America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 07th Mar 2021 | 3,922 views
Is it possible for a Super Mario game to be underrated? If yes, then Super Mario 3D World is that game. Perhaps due to its affiliation with the unpopular, misunderstood WiiU or perhaps due to its lineage — it's a sequel to a handheld title that exists in a separate evolutionary timeline from both 2D and 3D Mario games — 3D World simply doesn't carry the prestige of the top-tier franchise installments. With the game now unshackled from the WiiU GamePad and playable on Switch with a few refinements and upgrades, perhaps its place in the pantheon of all-time great Mario games will be assured. It certainly doesn't hurt that it comes bundled with a brilliant, experimental open-world campaign called Bowser's Fury, which on its own is one of the best things you'll play all year.
For anyone who skipped Super Mario 3D World on WiiU, here's a primer. It's a sequel to the 2011 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land, a provocative mix of 3D movement and 2D level design. 3D World, which launched in 2013, took the tenets of the handheld title and ran with them, introducing grander worlds, more creative stages, big band music, terrific presentation, multiple playable characters, and support for four-player local co-op. It might share 75% of its name with Super Mario 3D Land, but 3D World represents a quantum leap over its predecessor.
Now, a little over seven years later, the game arrives on Switch, as great as ever. Stages are inventive, varied, and filled with secrets and interesting platforming conceits. Power-ups are fantastic, particularly the cat suit, which allows for more vertical level designs, and the double cherry, which creates new puzzle-solving opportunities. The jazzy soundtrack is outstanding and the visuals, despite the inherited limitations of the WiiU, are beautiful. All that said, some warts remain. The majority of boss battles are relatively easy and the semi-fixed isometric camera just isn't as precise as other options.
Finally, the game continues to boast amazing replay value, thanks to optional stage objectives, four playable characters (and an unlockable fifth), post-game content, and four-player multiplayer. Speaking of multiplayer, the Switch version of the game is more flexible than ever before. In addition to local co-op for up to four players, you can host or join online lobbies. Note that progress is saved only to the host's save file.
Other upgrades include snapshot mode, colorized stamps, some UI and HUD refinements, and several small-but-nifty things like Mario's ability to ground pound directly into a pipe (in the WiiU version, characters would land on top of the pipe and then enter).
One of the biggest changes involves the running speed of Mario and company. The verdict is still out on this one. While the characters' higher top speed and faster-activating dash make the game snappier and more dynamic, it also sometimes messes with the carefully-tuned level designs. Take for example the level Conkdor Canyon in World 2. There's a section where Mario must run up an incline, avoiding the falling beaks of six Conkdors, three on each side. In the WiiU version, the beaks land just behind the scurrying hero. In the Switch version, you might reach the summit before the first Conkdor knows what's happening. It's a small thing, yes, but it points to the fact that 3D World on Switch is a slightly easier version of the game with greater room for player error.
Super Mario 3D World is brilliant, but it's only part of the equation on Switch. The other major component is Bowser's Fury, an exceptionally good add-on campaign that would definitely garner game-of-the-year attention had it arrived as a standalone title. Like 3D World itself, it's an interesting mix of Mario philosophies. It combines the free camera and open-ended layout of Super Mario Odyssey with the platforming sensibilities of the 3D Land/World sub-series. It's essentially the best of both worlds.
The campaign takes place in the cat-themed Lake Lapcat, where a transformed, Godzilla-sized Bowser has taken up residence. Mario and Bowser Jr. have formed an unlikely alliance to return the king to normal.
Bowser's Fury feels like the beginning of the next big thing from Nintendo: not quite a masterpiece, but a masterpiece-in-the-making. Indeed, strictly in terms of open world design, Bower's Fury goes beyond even Super Mario Odyssey. The latter was filled with fantastic sandboxes, yes, but ultimately Mario needed to shuttle back and forth between each one. In Bowser's Fury, conversely, each "level" exists in a single, seamless open world.
Inside that world are all the creative platforming challenges and precision controls you'd expect from Nintendo's A-team, plus some surprises. Plessie, the friendly aquatic mount from 3D World, plays an unexpectedly major part in this expansion. You can ride Plessie across all of Lake Lapcat and even participate in some challenges created solely for the orange-and-white dinosaur. In addition, Plessie performs a huge role in the final boss battle.
Bowser's Fury also supports local multiplayer for two people, but it's not great. Player one controls Mario and player two controls Bowser Jr. There are two issues here. The first is that Bowser Jr. is an unequal part of the duo. He can fly around, collect coins and power-ups, and take swipes at enemies, but he can't participate in the platforming fun. The second, bigger problem is that it's far too easy for Bowser Jr. to fly off screen and lose track of the action, since he tends to orbit the fast-moving Mario. As a result, this mode is best reserved for a younger player.
The biggest wrinkle in Bowser's Fury, though, is the turtle himself, Bowser. At regular intervals, the kaiju Bowser will wake from his slumber at the center of Lake Lapcat and pursue Mario. The peaceful lake turns into a nightmare, with fireballs and blocks raining from the sky and beams of deadly fire filling the air. There is a wonderfully emergent element to this process. Where most of the challenges in the expansion are set in stone, the appearance of the flame-belching Bowser triggers many different possibilities for the player. Do you attempt to retrieve a shine, thus triggering a lighthouse and scaring the beast away? Do you hop on Plessie and run for your life? Overall, this is an unusually dangerous and unpredictable event in the Super Mario universe, one with big potential for future titles.
Despite its successes in open world design, 3D platforming, and improvisational gameplay, Bowser's Fury has a major flaw: length. It's a short game, no matter how you slice it. You could collect enough shines to face off against the final boss after approximately four hours, and reach 100% completion by hour six.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is an essential platforming experience. It includes Super Mario 3D World, one of the finest 3D platformers ever made, now reinforced with online multiplayer, and Bowser's Fury, an ingenious, inventive add-on campaign that offers a glimpse into the potential future of the franchise. If you've never touched 3D World, this is a no-brainer. If you've already worn out your WiiU copy, you might consider double-dipping. Bowser's Fury is just that good.