Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bowser’s Fury Review: Mario in the Open World

Super Mario in the Open World

After an understandably understated 2020 — even despite 35th anniversary of Super Mario announcements in September — Nintendo needed something big, something that people could look forward to.

What we got was a port we always knew was coming: Super Mario 3D World. It’s seemed obvious, especially since Cat Mario was included in Super Mario Maker 2, that 3D World would make an appearance on the Switch.

But when?

Turns out, February 2021 was the right time.

But it wasn’t just 3D World. Bowser’s Fury, an add-on for the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World, is what got people excited.

After spending the last few days exploring the Cat Kingdom, I can definitively say that Bowser’s Fury is the most interesting thing that’s happened to the 3D Mario franchise since 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey.

Here’s our review of Mario’s first open-world adventure, Bowser’s Fury for the Nintendo Switch.

Fury Bowser’s Story

In his first open-world adventure, Mario partners with Bowser Jr. to explore the Cat Kingdom, collect 100 Cat Shines, and fight the colossal Fury Bowser.

Bowser Jr. approaches Mario and asks him for help saving his father, Bowser, who has gotten covered in a dark gooey substance that has covered much of the Cat Kingdom. Of course, Mario agrees to help, and he takes off with Bowser Jr. to explore this new world.

As Mario collects Cat Shines, he’s able to transform into Super Saiyan — errr, I mean Super Cat Mario with the help of the Giga Bell. As Super Cat Mario, he becomes gargantuan, too, and can fight Fury Bowser head-to-head.

There aren’t any princesses to save or worlds to clear. Mario just has to help his arch-nemesis come back to his senses.

Fury Bowser Attacks!

In what feels like a copy-paste job from Breath of the Wild’s Blood Moon, Fury Bowser wakes up every once in a while to attack Mario. Just before he attacks, it starts to rain, and the sky gradually gets darker. When the attack begins, Fury Bowser breathes fire at Mario and giant rocks fall from the sky.

At first, I thought Fury Bowser’s attacks were really annoying. Unlike the Blood Moons from Breath of the Wild, Fury Bowser’s attacks are pretty common.

Just when you’re figuring out a puzzle or getting to the top of a complicated platforming challenge, Fury Bowser attacks, and you have to find cover fast.

After exploring more of the world, though, I realized that when Fury Bowser attacks, invisible blocks and new paths emerge, making it much easier to collect some Cat Shines.

Controlling Mario (and Bowser Jr.)

Controlling Mario feels tight, but there’s something missing.

Unsurprisingly, Bowser’s Fury uses the same controls as 3D World, but it just doesn’t feel complete. Some of the platforming in Bowser’s Fury would feel so much more natural with Odyssey’s move set.

But you get used to it.

Bowser Jr. is your constant companion through Bowser’s Fury, flying alongside you in his junior clown car. He has his magic paintbrush at hand, ready to help Mario take on enemies and reveal secrets.

At the beginning of Bowser’s Fury, you can choose how much help you want from Bowser Jr. — none, a little, or a lot. (I didn’t want to make the game too easy, so I went with no help. But I still noticed Bowser Jr. taking out enemies that got too close to him.)

Unlike 3D World, Bowser’s Fury doesn’t offer a rich multiplayer experience. Player 2 joins Mario as Bowser Jr., controlling him in a co-op mode. It feels much like the tacked-on multiplayer in Odyssey, where a second player could control Cappy… but usually only made things harder for the first player.

Your Favorite 3D World Power-Ups are Back

Bowser’s Fury brings back all your favorite 3D World power-ups, including the Super Bell, Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, Super Leaf, Double Cherry, Boomerang Flower, Super Star, and more. There are also several boxes that give Mario special abilities, like the propeller box and the cannon box.

I also really appreciated how Mario interacts with some of the items around the Cat Kingdom, including how he can fling himself from one island to another by climbing to the top of a spring.

Bower’s Fury is Ground Zeroes. Maybe.

At several points during my Bower’s Fury playthrough, I thought to myself, “What is this game…?”Bower’s Fury feels like a test. It’s a pilot. It’s a demo. It’s a proof-of-concept.

But of what?

Playing through Bowser’s Fury, I couldn’t help but be remindedof Hideo Kojima’s 2014 Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

Okay, stick with me here.

Like Bowser’s Fury, Ground Zeroes was the first open-world game in the series. It was a sneak peek, a preview of what would become the biggest Metal Gear game of all time, The Phantom Pain.

Ground Zeroes was the standalone story that gave Kojima the freedom he needed to imagine and test what The Phantom Pain could be.

Could Bowser’s Fury be Ground Zeroes for the Mario franchise?

I sincerely hope so. Bowser’s Fury shows us what Mario could do in a sprawling open world and how getting from one area to another could work.

Some of Odyssey’s kingdoms were already large enough to be their own tiny open worlds — think back to the Metro Kingdom – New Donk City, the Mushroom Kingdom – Peach’s Castle, or the Sand Kingdom – Tostarena.

The question is, what would an open-world Mario game give us that Odyssey didn’t?

A true open-world Mario game could tie together the disparate Kingdoms, get rid of loading screens, and give players a more gradual and more natural transition from one area to the next.

Like Grand Theft Auto 3’s broken bridges, you can imagine obstacles that require certain power-ups to get past. Imagine Mario got power-ups as he progressed through the game, or if the game took on an RGP element and had you level up your power-ups to become more powerful.

That sounds like a Mario game I’d love to play.

Should You Buy Bowser’s Fury?

To be clear, you can’t just buy Bower’s Fury. It exists as an add-on for those of us who want to own Super Mario 3D World, a game from 2013, on the Switch. Bowser’s Fury is just a little extra incentive to buy 3D World… again.

With that said, is Bowser’s Fury fun? Absolutely. Does it feel complete? Not at all. The Cat Kingdom feels like a bloated kingdom from Odyssey. Not all the Cat Shines are great. Some of them are actually really repetitive and require you to double back on areas you thought you had cleared.

In some ways, the Cat Kingdom demonstrates the limits and drawbacks to an open-world Mario game. As you’re exploring, you’ll notice that the individual islands look and feel a little too similar. Sure, there are different enemies, different obstacles, and different Cat Shines, but they’re not quite different enough.

That’s not to say Bowser’s Fury is a bad game or that an open-world Mario game can’t work. Bowser’s Fury feels like an experiment, a safe space for Nintendo to try new things without too much pressure. It’s a place to try new things and make some mistakes. They’re showing their work, and they’re even letting us play through it.

Bowser’s Fury is a fun addition to the main attraction, Super Mario 3D World, and it’s an unbelievable glimpse behind the curtain at Nintendo. Whatever’s next for the 3D Mario franchise — Super Mario Odyssey 2 or something else — it’s inconceivable that Bowser’s Fury (and the lessons learned from it) won’t play a huge role in its development.

If you didn’t pick up 3D World on the Wii U, picking up this collection is a no-brainer. But even if you played it back in 2013, having 3D World on the go and getting to experience what might be the future of Mario in Bower’s Fury make Super Mario 3D World + Bower’s Fury an essential Switch title.

Justin McGee
Justin McGee
Lifelong Nintendo fan. Follow me on Twitter @PuffyRedShirt

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