Hands-on with Mario's quirkiest open-world adventure yet.
Nintendo really loves cats; Bowser bloody hates them. That’s the gist of brand new spin-off Bowser’s Fury that accompanies the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World next month, as one of the last Wii U exclusives to be given an encore.
Despite “3D” anchoring the title of 3D World, Mario’s biggest Wii U escapade wasn’t an actual 3D Mario game. Not in the open(-ish) world sense of Super Mario 64, Sunshine and most recently Odyssey. It is a sequel to the 3DS’s 3D Land, hence the 3D moniker, and exists somewhere between the side-scrolling of New Super Mario Bros and the Star/Shine/Moon collecting of the fully-fledged 3D instalments. To summarise, 3D World still has Mario following a linear path to reach a flag at the end of each stage, but with a little more wiggle room than the up, down, left and right of a side-scroller.
I am jogging your memory because Bowser’s Fury isn’t like that, despite being the rerun’s sweetener. It’s a proper 3D Mario adventure, only on a smaller scale. Mario still moves as he does in 3D World to ensure consistency between the twin games, but the viewpoint is distinctly open world Mario.
This open-world is just that: unlike the flagship titles, which are really a series of unique open levels with several stars (or similar) to find, Bowser’s Fury is a single world; no jumping in paintings or blasting into space. It’s effectively one of those levels, rather than a collection of them, but within that is a series of obstacle courses, or sub-levels, which each offer up to five Cat Shines to collect — Nintendo had an affection for cats in Super Mario 3D World, but it has gone next level here; perhaps a side effect of increased working from home.
Initially some of them only offer one or two Shines to collect, but soon return and you’ll find more on offer. Unlike traditional Mario, there is no loading or jumping between worlds. These levels within a level are somewhat self contained, generally with their own theme; but take a couple of steps away and you’ll seamlessly venture into open land, signified with a delightful change in tune.
Bowser’s Fury requires half the Cat Shines to trigger the final confrontation with a furious Bowser, and the total number isn’t far below Super Mario 64’s tally of 120 Stars. However, having recently returned to the 3D All-Stars collection, these Shines are much easier to collect. They’re designed to be quick and easy, and always fairly obvious — something I can’t say for SM64 by 2021 standards (without Google’s assistance, it’s much harder than I remember, or maybe I was just much better at games in 1998).
Mario is aided by a constantly replenished bevy of power-ups, with up to five of each stashed away. With several always in reserve, Mario rarely remains in his smallest form. He can instantly costume change between Cat, Fire Flower, Lucky Bell, Boomerang, or Tanooki Mario, depending on the situation. While there are loads of Cat Shines to collect, their close proximately and a revolving door of power-ups make them easier to acquire than full size 3D Mario adventures — but they are still well designed, and some of the vintage platforming segments remind me of the “secret” Shines without F.L.U.D.D. in Sunshine.
Enter Fury Bowser. The oversized King Koopa is responsible for all of this, and every seven minutes or so, the tranquil lands are overcome by dark clouds, balls of fire, and a rampaging Bowser. Throughout the journey, Bowser Jr is at your side to offer minimal support by the AI, or more assistance by a second player, but these regular segments generally put an end to your current Cat Shine hunt. While you can continue, and acquiring a Shine will send Fury Bowser back to where he came from, these fiery moments are the only time you can destroy Fury Blocks that litter the land, and often hide a Shine. Best to take advantage of that.
With enough Cat Shines in tow, Mario can activate the Giga Bell to go Super Sonic; or is that Super Saiyan. Apparently it’s called Giga Cat Mario. In this giant glowing golden form, with his hedgehog spikes or Saiyan hair (fiery cat fur?) flowing, Cat Mario expands to match Fury Bowser’s ginormous size and towers over the level that now appears tiny to trigger a boss battle, before returning to his quest to collect more Cat Shines.
Bowser’s Fury is a spin-off designed to be completed much faster than a traditional 3D Mario game, and that allows it to experiment with some new ideas — including one big seamless world scattered with some great platforming segments. The Switch library has been bolstered by a great many under-appreciated Wii U hits. But it’s nice to also have something new — both in content and ideas — to explore when Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury arrives on Switch on 12 February 2021.
12 February 2021