I'm fascinated by the relationship dynamics between the Super Mario cast in Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury. As I watch Bowser Jr. dispatch yet another goomba with a swish of his magic paintbrush in Bowser's Fury, I wonder what the staff room at Mario HQ will look like as all the long-time foes watch with their huge eyes as Bowser Jr. not only joins forces with Mario for this brand new Switch adventure, but actively helps bring about their demise. Plus, after Paper Mario: The Origami King, it's becoming a worrying pattern for the Koopa royalty.
Release date: February 12, 2021
Platform: Nintendo Switch
But at least Bowser Jr. has a good reason - family. In Bowser's Fury, the new adventure arriving alongside the re-release of the Wii U title Super Mario 3D World, his dad has been overcome with rage turning Bowser into a gigantic foe that's contaminating the peaceful land of Lake Lapcat with his anger. It's not just cartoony steam from the ears either, his rage manifests in thick black tar that coats the otherwise idyllic place, and causes storms to periodically cloud out the glorious sunshine. Must be a 2021 thing.
Thus, our unusual heroic duo will have to work together to survive Bowser's world-event-inducing tantrums, collecting the new Cat Shines that relight the tar-covered lighthouses that start to bring light back to Lake Lapcat. It's an absolutely stunning new offering that pushes the Switch's graphical prowess to its limits, and makes me excited about what's next for Mario beyond this compact new adventure.
You might have started noticing a theme in some of Bowser's Fury's presentation, and it's a feline (sorry) that won't disappear as you discover more about this new Switch release. Bowser's Fury might be a completely fresh adventure, but it builds on the themes and unique powerups that were introduced with the Wii U's Super Mario 3D World. While not many of us will have experienced Super Mario 3D World when it first released due to the Wii U's poor console sales figures, this re-release is a perfect opportunity to experience its fantastic quirks.
While Bowser's Fury takes from the Super Mario Odyssey playbook of offering you a hub world to explore, with Cat Shines locked behind completing specific challenges, Super Mario 3D World is far more traditional in terms of presentation. Its overworld offers up a range of different levels spread across different worlds, each offering a distinct theme and plenty of unique features that definitely make this one of Mario's most memorable adventures.
Even having played it on the Wii U originally, it's easy to forget how eccentric Super Mario 3D World is. It's not only defined by its unique Super Bell power-up, which turns Mario and co into a cat that can climb walls and scratch enemies, but it also features completely unique enemies and other items that haven't yet made their way to other games. It also arrives with a strong focus on up to four-player co-op, you can choose to play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, or Toad, which all offer slightly different gameplay benefits. Luigi jumps the highest, but has low traction. Peach can float briefly after jumping and sprints the soonest, but is slowest overall (that dress definitely won't help that). Toad is fastest overall but subsequently falls quicker. Mario meanwhile is the most all-rounder.
The difference between the characters makes for a fun exploratory experience for those playing solo - although you'll soon find your favourite - and really makes the co-op experience brilliant chaos, especially as you can grab other characters and send them wailing to their respawn. Online co-op is a new addition to the game on Switch this time too, which is a welcome addition in these troubled times. However, the two-player option for Bowser's Fury (where your player two takes control of Bowser Jr.) is a local couch experience only.
Puss in boots
Another thing that Bowser's Fury misses is some of the quirkier elements of Super Mario 3D World. While everything is cat-themed in Bowser's Fury, and the Cat Mario power-up is key to unlocking many of the Cat Shines, some of the other features are sadly AWOL. There are appearances from some of its whackier foes, but as much as I love Cat Mario, it's the other powerups that really shine in Super Mario 3D World.
There's the giant ice skating boot you'll find Goombas riding about in that you can steal for yourself. It's a 'one-hit and you're out' deal, but while you're gliding across the ice there's no better feeling. You'll also be able to find various assorted box hats to wear that give you additional powers, or there's even the new Cherry consumable that immediately spawns another version of your character to simultaneously control in order to solve environmental puzzles. And when you can stack cherries and therefore your clones, things can get brilliantly messy as you attempt to maneuver six Princess Peaches across the level without losing one to the depths.
The creativity and diversity in the levels only serve to make these elements shine too. Levels are never afraid to introduce one-off mechanics or features for them never to resurface again. Settings range from stunning beaches to the circus, and everything in between, and even though they're all fairly short, it's hard to fault the sheer variety of the experience.
In fact, the only thing I don't like about Super Mario 3D World is the fact the controls are incredibly floaty. Getting used to them takes a little time, and will definitely cause some frustration as you move around and don't quite land exactly where you'd imagined you would. It's not ideal for a game that regularly requires platforming precision and awkward camera angles.
Thankfully, the same issues are few and far between with Bowser's Fury, mainly because you're fully in control of the camera. But also it's a very different game, despite the similar themes. Bowser's Fury is a constantly evolving and updating world that encourages exploration and experimentation, very much feeling like some excellent Super Mario Odyssey DLC. It's not always 100% successful, with Bowser's consistent resurgence sometimes causing complications as he attacks you while you're trying to grab the next Cat Shrine. But the way the world evolves means there's always something to do or discover, so don't fret that the game can feel short.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is quite the package. The brilliance of a Wii U title most will have missed out on, with the added appeal of a brand new Mario adventure in the vein of Odyssey. It feels like an appropriate celebration for Mario's 35th birthday, and a must-play for Mario fans.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite. Code provided by the publisher.