It feels like I’ve written the same words for just about every Nintendo Switch re-release of a first-party WiiU game, but it’s hard to escape from the same simple truth – it’s great to finally see these games on a system that a significant number of people actually own. It was as true for Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze as Mario Kart 8, and it’s equally true now for Super Mario 3D World. It’s hard to fault Nintendo for ‘cashing in’ on these titles when they’d otherwise be doomed to being criminally underplayed. Plus, it’s an opportunity for the Big N to throw a little love on top and make each game more eye-catching and more playable than ever. Or, such is the case here, just slap a whole new experience on top to boot.
If you weren’t lucky enough to have owned a WiiU or at least played Super Mario 3D World at some point, you may not know that it’s easily one of the best Mario platformers around, in 2D or 3D. I recall I was initially disappointed at the time that the next big console Mario game was a successor to the 3DS’s (admittedly pretty good) Super Mario 3D Land, but I was wrong to be hesitant. On the surface level it may not have been as ambitious or groundbreaking as some of the moustachioed plumber’s more memorable outings like Sunshine or Galaxy, but it was a platformer so tight, so well-designed and so unapologetically fun that it didn’t have anything else to prove. Plus, with four-player cooperative platforming as a feature it had the potential to be enjoyed by an ever wider audience. Except, y’know, the WiiU.
But now. Now 3D World is back and ready to shine brighter than ever in its new home on the Switch, and the short of it is that the game’s every bit as enjoyable as it ever was – and then some. The game’s pseudo-isometric camera and brisk stages full of devious secrets make it something of a middle ground between more traditional 2D and 3D Mario games, but it carves out a personality all its own with some truly excellent level design. In true Nintendo fashion almost every level introduces some kind of new challenge or idea, which is then just as quickly turfed to make room for the next one, maybe cropping up down the road to make sure everyone was paying attention. I’d forgotten just how delightful and creative some stages are, so revisiting my old favourites like Hands-On Hall and Shadow Play Alley has been a blast.
For the most part, the port of Super Mario 3D World is content-identical, save for a few welcome tweaks. The biggest of these is the addition of online multiplayer support, which is especially good news for anyone who did own the game on WiiU but maybe didn’t have any friends willing to play alongside them (hypothetically of course…). It’s a win for everyone because 3D World makes for a stellar multiplayer experience online or off, with each of the available playable characters having their own unique playstyle and abilities. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to test out online play as of this review, but initial impressions from around the Internet paint a positive picture. Couch co-op is still great however, and the Captain Toad levels have even had multiplayer added, though it doesn’t add too much to the experience. If you’re looking for the definitive multiplayer platforming experience on the Switch, you can start looking past New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe now and towards this instead.
Elsewhere the changes are few, and subtle. A slight boost in player movement and climbing height (when playing as Cat Mario) make the game feel zippier and a touch more acrobatic, while a Snapshot mode allows for creative screenshots and a place to slap down the newly-updated unlockable stamps. Plus it all looks fantastic on either TV or handheld mode, running at either 1080p or 720p respectively and 60fps across both. Textures seem to have had a slight boost along with resolution as well, making everything really pop. I’ve always loved how different surfaces and textures like fur look in modern Mario games, and it really shines here – the cat versions of Mario and friends are delightful.
Mad Mario: Furry Road
Death Stranding U. Deluxe
Which brings us to the second component of the Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury equation. Like the name might imply, Bowser’s Fury isn’t an addition of content to the WiiU game but a wholly separate title included in the package – you get the option of playing either one when you fire up the game.
Taking the visuals, gameplay mechanics and physics of 3D World and spinning them into a fully 3D platformer, Bowser’s Fury drops Mario into the sizeable free-roam environment of Lake Lapcat, a huge body of water covered in islands where just about everything is cat-themed. Turns out Bowser is here as well, but a mysterious inky ooze has sent him into a rage and transformed him into the enormous Fury Bowser. With the help (and at the request) of Bowser Jr, it’s Mario’s job to quell Bowser’s titanic tantrum and restore Lake Lapcat to its former glory. Doing so requires collecting the lake’s numerous hidden Cat Shines in order to activate Giga Bells – giant versions of 3D World’s Super Bells – and using those to transform into Giga Cat Mario and square off against Fury Bowser in kaiju-sized confrontations.
Fighting Fury Bowser’s not a one-off though. Old mate won’t go down for good until you reach the game’s conclusion, so every time you send him packing to his big ooze puddle in the middle of the map you can expect him to rise up and accost you again soon enough. Aside from going toe-to-toe, you’re usually able to send him to a timeout just by collecting a Cat Shine, or surviving his onslaught long enough that he gets bored. Not unlike stages in older 3D Mario platformers, each of Lake Lapcat’s islands has a number of Cat Shines to collect through objectives that evolve as you find each one, from platforming to mini-boss battles, item hunts and more.
“I’m here live, I’m not a cat”
There’s a pretty good, natural cadence to how it all unfolds. Bowser pops up in what seems like an increasing frequency as you progress, but your opportunities to collect Cat Shines or activate Giga Bells also increase as you go so there’s usually one not far away to quickly hop to and send Big Daddy B packing. Taking away the Bowser stuff for a moment, Lake Lapcat itself with its many islands to explore and secrets to find is a ton of fun. There’s definitely room for a future 3D Mario game to incorporate open-world gameplay in some capacity (my mind immediately goes to a much, much larger version of 64’s hub world). I appreciated being given the option of just how much help I’d receive from Bowser Jr while playing as well, though it’s also possible to swap out his AI companionship for a second player in Super Mario Odyssey-style assisted co-op.
Taking 3D World’s design ethos and moving it into a fully-3D, seamless open space is a bold experiment for Nintendo and it pays off. Though it’s brief, coming in at around three hours to ‘complete’ and another couple to properly tie up everything there is to do, but it’s still a decent value-add to the main attraction of Super Mario 3D World. Of everything, the giant Bowser fights are probably the least exciting component. It’s great fun to traipse all over the now-miniature island levels that you were just exploring as regular Mario, but after doing the same thing multiple times by the end it loses its effect. Aside from Fury Bowser’s One Winged Angel-esque orchestral metal theme song though – that rocks.
These bits also present a disappointing issue. While Bowser’s Fury runs at 720p60 on TV, the framerate tends to dip a little when Bowser turns up and rain, fire and debris begin to flood the scene. On handheld, the framerate caps out at 30 normally and then dips further at the same points, which is uncharacteristic of a first-party Nintendo game. It doesn’t ruin the fun by any stretch, but it’s not often you equate a big-ticket Mario game with performance issues like this.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury marries one of the Super Mario franchise’s most underrated and sorely underplayed entries with a brand-new and experimental short adventure that paves the way for potential future titles. Both parts of the package are excellent for different reasons, and there’s good reason to jump in whether you’ve played 3D World before or not. Odd performance issues in Bowser’s Fury aside, this is another unmissable title in the Switch’s first-party lineup.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
- Nintendo EAD Tokyo
- February 12, 2021