Ever since the open green fields of Super Mario 64, Nintendo has experimented with the best way to transport Mario into three dimensions. From the bite-sized planetoids of Galaxy to the hakoniwa-inspired worlds of Odyssey, the Kyoto game maker has never settled on just one formula. Mario’s side-scrolling adventures largely all worked the same, but in 3D, players never knew what to expect.
That’s part of what made Super Mario 3D World so beloved when it launched on the Wii U in 2013. It took the familiar level-based gameplay of classic two-dimensional Super Mario games and fused it with the more expansive 3D gameplay, building off of the portable-only Super Mario 3D Land. Plus, it let Mario dress up as an adorable cat for the first time.
Inevitably, the game is now launching on the Switch. But this week’s rerelease of 3D World is more than just a simple port. The base game remains identical to the original, but Nintendo has packaged it with a brand-new, expansion pack-like adventure called Bowser’s Fury. It takes many of the same ideas as 3D World but puts them in a new kind of open world, one filled with constant danger thanks to a kaiju-sized Bowser roaming around.
Put these in the same collection and you end up with the best of both worlds.
Super Mario 3D World
When Super Mario 3D World first launched it was something of a contradiction: it was both a departure and a return to the series’ roots. While it’s a 3D game, it doesn’t take place in one large world. Instead, the experience consists of a series of discrete, smaller levels that you access from an overworld map, much like if you were playing Super Mario World on the SNES.
The game strikes a nearly perfect balance between structure and creativity. While it’s full of short levels with a distinct beginning and end, it plays around with the formula with so many interesting ideas, whether that’s stages where you have to track shadows across the walls or chase down Bowser in a fireball-spewing convertible. 3D World also introduced several important ideas to the series. Perhaps the most notable are the cat suit, which lets Mario scamper up walls and slice at goombas with his claws, and the puzzle-oriented side missions starring Captain Toad. (The former even spawned its own spinoff which, like 3D World, eventually made the transition from the Wii U to the Switch.)
This was all true eight years ago, and the game remains a delight today. It doesn’t exactly look like a modern game, but the bright, colorful visuals hold up well. More importantly, even with all of the Super Mario titles that have come since, 3D World’s particular blending of styles remains distinct. It’s still fun to revisit, but this is also a great opportunity for those who missed out the first time around. (And given the Wii U’s relative failure, that’s probably a large amount of people.) Of course, 3D World also benefits from the shift to the Switch, as its small levels are ideal for playing on the go. The only drawback is the touch controls, which made more sense when you had a clunky Wii U tablet in your hands but can be awkward when playing on the Switch in TV mode where touch is replaced by an on-screen cursor.
Essentially, this is an ideal port of one of the best Super Mario games to date...
...but it’s also a lot more. The other half of the equation, Bowser’s Fury, is a standalone experience, one you can choose to play right away from the main menu. Mechanically, it’s nearly identical to 3D World. You can still dress up like a kitty and zip around in transparent tubes, though it adds 360-degree camera control, giving it a much more modern feel. Outside of that, there are two main elements that make this expansion interesting.
The first is its structure. Bowser’s Fury takes place in a large archipelago, with no discrete worlds or levels, just a whole bunch of small islands. The goal, as always, is to collect bright shiny coins, which in turn open up new areas for exploration. Essentially, the whole island chain is one big series of challenges, and it’s your job to find and complete them.
There’s a huge range of things to do: fight bosses, chase down bunnies, race on the back of a sea creature, climb giant towers, navigate treacherous stretches of molten lava, and a lot more. In true Super Mario fashion, some of these tasks are fairly simple, while others — particularly toward the end of the game — are deviously hard challenges with tight time limits. Suffice to say, getting every coin will take some work.
What makes this structure work particularly well is Bowser himself. The game’s story involves you teaming up with Bowser Jr. — who floats alongside you and can help fight enemies or point out areas of interest — to help restore his dad, who has been blown up to Godzilla-like proportions. His newfound size and powers manifest in two ways. To start, he’s constantly lurking in the background, and every so often he’ll emerge and attack. You’ll know it’s coming: first there’s a bit of wind and rain, and then the whole world turns dark.
It’s almost like a twist on the light and dark worlds in a Zelda game. When Bowser is in Godzilla attack mode, flaming balls rain down and he spews a stream of fire at you. This makes things more dangerous, but it also has its benefits: some areas can only be accessed if Bowser’s flames destroy bricks blocking the way. You have to think strategically during these moments, instead of just staying in survival mode. It gives you a chance to see familiar spaces in a different way.
And then there are the gigantic boss battles. Normally, you can’t actually attack Bowser. But when you collect enough coins, you’ll unlock the temple, where you can use a massive bell to turn into a giant cat Mario, one that’s able to go toe-to-toe with Bowser. This happens periodically throughout the game — it takes more than a few tries to finally take down Mario’s nemesis — and the battles are thrilling. Each time you take on Bowser he has new abilities and patterns, and just seeing the scale and destruction of these battles is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a Super Mario game before. It also gives you something tangible to work toward: you aren’t just collecting coins to get them all, you’re also trying for another shot at Bowser.
There are two other important things to note about Bowser’s Fury. One, it’s not a full-scale Super Mario game. While it’s a meaty adventure with lots to do and unlock, it’s probably about one-third the size of comparable games in the series. The other thing to note is that, despite its dark themes, Bowser’s Fury is achingly adorable. The islands you explore appear to have been rendered by the world’s biggest cat fan. Seriously, everything in the game, from the bushes to the goombas to the lighthouses to the pigeons, is cat-themed. At one point, while I was wearing the cat suit, an entire gang of rainbow-hued cats started following me, and when I stopped running away it turned into an impromptu cuddle party.
Bowser’s Fury is essentially a remix of 3D World, one that takes the same basic themes and mechanics but turns them into something that feels both new and familiar at the same time. Really, this package is indicative of 3D Super Mario games as a whole: it’s a series where you never quite know what to expect with each new release. Sometimes that means a whole new structure or gameplay twist. Other times it means towering monsters and lots of cute cats.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury launches on February 12th on the Nintendo Switch.