Before We Get Going, a Disclaimer...
This review is a little bit of an oddball because it's just about the add-on for the Nintendo Switch port of Super Mario 3D World. This review is NOT including the base game that's the actual port, I'm only grading the completely new stuff in Bowser's Fury. As such it looks at this game in a rather unique and honestly unfair way. This review is for others like me, who played through the original release and are starving for new content. Someone in that situation might just want to pick this up even if they have no intention of going through 3D World again. As such, being a full priced game, the odds are stacked against this bonus content from the get go. With that out of the way...
A Peak Behind the Curtain
Bowser's Fury feels a lot like test material for what turned into Mario Odyssey that Nintendo thought fans might enjoy if they polished it up a bit. This whole side entry is about the size of one of the larger Mario Odyssey levels and it actually reminds me most of a slightly expanded Bowser's Kingdom. The biggest differences there is that instead of bottomless pits below between each Japanese castle themed section, there was a lake of oil covered water and a cat fur covered nothosaur with separation anxiety ready to help you find your way back to an individually themed island toybox.
Like both 3D World and Odyssey every little piece of the islands you'll be exploring is utilized, not a bit is wasted which definitely helps fill out the game. The game splits up the islands into 3 sections, each surrounding a "Giga Bell" which is the transformation power up needed for Mario to go toe-to-toe with Fury Bowser. Of course, the bells themselves only activate when you've collected enough of the "cat shinies" scattered around on the islands, which follow a relatively predictable pattern once you figure out how each shinie is unlocked.
The way they do this in Bowser's Fury is unfortunately not as expanded upon as they often are in their fully fledged games. Pretty much every level starts with "get to the end" shinies, and then we have a number of other patterns too. We've got several hunt for the right kittens shinies (which, btw, took me too long to figure out they didn't just want any of the kittens), several seek & destroy oil version Luigi shinies, several go to the end of the level to find a key and bring it back without falling off the side shinies, get the blue coins before they disappear shinies, etc. In a full-fledged game I'd have hoped for more variety. Even if doing the same thing in a different sand-box makes for an interesting puzzle on its own the fact that about 4/5 of every island reuses one of these puzzles in a different way means you've seen pretty much the whole that the game has to show you after your first Fury Bowser fight if you grabbed all the shinies available to you at that point. This is assuming, of course, that you jump back and forth between the islands, as they need to change up their enemy locations, buttons, and platforms between most tries and won't do so while you're still on that island.
To hop from place to place you'll be frequently riding a cat version of Plessie, the aforementioned swimming dinosaur companion/tiny kaiju pet is used extremely well in Bowser's Fury. Where in earlier titles he was limited to single stage racing games Plessie is your primary means of transportation here and actually has enough room to swim around in that it doesn't feel like you're trying to race in a pontoon boat. There's a number of shinies that require you get Plessi from point A to point B fast enough (or catch something, or the like) and the fact that, other than the oil slicks themselves and Bowser Plessie is invincible, it can be a lot of fun wreckign through a small tundra forest and the goombas perusing along within. Outside of some particularly fun platforming puzzles Plessie was my favorite part of the game, which is saying something, because I've hated his earlier incarnations (including in the main Super Mario 3D World title).
Then the Hammer Falls
That being said, it does feel a bit rough around the edges. Most of the cinematics fall very flat, short of the usual animated excitement in the bits and pieces that show up in other modern Mario games. And the aforementioned locked shinies and kitties just show up out of nowhere. A single talk betwen Bowser Jr. (who accompanies you throughout the game trying to get his dad out of this funk) mentioning what should be done instead of pure trial and error would have helped here.
Since Mario 64 we've had at least little single line hints that help nudge you in the right way, and boundaries which are the levels themselves in which to find the thing you need for the other thing. In Bowser's Fury one just keeps playing ala Odyssey, you don't know in game that going back to the archways that mark the "beginning" of each island is where you go to get that tiny morsal of info, nor that some of these span multiple islands. A little more nudging for the first time you run into these would've been much more appreciated than the clueless bumbling that reminded me of early 90's Sierra adventure games more than a Mario game.
The camera is also a sad departure from more recent Mario entries. There's no auto-camera, so you'll be moving it around a lot on your own so you can actually see what it is you're trying to do. When Bowser wakes up and jumps around launching spikes and shooting fire at you it can be difficult to figure out where you're trying to go vs where the next fire blast is coming from. And trying to turn the camera around while you're jumping on a rotating platform trying to avoid lava is much more annoying than it need be. I blame this squarely on the game engine, as Odyssey was much less problematic on this issue, and Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 as well as Super Mario 3D World have static cameras that show you exactly what you need to see at pretty much all times. By having it completely free floating and no automatic following whatsoever I found my hands in awkward and uncomfortable positions trying to move myself the camera, jump and shoot a fireball/boomerang or dive to another location far too often.
So, is Bowser's Fury worth the $60 price tag if you aren't interested in 3D World? I'd say no. It's plenty fun mind you, but it's over before an erection that lasts long enough for you to need to call a doctor, and the little annoyances do add up on top of that. If you just want the new stuff though, maybe hope it ends up on sale somewhere or you can get it second hand at closer to $30 at some point. Bowser's Fury is a very fun and pretty polished sandbox Mario game demo, however, and I hope Nintendo's next Mario series entry plucks the best of this and polishes out the kinks. If you find you may want to go through Super Mario 3D World again then definitely go right ahead. And if you've never played 3D World and like platformers at all, well then I'd highly recommend picking this up as soon as you can.