and put them all in one big area, with no loading times or 'hub world' to separate them. It almost feels like a proof of the concept test to do to Mario what Breath of the Wild did to Zelda, by making one big place to explore without transitions. Of course, Bowser's Fury is nowhere near the size or scale of Breath of the Wild, so don't think we're trying to say it's remotely close; it's just that the general 'one world, go wherever you want' concept feels similar.
To accompany you on your quest in Bowser's Fury is Bowser Jr., who may be an unusual choice for a companion but is still a fun one. He's also concerned that his dad's behavior is 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 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 (just hold the jump button to go higher), but it's definitely an assistant rather than a co-star, because the camera always focuses on Mario. If you're playing as a Bowser Jr., then expect to go off-screen a lot, even though you can always click the shoulder buttons to spawn.
Every now and then the sky will be darkened and Fury Bowser will appear, raining flaming obstacles from the sky and breathing fire on you. This raises the difficulty level up a notch, especially when you're actually trying to complete a Shine mission at the same time, but his presence is actually necessary to get some of the Shines, because his fire breath can destroy the Fury Blocks that hide the Shine on each island. There are times when you're actually standing around and waiting for it to appear, but if you have a Bowser amiibo (anyone will) you can use it to trigger it instantly.
Bowser's Fury is a fun little side adventure, but it has some drawbacks that we'd hope it would have worked on if it had been a full game release rather than a bonus adventure. First of all, there's not 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: to reach the lighthouse, to collect five Shards, and to break 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 are not part of any particular island. These too repeat themselves: there are numerous Shines where you have to go through an obstacle course on Plessie, or chase a rabbit, or help a cat find her kittens. There's nothing inherently wrong with them, it just feels uncharacteristically repetitive to a series that prides itself on packing its games with variety.
The performance in Bowser's Fury also leaves something to be desired in handheld mode. While the main Super Mario 3D World mode runs at 60 frames per second almost all of the time, Bowser's Fury is struggling more because of its open-world nature. Playing it docked, you'll get 60fps most of the time, but you'll 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 it drops right down to 30fps. This isn't terrible on its own – a lot of open-world games are 30fps – but it's a bit jarring if you switch from docked.
At this point, it might seem that we're sticking the boot to Bowser's Fury, but that's really not the case; we've still had a fun time playing through it, and when you consider that it's essentially a 'bonus' mode to the main event of Super Mario 3D World itself, criticism of its slightly repetitive content should probably be considered with a larger picture in mind. If this mode is Nintendo's test to see if a full-size game of this nature would work, we're absolutely up to that because the concept is sound; we'd just expect more variety if it were to happen. Still, as a 5-6 hour bonus, we've had fun with it anyway.
The package as a whole, then, is fantastic. Super Mario 3D World was an incredible game on the Wii U, and it hasn't changed seven years down the line. Its online multiplayer may not be the most stable, but its couch and local wireless co-op are perfect (besides, this is really the sort of game that benefits from having other players near you). If you're a complete type who doesn't consider the game to be complete until you've collected it all, it will take you an extremely long time to get all the stamps in the game, because you basically need to beat every level with every character to do so. In fact, despite this, it doesn't feel like a chore.
Bowser's Fury, meanwhile, is a fun little mini-adventure that experiments with taking the Mario series in a new direction and most of it succeeds. It's not the longest mode, and there's certainly more repetition here than in the main game, but it's still one of the better, more meaty bonuses we've seen in the Mario game, especially compared to other re-releases like New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe U and Deluxe Pikmin 3. Of course, if you've never played the Wii U version, you'll get the most out of this one. If you've got, and you don't have any interest in playing it again, you really shouldn't drop the 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 movie theater. If you're still planning to play Super Mario 3D World, though, then the two combined will provide a wealth of content to play through.
Super Mario 3D World remains one of the best linear Mario games, and anyone who plays it for the first time is in for an absolute treat. Add to that the curious bonus adventure that Bowser's Fury is, and you've got a package that gives you a great value for money. It's not without its flaws, but most of them (online multiplayer, repetitive Bowser's Fury missions) relate to new additions; the main game itself remains as pure and perfect as it was seven years ago. Had it just been Super Mario 3D World on its own, we would definitely recommend it anyway; Bowser's Fury is just the cherry on top.