First thing’s first: you might need to reconfigure what you think this upcoming package of Mario gaming on Switch is. When it was first announced, it felt like the archetypal re-release – a shiny port of an underplayed Wii U game to entice those who missed it first time round, with an extra expansion to tempt back those who did play 3D World. It isn’t that, really.
Yes, Super Mario 3D World is a mostly unchanged game, but Bowser’s Fury isn’t an expansion – it’s a fundamentally separate game, picked from a title screen and booted into without ever having to touch 3D World. It’s built from the same foundations, yes, but into a very different shape. With that in mind, this isn’t so much a ‘preview’ as ‘previews’, plural – so let’s start with the more familiar of the two halves.
Super Mario 3D World
Like a lot of Wii U re-releases for Switch, Super Mario 3D World feels less like a triumphant encore than a necessary reintroduction. After its last console’s failure, Nintendo knows how comparatively few people will have played this installment of its most famous franchise. As such, we seem to be getting a version built more to offer a smoother on-ramp for new players than to offer new ideas amid the original formula.
For those who know nothing about it, 3D World is a classic, course-based Mario game, extruded from 2D into 3D, and offering the flexibility to play with up to 4 people at once. It’s a riot of colour, mechanical ideas and, especially with others, gentle chaos, as characters, enemies, obstacles, and physics objects collide. We loved it back in 2013, and time hasn’t dimmed its charms – Nintendo’s mastery of art design means even its visuals haven’t suffered too much in the intervening years.
For the Switch port, Nintendo explains that movement is slightly faster, and that each of its four playable characters’ abilities have been ever-so-slightly tweaked, but the effects are barely noticeable without direct comparison. Online multiplayer is a nice addition, and smoothly integrated, with players simply choosing to create or join a room from the World Map (although, it needs to be pointed out that unfortunately only the host will make game progress in a multiplayer session). And Captain Toad levels – which were invented for this game before becoming their own excellent spin-off – now accommodate multiplayer parties, rather than forcing three people to watch the host have fun for a bit.
But, in my time with the first four worlds of the game, those have been the only key changes – and with little new to focus on, it’s more interesting to realise what 3D World did that other Mario games haven’t.
After playing so much of Super Mario Odyssey, it’s fascinating to re-experience quite how different a game 3D World is by comparison. 3D World is a more machine-tooled experience, with its mostly one-way courses forcing players down gauntlets of increasing challenge, rather than Odyssey’s more freeform improvisation. Its fixed camera means it can more regularly play with perspective, point of view, and good old secrets hidden just off of screen, with only an unusually placed block to point the way.
Where Odyssey was a riff on Mario 64’s freedom, 3D World is a modern take on the original Mario Bros. games’ thoughtful design, gently elevating you from nervous Goomba-stomper into a careening blur of jumps, ground pounds, and sprints over the course of its ever-changing levels.
If you haven’t played 3D World before, this new version is a marginally better version of an already fantastic game – but even if you have, my short time with it suggests that a fresh playthrough could feel just as impactful as it did the first time around, simply because we’ve had nothing like it since. And even if that’s not of interest, there’s always the brand new part of the package to try.
Nintendo only offered up a sliver of Bowser’s Fury to play for preview – which, if I’m being cynical, might point to how small a game it could represent (even Nintendo has publicly called it ‘short’, after all). But even with the worry that it might be over all too soon, Bowser’s Fury already feels like a fascinating new experiment from the restlessly inventive Mario team.
It’s seemingly built in the same engine as 3D World, and uses its version of Mario (including his abilities and power-ups), but the structure is very different, drawing on multiple games for reference. Rather than individual courses, the standalone adventure’s location, Lake Lapkat, is built like one of Super Mario Odyssey’s kingdoms. It’s a picturesque place, although it has to be said that Bowser’s Fury’s more ‘open world’ approach does show the limitations of the older engine – at a distance, areas become smudged and jaggy (it turns out 3D World’s extreme depth of field effects were hiding some flaws). Lapkat is split into distinct sections, which can be explored from multiple angles, each offering 5 collectible Cat Shines – earned by completing platforming challenges, beating enemies, or discovering secrets.
If ‘Cat Shines’ sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a reference to the collectibles in the GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine – and that’s not the only Sunshine touchpoint. Quite apart from its twinkling seaside aesthetic, you’ll also meet and work alongside Bowser Jr., who clutches his magical paintbrush from Sunshine. Bowser Jr. can be controlled by a second player, or work as an AI companion that unlocks secrets painted onto walls, picks up items and battles enemies (and comes with an options menu that lets you choose how much he helps). Together you’re tasked with cleaning an infestation of Sunshine-esque black ooze from Lapkat’s shores and waters – although this time solely with the power of lighthouses – no FLUDD, I’m afraid. And why you’re doing all that reveals Bowser’s Fury’s strangest reference point of all.
Periodically, Lapkat’s weather will change for the worse, signalling the appearance of Fury Bowser, a new version of Mario’s old foe stretched to kaiju proportions by the effect of the ooze. He either needs to be avoided until he goes away, or turned away by force. He is, essentially, a take on Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Blood Moon – and marks Bowser’s Fury’s freshest idea.
When Fury Bowser appears, certain friendly NPCs turn evil, new platforms drop from the sky, and your giant enemy will send attacks at you from multiple angles. Those attacks can be beneficial, however; a new type of block can only be destroyed by Fury Bowser’s attacks, turning his appearance into a moment of risk and reward. Collecting a Cat Shine during an attack will turn him back – and collecting enough Shines will unlock the Giga Bell, a giant Cat Mario power-up that lets you battle Fury Bowser.
My preview didn’t extend as far as the battle itself, so time will tell how many more new ideas Lapkat holds beneath its waters, but my limited impressions have been very positive. This is a far more singular game than anticipated – I simply wasn’t expecting to be this surprised by what promised to be a simple add-on to a much bigger existing game.
Mario 3D World: Bowser’s Fury Screenshots
But then maybe that’s my own short-sightedness. After all, Super Mario 3D World is a game based so much on that classic Mario ideal of germinating a new idea, letting it bloom, then moving on to a new one in short order – it’s a game built on the pleasure of constant new things to do. Bowser’s Fury feels like it could be an extension of that philosophy, a game-sized offshoot from 3D World, pointing its older ideas in an entirely new direction. It’s early days, but this oddly feels somehow even more natural a move for the Mario team than an expansion to the game it’s attached to – it’s a new idea.