When Super Mario 3D World – the sequel to the 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land – launched on the Wii U back in 2013, it was lauded by critics and was rightly held up as one of the best Mario titles to ever grace a Nintendo console.
Sadly, the Wii U’s commercial failure meant very few managed to experience what is still today considered to be one Mario’s finest platformers, so it came as no surprise when Nintendo announced that the game would be ported to the Switch as part of Mario’s 35th-anniversary celebrations, along with a new Bowser’s Fury spinoff that blends the elements of 3D World with Mario’s more well-known free-roaming 3D entries. Despite a few niggling issues, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is an excellent upgrade on the WII U’s already brilliant 3D platformer, and Bowser’s Fury is an enthralling but short mixture of Mario new and old that opens tantalising possibilities for the franchise’s future.
As with most Mario titles, the plot in Super Mario 3D World isn’t particularly deep. After fixing a glass pipe, Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad are transported to The Sprixie Kingdom to save the fairly-like Sprixie princesses after they’re kidnapped by Bowser. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, but the story does mean that newcomers to the series can pick up and play without any prior knowledge of the prequel. While the story may be traditional Mario, its simplicity means the core elements of 3D World such as its spectacular platforming, outstanding level design and gorgeous soundtrack are able to take centre stage, and boy do they deliver.
Like its predecessor, Super Mario 3D World takes place over a number of game worlds, each filled with between five to ten individual levels that you need to complete to progress. Levels effortlessly blend the free-roaming elements of Mario’s mainline entries such as Odyssey with the 2D title mechanics of Mario’s past, so each level has a timer counting you down and a flag pole awaiting you at the end. Hidden within each level are three green stars and a stamp; green stars are needed to unlock the final level of each world, so it’s worth trying to acquire as many as possible, and while they were relatively straightforward to pick up in the first half of the game, by the end, they became more challenging to come by as the difficulty ramps up.
In order to unlock the later worlds you’ll need to return to previous levels to obtain the green stars you may have missed by utilising each of Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad’s unique skill sets. Mario is the standard all-rounder, Luigi has a higher jump, Peach can float for a brief few seconds, whilst Toad has increased speed. I gravitated towards Mario during my initial playthrough given his suitability for all challenges, but I thoroughly enjoyed going back through earlier levels as one of the other characters to acquire the missing stars and stamps, the latter of which allows you to personalise the environment in the new Snapshot mode.
The level of replayability on offer here means that while you can easily get through with the minimum amount of stars in about ten to fifteen hours, you’re looking at thirty hours or more if you’re after 100% competition, not to mention the countless hours you’ll enjoy playing with friends locally, or online for the first time.
The Wii U’s original release was highly praised for its level design and platforming mastery, and thankfully all of this has been retained with the remaster. Despite some occasional repetition in later levels, puzzles feel fresh, with some requiring serious out-of-the-box thinking to conquer. All levels are designed so you’re always clear about where you need to get to, and every level is packed full of secrets and trinkets to discover.
To discover everything on offer, you’ll need to take advantage of all the powerups. Fire Flower, Super Leaf, Mega Mushroom, Propeller Box, and Boomerang Flower all return, but, introduced in the original, The Super Bell turns you into a cat that allows you to scratch enemies as opposed to relying on just jumping on them. The cat suit also allows you to climb walls, unlocking further hidden secrets and pathways. It’s the upgrade that I found myself utilising most often given the pathways and possibilities it opens. There’s also a Lucky Bell upgrade that can transform you into a lucky cat statue, giving you hundreds of coins when ground-pounding from a high vantage point. Double Cherries also allow you to clone yourself. The more you collect, the more you reproduce. This gives you some extra security, whilst allowing you to solve puzzles that require multiple players if you’re playing alone.
If there’s any criticism to be aimed at Super Mario 3D World it’s that occasionally the camera, which can only be moved in specific directions, can have a mind of its own. It’s particularly hard to judge the depth of field at times, which meant I often missed jumps, specifically landing on small ledges or enemies, resulting in numerous retries. It’s a small irritant, but one that becomes more of an issue the deeper into the game you get as levels become more compact and complex.
What’s more, given the removal of the Wii U’s gamepad, the levels where touch controls are required to move platforms around are more infuriating as the Switch’s gyro controls don’t quite feel as responsive. I tried playing with the JoyCons and Pro Controller, and both make the gyro control sequences feel more cumbersome than they did on the Wii U. However, the issue isn’t a problem when playing in handheld mode given the functionality of the Switch’s touch screen. Thankfully, unlike Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, where it was visible all the time, the gyro control icon is hidden from the screen during play until you activate it.
Boss battles were also a source of disappointment throughout the second half of the game. For the first couple of hours, bosses were hugely entertaining, but by the end, most had been repeated two or three times, with very little new strategy needed to conquer them. They also tended to be on the easy side, and I often found traversing some of the complex levels more challenging. At times it felt like Nintendo spent all their time developing and polishing each world so much that they ran out of creative juice for the end fights.
Super Mario 3D World was easily one of the best Wii U titles, and it’s even better on the Switch. I briefly mentioned that the port boasts online multiplayer for the first time which opens up endless replay value, but it also includes amiibo functionality and up to four players can tackle the now famous Captain Toad side-levels in co-op for the first time.
There’s also a new Snapshot functionality, but the most significant improvement Nintendo’s made is to the characters’ moving and climbing speed, both of which have been enhanced in addition to flight/hang time which has also been increased slightly. All of these subtle changes combine to make the platforming feel more exciting, fluid and modern, easily rivalling that found in some of Mario’s biggest adventures such as Galaxy and Odyssey.
3D World was one of the best looking titles on the Wii U, and it’s easily one of the best on the Switch. While it doesn’t quite reach Mario Odyssey‘s heights, the docked version of 3D World runs at 1080P 60FPS, and at 720P 60FPS when in handheld mode. This results in colours that consistently pop and textures that are constantly fluid and smooth. There are a few jagged edges and background pop-ins, especially in handheld mode, but nevertheless, whether you’re traversing haunted Boo-infested mansions, riding along lava-filled lakes, or diving for hidden treasure down at the beach, all of 3D World’s individual levels are nothing short of a feast for the eyes.
And that’s that, Super Mario 3D World on the Switch is pretty much as close to a perfect Mario game as you’re likely to find, and would be a must-play for all Switch owners on its own, even those who’ve mastered the Wii U original.
However, Bowser’s Fury just makes this package essential.
Taking place in cat-themed Lake Lapcat, Bowser’s Fury sees Mario team up with Bowser Jr. to rescue his father from tainted black goop that’s transformed him into a gigantic, terrifying monster hell-bent on destroying everything in his path. Bowser has taken many infamous forms over the past 35 years, but none are quite as striking and fear-inducing as Fury Bowser, and I personally love his new aesthetic, even if the battles against him were a little underwhelming by the end.
If you want to rescue Bowser, you’ll need to team up with Bowser Jr. with his trusty Clown Car across a series of islands strewn across Lake Lapcat to collect the necessary number of Cat Shrines to awaken the Giga Bells found throughout the world, transforming Mario into Giga Cat Mario ready for a titanic battle, reminiscent of something you’d expect to see in a Godzilla movie!
My favourite aspect of Bowser’s Fury was the inclusion of Bowser Jr. Like he did in Mario Sunshine, he manages to add a spark of humour to dialogue. Mario and Bowser Jr. interact as if they’ve been friends for years, not adversaries, and it was a joy to experience during the story. Bowser Jr’s inclusion also allows a second player to join, but he does serve a useful purpose in single player by defeating enemies and pointing out potential puzzle solutions. He can also store all your power-ups collected during your journey, so unlike 3D World, if you pick up one power-up, it doesn’t automatically override your current one, and it means you can select between them if you find yourself in a jam. How often he assists you can be selected before starting, and I found a little assistance was all I needed to keep me on the right path. You can choose to have higher assistance, but whatever level you select, his help never feels too intrusive.
Unlike 3D World, Bowser’s Fury plays more like Mario’s fully free-roaming 3D entries. You have complete control over the camera, and you’re no longer restricted to a single main pathway of individual levels. Lake Lapcat’s islands are connected in one open world, but play out like Kingdoms in Odyssey and 64. Each island has a unique aesthetic design and a number of challenges available to you that reward you with the Cat Shines needed to awaken the Giga Bells. Whilst the game gently guides you in a direction, for the most part, you’re free to collect the shines in any order you want. There are also several standalone shines found across the lake which aren’t tied to specific islands. I found these the most adventurous and enjoyable to collect as by the end of the three to four-hour journey, most of the island challenges we’re starting to feel a little overused – there’s only so many times I wanted to collect all the blue coins/shine pieces before it started to feel somewhat repetitive.
For the most part, the puzzles aren’t too difficult to overcome regardless of whether you’re veteran or newcomer to the series, that is until Fury Bowser awakes from his slumber and begins firing meteorites and flames your way. I noticed him awaken about every ten to fifteen minutes during my playthrough – you’ll know because the crisp sunlight is replaced with treacherous storms, and when he does this can make even the easiest of platforming sections rather tricky.
If you’ve managed to acquire enough shines to battle Fury Bowser, you can awaken the Giga Bell, transform in Giga Cat Mario and begin the start of a game-long boss battle, but if not, you’ll need to avoid him as best as you can until he returns to his slumber, or collect a Cat Shine to light up the number of lighthouses dotted around the map. Fury Bowser’s appearance isn’t always just a hide and seek moment though, as his appearance often opens new pathways and puzzle solutions that were previously inaccessible, so it’s worth being as adventurous as possible when he rises. I can’t say too much, but later in the game, Fury Bowser’s appearance became a little more annoying and did take a little gloss off of the entire experience, as it ended up feeling like I was trying to fight a boss with no ammunition on an endless cycle.
Once you’ve gathered five shines, you’ll be able to face off against Fury Bowser, but despite his cool aesthetic, the fight against Fury Bowser was relatively monotonous and somewhat disappointing. You’ll need to face him more than once to defeat him, and despite his move-sets varying a little each time, the fight boils down to nothing more than avoiding some obvious attacks and pounding his clear weak point when it’s available. Also, as a result of being gigantic, Giga Cat Mario loses all the fluidity of Cat Mario and feels rather cumbersome and lethargic. It’s actually very easy to stay hidden behind scenery, wait for Fury Bowser to do his thing and attack when he’s vulnerable. There were times where I felt I managed to glitch the fight; it was that easy to avoid everything. Super Mario 3D World’s boss fights were easily it’s biggest disappointment, and Bowser’s Fury sadly suffers the same fate.
That being said, I found Bowser’s Fury to be an absolute blast from start to finish. It’s a relatively short mode, but it still took me around four hours to gather enough Cat Shines to defeat Bowser, while another two or three hours would be needed to 100% everything. The story is completely bonkers, the platforming is nigh-on-perfect, and visually it looks stunning in both docked and handheld mode. There are a few little blemishes when playing on the go where background elements pop in and out, while textures can be a little blurry close up, but it doesn’t distract from the gorgeous world of Lake Lapcat.
Bowser’s Fury is gorgeous from frozen forests to lava-filled pools and one of the best looking Switch games to date. What’s more, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury has a simply masterful soundtrack that had me humming tracks in my sleep. I can’t underestimate just how much of an impact the music had on my overall experience; Nintendo manages to perfectly encapsulate what joy sounds like with every tune!
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is pretty much the perfect Mario game thanks to Nintendo’s little Switch tweaks, resulting in near-perfect platforming, gorgeous visuals and a joy-filled soundtrack that easily captures the soul of the series in every beat. Both games suffer a little from some rather lacklustre and repetitive boss fights, while 3D World’s camera and motion controls take a little gloss off the shine, but be in no doubt that this package is an essential purchase for all Switch owners. Bowser’s Fury feels like it’s just the start of something bigger and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.
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