Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury review: Furious fun

It was our 2013 Game of the Year. How does Super Mario 3D World hold up, especially with the addition of Bowser's Fury? Our review.

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Some of Nintendo's best efforts released during the Wii U generation and many people missed out on those games, because there were a lot of people who didn't own the ill-fated console. It's been great to see some of that system's best games release on the Nintendo Switch and now Switch owners have received arguably the Wii U's best title: Super Mario 3D World.

There's a lot to say about Super Mario 3D World. A lot of it will sound familiar to anybody who read Shacknews at the end of 2013. That's because this was our 2013 Game of the Year and everything that was said then still applies today. The more interesting conversation surrounds Bowser's Fury, the new side story. It's one of the most interesting Mario experiences in a long time, just because it feels both familiar and refreshingly different.

Cats in the cradle

There's a lot that makes Super Mario 3D World stand out as one of Nintendo's best platformers ever made. It's the overt blend of the bite-sized stages of the mainline 2D Mario formula and the diorama presentation of the 3D Mario games. It's also the more subtle uses of elements from previous Mario games, like giving everyone the character traits from Super Mario Bros. 2. It's the exquisite level design that incorporates well thought-out puzzles, cleverly-placed enemies, interesting mechanics, and intense challenges. Mario isn't just moving around in a 3D space, but these stages also incorporate verticality, making them feel massive and vast while still in the confines of a single level. The game's various power-ups, such as the Cat Suit, the Boomerang Bro. Suit, and the classic Tanooki Suit, all add to the experience by making you want to use them to explore farther. It adds to the usual Mario power-up experience, which is normally about getting a leg up on Bowser's minions and getting to the flagpole quickly.

For me, what made Super Mario 3D World great back in the day and still great today is the simplified multiplayer experience. Friends can jump in and out before the start of each level where everyone then shares a life pool. Making it through stages alive and also finding every bonus Green Star in each stage, a number of which are required to progress forward, requires cooperation. However, it also requires enough coordination to not get in each other's way. On top of that, there's also a competitive element thrown in, where the player with the highest score gets a crown at the end of each level. While the main objective is to make it to the end of every world and do battle with Bowser, the crown turns on the competitive juices, encouraging everyone to collect every coin, stomp on every enemy, and find every secret in an effort to be the winner.

As great as 3D World is alone, the fun is in playing co-op. That's why it's unfortunate that 3D World's online play, a new feature for the Switch version, isn't very good. Players can create their own lobbies off their save files or join a room, but the result for me was mainly the same. There was heavy lag, stuttering characters, and frequent disconnects. For a game that's as fun to play with others as 3D World, that's dreadful. The bad online play isn't a deal-breaker, because playing locally with friends and family is such a more valuable experience, but the ability to play with others from a distance would have been nice, especially in these pandemic times that we're living in for the foreseeable future.

Too Bowser, Too Furious

Heading into this review, Super Mario 3D World was a known quantity. Bowser's Fury was definitely not, especially as the cryptic trailers didn't seem to explain any of this side story's narrative. What's the story behind this new Mario adventure? Your guess is still as good as mine. Mario's walking along one day, falls into an ink blot, and ends up on a mysterious island, where Bowser is engulfed in dark ink and becomes Fury Bowser. What is this world? How did Bowser end up there? Why does the ink turn Bowser into a rage lizard? Why is everything in this world cats? How did Bowser Jr. get here? Why does he have a celestial brush? You get answers to none of these questions. The story is basically, "Bowser's here and he's really mad, so Mario has to awaken the Giga Bell, become a giant Cat Mario, and defeat him." I'm not going to pretend that the Mario series is this grand bastion of storytelling, but every other Mario game at least has a pretense of plot. Bowser's Fury doesn't offer any of that. It just throws players right in with next to zero context and adds nothing from there.

With the gripes of the story out of the way, that opens the door for me to say, Bowser's Fury is a hoot.

In a similar way to how Super Mario 3D World reinvented the typical 2D Mario formula, Bowser's Fury is a 3D Mario game, but one that feels noticeably different. This is all a single giant island, but instead of separating out each stage by using plot devices like paintings, galaxies, or things of that nature, everything is connected. After collecting the first of the game's Cat Shines, players gain access to friendly water lizard Plessie, who can take Mario around the world to other islands. Players put their Super Mario 3D World knowledge to work, using the various power-ups and their mastery of the previous game's mechanics to find each of the game's Cat Shines. One interesting thing to note is that Mario's usual arsenal of 3D moves is not present. Mario can't back flip or wall jump to get greater height or distance, which will force you to rely on alternate methods. Why Mario's move set was restricted for this game is a mystery to me, because it feels like his abilities are incomplete.

What makes Bowser's Fury so memorable is that every couple of real-time minutes, Fury Bowser will emerge. He doesn't care what you're doing. Are you in the middle of a tricky platforming sequence? Are you about to battle a boss? Are you trying to collect blue coins? Too bad, because once Fury Bowser is out, he's out and he's shooting flames of rage at Mario. This adds a lot more challenge to what's otherwise a standard 3D Mario experience, as players must now work to collect their Cat Shine faster, since the attached lighthouse will send Fury Bowser back to the murky depths. What's cooler about this idea is that as the game goes on, the lighthouses and Cat Shines have less of an effect on Fury Bowser. He'll come back more frequently and the game will eventually reach the point where the lighthouses won't affect him at all, adding a greater sense of urgency to find those last Cat Shines and wrap this sucker up.

Speaking of wrapping this sucker up, it won't take you long to do so. If there's a downside to Bowser's Fury, it's that it's criminally short. Seasoned Mario players and even novice players can put Bowser's Fury to bed in a matter of hours. That's even with some uncharacteristically long loading times for a Nintendo title.

But in the brief time that it lasts, it's a lot of fun. It's even welcoming to beginners, as players can turn up an option to have Bowser Jr. help clear out more enemies or two players can jump in cooperatively. The camera will follow Mario, but Bowser Jr. players can help out by defeating foes, collecting power-ups, passing out power-ups, or finding critical Cat coins.

He's got the 3D World in his hands

Super Mario 3D World holds up every bit as well in 2021 as it did in 2013, if not better. It's one of the best Mario games ever produced, made even better if you have friends or family to join in on the fun. Bowser's Fury isn't a long experience, but it's a lot of fun in its own way. What both games have in common is that they build on ideas from previous Mario games in such a way that you always want to see what's next.

Greatness in simplicity has been the best way to describe Nintendo for decades and there are few better examples than Super Mario 3D World. Bowser's Fury is the angry icing on the cake.


This review is based on a retail copy purchased by the reviewer. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is available now on the Nintendo eShop for $59.99. The game is rated E.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Pros
  • The peak of Mario level design so far
  • Easy-to-play local co-op
  • Fun power-ups
  • Surprisingly intense challenge (for both games)
  • Bowser's Fury adds new wrinkles to the established 3D Mario formula
Cons
  • Bowser's Fury feels like it ends just as it's getting started
  • Long load times on Bowser's Fury
  • Online play in Super Mario 3D World is laggy
From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 14, 2021 6:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury review: Furious fun

    • reply
      February 14, 2021 11:02 AM

      I just beat bowsers fury and my god...I want to buy more Nintendo stock. So damn good. I wonder if their next Mario game is gonna be Zelda big bowsers fury + switch pro to handle it at 60fps.

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        February 14, 2021 7:10 PM

        I’m at 75 Cat Shines. I’m having trouble figuring out when Bowser goes back to sleep. One obvious condition is when I get a shine, but sometimes he disappears by himself. It’s usually when I’m looking to get a particularly tricky shine that he tends to not go to sleep by himself.

        There’s also (45+ shine spoilers) when you’re close to 50 shines/endgame, he doesn’t disappear when you get a shine, forcing you to get the last few shines in “hard mode”.

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          February 14, 2021 7:20 PM

          I’m around 60 amazing game. I feel like this is the future of Mario like BOTW was for Zelda.

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            February 14, 2021 7:24 PM

            It really does. They eliminated the barrier between hub worlds and stages, now its all one big integrated thing that still remains dynamic and has a logical progression system.

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              February 14, 2021 7:26 PM

              A Link Between Worlds is maybe an even better comparison than BOTW, where it still has actual Link To The Past style Zelda dungeons but where the overworld is open and only has a difficulty gate halfway through.

              Same here, where there are actual 3D courses within the general "overworld" and there are a few difficulty gates broken up by fighting Fury Bowser.

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              February 14, 2021 8:09 PM

              I mean they already did it with Odyssey. The only reason they have “more” here is because of how much smaller Fury is compared to Odyssey. The Switch can’t handle a game bigger than Odyssey with no loading.


              It chugs bad on just about everything unless they are releasing a way more powerful Switch. Even BotW was not great after a few patch’s and had tons of perf hits all over the place.

              I mean don’t get me wrong I want to see open world stuff like this but the Switch hardware is terribly under powered.

              The only new thing Fury added was this Bowser mechanic which just got annoying an hour after playing. Mostly because in many cases it was better to either not continue with what you were doing and wait. Terrible design decision to make your player not play the game or you saw Bowser was about to Diane and it was better to wait and again you’d sit there for 30 seconds to a minute before getting a Shine so he’d just immediately go away.

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                February 14, 2021 8:21 PM

                With odyssey the levels were larger than a super Mario 3D level, but not as big as bowsers fury, and traveling between worlds was discrete in that you went to your ship, selected which world and then a cutscene played while the level loads. BF is complete open and—I’d guess—roughly the size of 3 or 4 odyssey levels.

                What if Mario can fly a spaceship and he they do galaxy like levels this way.

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                  February 14, 2021 8:31 PM

                  Yup. Odyssey has smaller kingdoms split up by a hub. Every 3D Mario game before Bowser's Fury had a hub world dividing all of the courses and areas up from one another.

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                February 14, 2021 8:29 PM

                Hard disagree, none of the kingdoms in Odyssey are anywhere close to as large or dense as they are in Fury.

                Its a really important difference, and this is before we get to how there is less cruft in terms of objectives. Moons abound in Odyssey while Cat Shines are all meaningful objectives.

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                  February 14, 2021 8:48 PM

                  I’m not sure where folks are getting the size of odyssey and thinking they are smaller. Take the very first hub world you come across in Fury compared to the second level in Odyssey (Dino one). The Dino one is easily double the physical size with more textural complexity going on plus items.

                  This repeats throughout Fury. Almost all of Fury’s islands are incredibly tiny. When they get large like the two snow the are just spread out long or tall with very little actual content, textures or things to do.

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                    February 14, 2021 8:49 PM

                    Crap got cut off, you can fit several of the islands in Odyssey’s sand kingdom alone.

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                      February 14, 2021 9:18 PM

                      We’re talking about the entire size of bowsers fury—the whole world. Yes, each “level” in the world is small, smaller than a Mario 3D world level probably—but there’s lots of “stuff” between the levels and you enter the “level” at whatever direction you want.

                      I’m not saying it’s better than odyssey, but I can see them take this concept and run with it with a full game and man it’d amazing. Open world odyssey...

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                        February 14, 2021 9:38 PM

                        While I want that the problem is we need way more powerful Switch’s. Fury absolutely makes the Switch chug all over the place because of how open it is. It’s super noticeable any time Bowser appears. The frame rate tanks and gets choppy very fast in many places. There were numerous times I died because I had a frame rate drop to single digits.

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                    February 14, 2021 11:11 PM

                    All of Bowser’s Fury is a single level that is large enough to fit multiple Odyssey kingdoms inside of it. It is so large that it dwarfs even the Sand Kingdom. It is the largest space in a 3D Mario game by an insanely wide margin.

                    It makes no sense to talk about individual islands when we were always talking about it being a contiguous space with no load times and and no hub world. The only loading screen is when you do the Godzilla battle and it pulls up the miniature version of the lake.

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          February 14, 2021 8:01 PM

          Red sky means you must get a shine to make him go away.

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      February 14, 2021 4:39 PM

      SM3DW is lots of fun so far, but once again I'm constantly reminded how my hands are not compatible with joycons.

      I can't avoid nudging the right stick and camera while pressing face buttons. Argh.

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        February 14, 2021 7:20 PM

        get a pro controller

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          February 14, 2021 7:21 PM

          ^

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          February 14, 2021 7:32 PM

          Yeah, not buying a $70 controller for that.

          I'm already set on getting rid of the Switch when I finish this, anyway. I bought it mainly for handheld use and it's fine for some games, but not comfortable or usable most of the time, even the dumb grip thing I tried didn't help much. Buttons are still tiny, placements are what they are. Done with it all, maybe the next one will be more ergonomic and fictional for me.

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            February 14, 2021 7:33 PM

            *functional.

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            February 14, 2021 8:11 PM

            Then get an SN30 Pro Plus. You can use it for other stuff as well as a switch.

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              February 14, 2021 8:45 PM

              I bought it mainly for handheld use, and after plenty of time with it during the pandemic I definitely know it's not for me. A gamepad doesn't solve that, nor did the grip I tried.

              I like 8bitdo, but buying more stuff isn't answer. Especially when I already have too many controllers and no more Switch games I want to play.

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