For this review I will be looking at solely the Bowser’s Fury portion of the game, if you would like to read my thoughts on the 3D World base game you will have to wait a little longer as I’ll publish that separately. If there is a link in that paragraph, it will be ready and waiting for you.
Leading up to the predictable re-release of the forgotten Wii-U title Super Mario 3D World, nobody quite knew what “Bowser’s Fury” was. A new full-length title? A new world for the base game? The widely anticipated Mario Odyssey DLC? The answer, as is often the case, is found somewhere in between. I picked this up for something to tie me over until Persona 5 Strikers and relieve the relentless draught of games at the start of the year. It also helps that it is something fun for my partner and I to play. My expectations were something light-hearted, not too challenging and comforting given how long this Winter has felt. To my delight, this was a great way to spend some time and offered just what I needed.
Setting up the story of Bowser’s Fury is done in a matter of minutes. You meet up with Bowser Junior who basically informs you that “man, Bowser is real mad right now and he’s all goopy too, we need to change him back to his regular level of angriness”. Fair enough, keep it simple, the last thing I need is my Mario game getting bogged down with story or how tortured and oppressed the Koopa race are.
The Art Style, Graphics & Music
On the art side of things I’m not sure where I stand. Everything in Bowser’s Fury looks quite clean and clinical. There isn’t much personality to any of it from what I can see, especially when you compare it to the likes of Delfino Plaza and New Donk City. It is extremely pretty, sure, but I just find Lake Lapcat to be a little dull. I prefer when it was getting weird, like with Odyssey and Sunshine. Everything does have cat ears though, which is something, but it definitely feels surface-level. Other than the cat ears, nothing else is cat-like about it, and it isn’t ever explained either – what is actually up with the cat obsession?
Music on the other hand is classic Mario catchiness. Falling short of the iconic Peach’s Castle theme from Mario 64 or the Delphino Plaza music in Sunshine is not a knock against this at all. Each track surfaces the emotions they are clearly wanting to evoke. Whether that is a carefree ride across the water, or ascending a snowy windmill, the music is always a fantastic pairing.
Overall, the presentation is serviceable. It gets the job done to the degree you would expect from a first-party Mario title. Bold colours and whimsical music are par for the course, there are cats too.
The world and structure
The structure to Bowser’s Fury is an evolution of the base game. The overworld is populated with a vast, but not too vast ocean separating several islands which are registered as levels, each with their own unique collectibles named “Cat Shines”. In typical Mario fashion, you have to get out there and grab every last one of them. There is a sense of freedom and maturity in this title which isn’t found in the more focused 3D World, and it makes sense why this had to be catered for separately to that re-release. It would feel incredibly jarring to move through a clear pipe from the rigid overworld of 3D World into the sprawling playground of Lake Lapcat in Bowser’s Fury.
Bowser’s Fury makes travelling from level-to-level fun by bringing in this orange dinosaur fella, who allows you to swim across large bodies of water quickly. Initially I thought that having levels tied together in this way would be tiresome, and I’d rather just had a loading screen there instead, but I was wrong. The levels are spaced apart just enough to make each journey feel significant, but not tedious. There are also a bunch of different challenges and collectibles populating the routes between islands so you are always being strung along by something, never lacking for activities. This kind of relentless barrage of collectibles keeps the pacing up, making it difficult to put down. There is no fat, no down-time, it is all platforming goodness. This isn’t Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland’s open world that’s for sure.
I want to refrain from comparing this to something like Breath of the Wild, the scope here is nowhere near as massive, but it is clear that this is a testbed for a new type of Mario game. Nintendo likely chasing the grand success that was achieved from reimagining the Zelda franchise. It’s impressive to move from one island level to the next with zero load times, and to do it quickly with seemingly no masking of loading screens. This isn’t anything new for the platforming genre and we saw examples of this as far back as Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter on the PS2, but it is nice to see Nintendo trying, at least a little – funny given that this is attached to a £50 release of a game originally from 2013.
How does it feel to play?
As with all platformers, this genre can live or die by it’s play-feel. Mario has rarely had this problem. If you know all about 3D Mario titles, feel free to skip this part. It feels precise and responsive. For those who would like to know more about this particular iteration of the Mario platformer movement, stick with me.
Armed with the arsenal available in 3D World, you can do all the things you expect, run, jump, butt bounce, dive. It is your usual Mario affair. Like 3D World however, absent is the iconic triple jump. This was always so satisfying to pull off, whilst I rarely used it in platforming challenges, it is sorely missed here. There are also a range of other power-ups which aid and augment your platforming. All of these are familiar and ripped from other Mario titles, but all the classics are here. The tanooki tail which allows you to hover for a short while and spin enemies, a cat suit which allows you to swipe and scale high walls, a boomerang flower, and of course, fire flowers. These power-ups are awarded aplenty and replace the 100-coin reward since lives have been made redundant in 2021. A godsend to this system is the ability to bank these power ups and use them when needed, it is not infinite however and only 5 of each can be stored at any given time. This is more than enough however, perishing by being hit by an enemy is rare, you are far more likely to die by falling into a lava pit which causes death instantly, a merciful alternative to other titles which prolong Mario’s suffering.
The levels themselves
So, we have established so far that the overworld and structure is really cool, but what about the actual levels which make up the majority of the campaign? Well, they’re pretty good. Working off the framework of 3D World, each island has a unique gimmick, this can be anything from shooting through the clear pipes like in Futurama, those platforms which flip each time you jump, rotating cubes to clumsily traverse and much more. Each of the levels have 5 Cat Shines to collect leading to these island gimmicks being explored in a number of ways. This sounds great and varied on paper, however, the execution means that there can be quite a lot of repetition over the course of the 5 hours or so it might take you to complete. There are a few templated challenges across these levels, collecting 5 cat tokens, grabbing all the blue coins before they disappear, reaching the lighthouse, these are present on every island. Whilst initially I would call this a negative point against the game, it was actually oddly comforting, there weren’t any surprises, nothing revolutionary from level-to-level. The fact I always knew what to expect allowed me to turn my brain off and just decompress after particularly challenging days. It was just what I needed.
One negative thing that can arise as a result of this new open-world structure is that with the islands being integrated into the open-world and suspended above a body of water, if you are to fall, you have to get back to the start and there is often only one path up, meaning that you have to do the whole thing again. In previous titles this would be a death, then back to a reasonably close checkpoint to try again. This can lead to some frustrating part where I miss the final jump of an island and have to trek all the way back around to give it another shot. It never takes more than a minute, but it can get annoying and sometimes led to me leaving an island altogether if I was to fall just once. This also might not be a problem if you are a pro-gamer, I, however, am not.
Don’t take this the wrong way, the platforming is predictably great, and the collectathon hook is as strong as ever, I’m a sucker for it and it got me right away. If you are here for that, you won’t be disappointed. However, if you pick this up expecting some Mario Odyssey type surprises, you are going to leave a little bummed out.
What is Bowser’s Fury?
I’ve talked about the game at large for a while now, but I haven’t actually explained what Bowser’s Fury is. Every 15 minutes or so “Fury Bowser” will appear and have a tantrum of epic proportions. This changes the music to hard-rock which is extremely hammy, it also causes various new platforms to appear creating new paths, lastly, Bowser will assault you from afar with long-range fire attacks. These attacks can be used to break special blocks hidden throughout the world and lead to new routes and collectibles becoming accessible. The first few times this happened, it was cool and there is definitely a sense of dread when the sky turns dark and the rain begins to fall.
Unfortunately, this system can lead to a lot of waiting around as you wait for Bowser to freak out to break a single set of blocks which you think a Cat Shine might be hiding behind, even more deflating is when there isn’t. It also has the adverse effect, you might be trying a particularly tricky platforming section and BAM, here comes Fury Bowser to rain on your parade, literally. It’s a novel idea, and one which I am sure that other Nintendo franchises may pick up, a Zelda dungeon with the boss constantly impacting your progress through the temple and creating a weighty presence before the final encounter does sound pretty cool.
When Bowser is having his gooey meltdown, there are two ways that you can force his rage to subside, either collect a Cat Shine to power a nearby lighthouse, or grab a “Giga Bell” to become Super Saiyan 5 Mario, pictured below.
It is absurd.
This leads to a boss fight which is repeated several times over the course of the game, which once again can add to that repetition, if you feel that with the objectives for each island, you are sure to feel it here too. The initial spectacle of the battle is something to behold, as you battle Kaiju-style atop of the miniscule islands you once explored. I’m a big monster movie fan, so I did appreciate this, again though, it does happen quite frequently.
Is it meow-velous?
Overall, would I recommend you pick up Bowser’s Fury? That is a tricky question, I certainly enjoyed my time with it as an added bonus to the 3D World game. If you already experienced that on the Wii-U however and are jumping in for the sole purpose of seeing what Bowser’s Fury is all about, I think you will feel short-changed given the hefty price tag on this one. If you are grabbing the game anyway because you either love it or have yet to experience it, sure, have a gander at Bowser’s Fury, there are worse ways to spend 5 hours or so.