Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury Review: Cat-astrophic Creativity

Mario's cat-scapades have returned, but now Bowser has a new, monstrous form born from his fury! Following the template set by re-releases in the past, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury re-introduces the hit Wii U title with an additional game mode ready to play immediately for those already familiar with the base game.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury Review: Cat-astrophic Creativity Cover

Despite a pretty decent selection of games on the Wii U console, Nintendo’s struggle to sell the disappointing sequel to the massively popular Wii has left a lot of titles in purgatory. So Nintendo’s solution? Port all of the best-selling, high-quality games over to the vastly more successful sequel-sequel in the Nintendo Switch, with add-ons! Super Mario 3D World may have seen a successful (relative term) original release, but given the praise and profitability of the Switch, they probably figured “Why not?”

With this context in mind, there is some manner of expectation for players that this will provide more than the base game supplied to justify the re-release. The answer came with Bowser’s Fury, a new mode displaying a form of Bowser more terrifying than ever before. Just how much this adds to the game could be the make-or-break point for many, so is it worth potentially buying the game a second time? For a game known for consistent experimentation, Bowser’s Fury is just another cog in the overall process.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is available now on Nintendo Switch for your regional pricing. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Story – It’s Mario (with a Touch of Kaiju)

Booting up the game for the first time, I was expecting Bowser’s Fury to be incorporated into the base experience in some way. To my surprise, one can simply choose to play either Super Mario 3D World or Bowser’s Fury mode. Two separate modes, completely isolated from one another.

In some way, I find this to be a missed opportunity—perhaps Bowser’s Fury could’ve been added as a secret ending to 3D World where Bowser, dejected from yet another loss to Mario, finally succumbs to insanity and accepts this ultra-powerful form. But on the other hand, for those already experienced with the base game, they can hop right in to the new content. That’s a very appreciable concept. I’ll replicate this straightforward nature and separate the review into two parts, highlighting each mode individually.

3D World

Mario, strolling along the Mushroom Kingdom, suddenly comes upon a clear pipe. This is a metaphor for Mario’s traumatic childhood, which involved a looking-glass self that was rife with constantly attempting to succeed people’s expectations. Repressed deep within his self, the pipe triggers an inner reaction within him to act, to finally adhere to the self he always believed himself to be. With a new goal in mind, his feet take him backward, compelling him to return to his roots as a simple plumber and… obviously this is all completely untrue. It’s a Mario game.

Mario goes on an adventure to stop Bowser. Only radical difference here is that instead of Princess Peach being kidnapped—she is playable here—it’s a collection of fairies. To my knowledge, these fairies make their debut here, so there isn’t any sort of history between Mario and those he intends to rescue. Mario’s just being a hero.

Every hero needs a co-op partner (who doesn't throw you off of cliffs).

Every hero needs a co-op partner (who doesn’t throw you off of cliffs).

Some will say this isn’t a necessity in a Mario game, and I’d be inclined to agree. But wouldn’t it be fun to get a wild story from a mainline Mario game; something akin to, say, Super Paper Mario? Also to my knowledge, nothing about the story (or the whole game, really) has been adjusted from the jump to the Switch. It’s essentially the same game, only on a different console. A historical sameness apparent from a narrative standpoint that may force players to see this as a gameplay showcase and nothing more.

Bowser’s Fury

Another surprise for me came upon opening the Bowser’s Fury mode for the first time. Mario is simply plopped down in a little forest area and once forward progression occurs, the sky turns more and more ominous. A certain point will introduce Fury Bowser in all of his glory. No explanation, no context. Just a bigger, badder threat so destructive that his own son finds it to be too risky. Treated as more of a gameplay device, only snippets of explanation come through dialogue with Bowser Jr., generally only available at certain points in the game mode.

Kind of similar to the base game, the context of a story doesn’t seem all that significant to the enjoyment here. Bowser is now a Godzilla-esque creature of ultimate destruction, and you have to collect things in order to unlock the tools to combat him. Not too complex, and while an origin story chronicling the mindset of a desperate Koopa King clinging onto taboo methods to finally obtain unlimited power would be compelling enough, it doesn’t really suit the franchise. Essentially, if you’re expecting any sort of gripping tale from a Mario game, you’re destined for disappointment.

Make a lighthouse shine. 10/10 narrative.

Make a lighthouse shine. 10/10 narrative.

Gameplay – Fury, Spice, and Everything Nice

For this section, I will try to be more elaborative on the Bowser’s Fury section, given it’s the actual “new” product here. But some information will also be reserved for the base game.

3D World

I played Super Mario 3D World minimally while it was on the Wii U. At the time, it wasn’t really my cup of tea; something about its similarities to the New Super Mario Bros. format kind of turned me off from immersing myself in it fully. Nowadays, I’m more than willing to throw myself into any sort of Mario magic, whether it be because I’ve become softer or I’ve run out of other games to appreciate in modern times. Playing it for the second time technically and first time seriously, it was a bit of a hard sell initially.

Two things are essential to the enjoyment of Mario games, in my eyes: controls and camera. Super Mario 3D World incorporates specific camera angles that are occasionally fixed in place, forcing the player to pay extra attention to their position. Extra emphasis comes through their control and flow, pushing for some speediness via a stage timer and patience from in-stage collectibles. To provide a comparison, it’s similar to the Donkey Kong Country Returns series style of gameplay, only with more dynamic camera focus instead of (generally) straightforward 2D sidescrolling.

Looks 2D, but not quite 2D.

Looks 2D, but not quite 2D.

Both the camera and the controls serve as a mixed bag that likely many will debate upon as the years continue. Depth perception can be a struggle on occasion, and I’ve had a decent number of deaths occur because it was hard to gauge where my character was. With no free control over the camera, it improves the sake of the challenge, but also feels restrictive and unfair, if only occasionally.

The controls are another beast, as Super Mario Sunshine/Odyssey has completely spoiled my expectations. Mario and co. do not feel nearly as liberating as other mainline Mario games provide. Performing additional movement options seems both a tad too slow and unintuitive, which could have people simply resort to basic jump and sprinting options. While I wouldn’t say the more finicky controls “ruined” the game for me, it’s something that I vastly prefer in other titles from the franchise.

What wasn’t apparent to me the first time, however, was just how varied and expressive this game is. Every level is something new, however minimally, to the basic concept of Mario‘s history. With a myriad of power-ups, enemies, and environmental hazards, it’s a fully realized adventure where no level is completely alike. It’s experimental in ways that other modern AAA games could only dream of—where other companies stress big open worlds, the Mario franchise continues to dazzle with adventures contained within many, many bite-sized portions of gameplay finesse. The more I played, the more invested I became.

Not so invested that I felt the desire to collect these stamps, though.

Not so invested that I felt the desire to collect these stamps, though.

Bowser’s Fury

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Super Mario 3D World is rad, but what if it was more like Super Mario Odyssey?” Bowser’s Fury is the best of both of their worlds.

One with a cynical mindset (definitely not me) may have expected beforehand that Bowser’s Fury would be a throwaway mode used to pump out more units through cool imagery. Fortunately, Nintendo delivered by taking the core concepts of Mario’s moveset in the base game and placing it within a(n albeit small) open world format. With a camera fully free to control and a sizeable hub area to explore, it’s essentially a big game of “collect things to eventually battle Fury Bowser as a Super Saiyan-esque cat.”

Structurally, there are a lot of similarities to the aforementioned Super Mario Odyssey. Running around in a contained world, fulfilling mission objectives to collect “cat shines” necessary to progress the game. These objectives tend to range from “Collect enough cat coins to make one cat shine” to “Collect blue coins within a time limit” to “Beat mini-bosses.” At first it seems like a lot, though as one makes it farther they’ll come to realize that many objective goals are repeated, only slightly differentiated based on individual sections of the map. It certainly has the charm of an Odyssey tie-in, though it’s clear that there were more cut corners.

Never cut corners on Giga Cat Mario's hour.

Never cut corners on Giga Cat Mario’s hour.

Even with its smaller scope, I almost prefer this mode over the base 3D World gameplay. As stated above, the camera is now freely controllable, and the formula in Bowser’s Fury works tremendously well with the added power-ups and nuances of 3D World. And with my strong adoration for Odyssey in general, the attempt to replicate it is heavily favorable to me. I experienced the same sense of addictive gameplay freedom as I flew through the skies high above as a cat, barreling down to the surface below on multiple occasions.

It would be easy to say that Bowser’s Fury is just Odyssey with power-ups, but there is one aspect that makes a big distinction, and that’s Fury Bowser himself. Every so often, Fury Bowser will emerge in the background and cause a big ruckus for the player. Shooting raining fireballs, a giant fire beam, and slightly altering the lay of the land. The only way to get rid of him is to either collect a cat shine while he’s actively hunting you or to simply wait him out—he’ll eventually get bored and leave. This tends to occur every five minutes or so.

This constant interruption via Bowser is crucial to the mood of the mode, but also fairly repetitive and, in a certain case, pretty annoying. There’s one cat shine blocked off in almost every area that can only be accessed by getting rid of silver Bowser blocks, done by having Fury Bowser hit it with his big fire beam. The issue? You can’t control when Fury Bowser comes. If it’s the only cat shine you have left in an area, you have to actually wait for him to arrive. There were a couple occasions where I just left my Switch idle as I waited for him to finally appear, watching his shell spin in the distance. The game allows for players to easily access other areas to do other objectives in the meantime, but it’s by far the most obnoxious part of the mode.

It's just chilling, biding its time, waiting to strike.

It’s just chilling, biding its time, waiting to strike.

Collecting cat shines while Fury Bowser is active is beneficial in that it harms Fury Bowser prior to your showdowns with him. Indeed, you face Fury Bowser not once, but a few times throughout the mode. Each battle showcases more of the demented Koopa’s moveset and progressively becomes harder. In truth, these battles are pretty clunky, and the fun of them comes in just being two giants stomping around in a small world. Movement feels restrictive and there’s a slowness to it that wants to effectively showcase how big you are, but it comes off more as cumbersome. It’s an unfortunate low point to what should be a climactic battle. Give me the overworld objectives any day.

Graphics & Audio – Meows Abound

As someone who vastly prefers the 2D pixel space, sometimes the 3D effects of various Nintendo properties don’t hold up as strongly. I mentioned the Donkey Kong Country Returns series previously, and I think that while it has its merits, it comes nowhere near to the charm of its original trilogy’s design back on the Super Nintendo. Similar can be said here, as the ingrained look of Super Mario World and how gorgeous it looks tends to overshadow those that came afterwards. 

Super Mario 3D World has a pleasant, if not cookie-cutter presentation that speaks to Nintendo of today. Colorful, though not distinctly stylistic, with points only reserved for the large cast of characters and enemies. The worlds are usually very vivid and expansive, with a lot of experimentation in its presentation the same way its gameplay mechanics expand. It just has a certain… let’s say “corporate-approved” appeal that doesn’t seem that impressive to me.

Corporate-approved mountainous desert-ruins thing.

Corporate-approved mountainous desert-ruins thing.

When it comes to Bowser’s Fury, it’s, again, pretty similar to Odyssey in its make-up. Fury Bowser himself looks really ferocious, which is the main appeal visually. As for the worlds, they’re a tad same-y in visual make-up, but the structures have a specific distinction to them that makes each section of the map more identifiable. An overall pretty, but perhaps too basic presentation aside from Bowser’s raging form.

Now who wouldn’t like a jazzy interpretation of Mario classics? Well, it seems like I might fit that specific remark. While the main theme to 3D World is immeasurably catchy and a few additional tracks are comparable to it, the rest of the soundtrack is a little unremarkable. Mostly, it’s a kind of soundtrack that mends itself within the subconscious as the player focuses intently on the gameplay. Not necessarily a sharp issue; it’s just that the soundtrack never overtakes any other quality present while playing, easily snuggling within the whole of the experience.

Bowser’s Fury gets a little bit of a boost simply from its scope. Its soundtrack is more limited, so the catchier tracks tend to become more noticeable, and there are a few that I find agreeable. But like the base game, it’s not so powerful that it evokes anything more than contextual resonance, where you feel more immersed so long as you’re actually playing the game. The climactic moments of the mode—when you face Fury Bowser—feature a track I cannot even remember a day after playing through it.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

While some may have passed on this game whether for console or preconceived reasons, this re-release package deal provides a great opportunity to jump back in. All the variety and creativity of 3D World returns on a portable console, featuring an Odyssey-like bonus mode that takes all the fun from the base game and experiments even more. It's not the definitive Mario experience that other consoles have featured, but there's no denying the amount of flexibility this game provides with its seemingly endless design spectacle, now complete with a chance to live out everyone's fantasy of Nintendo-esque Kaiju battles.
  • Bowser's Fury mode rivals the enjoyment of the base game.
  • Excessively creative and varied.
  • Sets a great template for future re-releases.
  • Vivid creature and level designs
  • Control scheme a bit too floaty/finicky.
  • Fixed camera angle can be a pain.

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