Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury hints at a new direction for franchise

The fixed camera creates interesting level design opportunities, but it also makes some parts of “Super Mario 3D World” more difficult.


By GIESON CACHO | The Mercury News | Published: March 12, 2021

The Wii U feels like the generation that time forgot. The console’s popularity wasn’t as explosive as its predecessor, and fans overlooked several great games that came and went. With the success of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo has re-released Wii U titles on its current machine.

Players who missed out on Pikmin 3 have another chance to check out the deluxe version. The criminally underrated The Wonderful 101 was remastered for the system as well. For the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., Nintendo has launched Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. It’s an enhanced release with a big bonus.

The core game is a remarkable oddity that came out between the stellar Super Mario Galaxy 2 and the clever Super Mario Odyssey. It’s a title that lets Mario roam in three dimensions but has a camera angle with little wiggle room. It stays mostly fixed to players as they traverse eight worlds trying to rescue the Sprixie Princesses from Bowser’s clutches.

It’s an iteration of the franchise that’s sandwiched between the traditional 2D games and the forward-thinking 3D adventures. Surprisingly enough, it’s a game that fits closest to the Super Mario Bros. 3 mold as Nintendo’s mascot grabs several power-ups that lets him skate on ice, throw boomerangs and scamper through levels as a cat.

It’s a title that carries the ethos of the NES-era level design and brings it to a 3D environment. Each timed level has a distinct beginning and end as players venture through obstacles, uncovering secrets such as Green Stars and collectible stamps, which they can add to screenshots in the photo mode. The Green Stars are important because they unlock certain stages. If that weren’t enough, 3D World even has warp zones that let players skip levels, though it means they won’t save all the Sprixie Princesses, and that’s reflected in the ending.

Although its chock-full of content, the hybrid 3D game’s camera has more drawbacks than advantages. The fixed angle makes jumping and avoiding enemies onerous. It’s tough to judge the distance from a platform when the camera’s fixed and that also makes it hard to stomp on foes. It can be particularly frustrating in narrow spaces.

With that said, 3D World does use the fixed camera in smart ways. In one level, it goes overhead and creates a Zelda-like perspective that helps Mario as he lights braziers so he can find his way through a scenario. In other stages, Nintendo plays with shadows and reflections to hide items and secret passages.

In addition, the update features online and offline multiplayer modes which can get chaotic as four players try to beat a level without getting in each others’ way. One of the more interest aspects of 3D World is that players can also choose among four characters — Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad. Each character has his or her own traits: Luigi has a higher jump. Peach floats a little more when leaping. Toad is the fastest but may not jump the highest while Mario is average at everything.

3D World also features the seeds of what later became Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. His side levels let players control the hero as he collects Green Stars. He has no jump button and can only sprint across stages, but the limitation creates some of the more inventive parts of the campaign. His puzzlelike stages are a joy to complete.

The other part of this Mario double feature is Bowser’s Fury, which comes off as another experimental curiosity. It’s couched in the language of 3D World. Players will recognize the same power-ups and characters such as Plessie, a sea-faring dinosaur, but the big difference here lies in the open nature of the short campaign.

Mario is on an archipelago in Lake Lapcat, and he has to help out Bowser Jr., whose father has turned into an enormous rage monster. Players have to use the power of the Giga Bells to turn the mustachioed hero into an enormous cat with glowing fur reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z’s Goku. He then battles Bowser in a Godzilla-inspired brawl until the boss gets knocked out for a short time.

Over the course of the campaign, players must collect Cat Shines to erase the muck coating the Lake Lapcat lighthouses and the water. Players are free to explore any islands they can reach and each locale has its own set of quests. Some are distinct, such as fighting Koopa kids in a tiny arena, while others are repeat missions, such as collecting blue coins, but set in a different space.

The notable part about Bowser’s Fury is how it essentially creates the foundation for an open-world Mario game. Instead of levels, players have islands that they travel to and explore. Power-ups are stored and can be accessed at almost any time. Players don’t have to worry about lives but they must be concerned about the number of coins which goes down with each death.

Taken together, it’s a fascinating look at a possible future Super Mario Bros. series. It’s almost like Mario done in the style of The Legend Zelda: Wind Waker with Plessie being the boat that ferries the hero along to locales.

As players collect more Cat Shines and explore Lake Lapcat, they open up more islands. At the same time, they also have to deal with the furious Bowser, which attacks Mario at timed intervals. The campaign’s goal is to grab as many Cat Shines as possible and unlock the power of Giga Bells so that Mario can eventually cleanse the bad juju infesting Bowser.

The one issue facing Bowser’s Fury is that it does push the Nintendo Switch to its limits. The game is noticeably worse in the mobile mode while it plays better docked. Players experience slow-downs and other hiccups either way, but it makes this part of the package feel like a rough draft of something bigger.

Whatever the case, it’s a worthwhile experience for Mario fans or those interested in the open-world genre. Bowser’s Fury lays a persuasive case that the franchise should explore this genre because it opens up new opportunities for play. Much like 3D World, Bowser’s Fury pushes the franchise in a new frontier and direction that holds plenty of promise.

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Online: supermario3dworld.nintendo.com