Super Mario 3D World hands-on: Bowser's Fury is bold and bizarre
One of Wii U's finest finally arrives on the Switch with better graphics and online multiplayer, but we know you're here to learn about its exclusive, fresh expansion...
Super Mario 3D World was probably the last Wii U major release yet to be adapted to the Nintendo Switch, and with the plumber's 35th Anniversary celebrations starting a few months ago, it was the perfect occasion to announce the all-but-confirmed port. Now, some of these fully-priced Wii U adaptations had been heavily criticised given how little they added to the original game, and recent cases such as Pikmin 3 Deluxe hurt even more when graphics weren't noticeable improved and controls weren't as good as the original's.
With this in mind, back in September we could only celebrate that SM3DW was presented together with a mysterious expansion called "Bowser's Fury", which overshadowed the also good news that the base game would be playable online for the first time and with improved graphics.
In fact, about the amazing original platformer (you can read our 2013 review here) I won't tell you more until my new review, only that it does look crisper at the upscaled resolution of 1080p (TV) and 720p (handheld) compared to the 720p/480p offering of the old game. Oh and that I've also played online, and even if I of course welcome the addition -more so when it's trickier than ever to gather together for local multiplayer- I, for now, see this as just that, a nice addition but nothing comparable to the local experience, given the laggy online controls and the lack of the human touch.
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But you're here to learn more about Bowser's Fury, aren't you? At last, a couple of weeks before the game's release, I can finally tell you more about this mysterious bonus adventure. Not as much as I would love to, though, as my tongue-biting preview content is strictly limited, but enough, I believe, to grab your attention with my feline paws.
The first thing you need to know is that Bowser's Fury is totally brand-new stuff. And by that, I mean both content and structure-wise. In other words, you won't find an unlockable new world on Super Mario 3D World's map - this is a standalone expansion that you may select at any time from the game's title screen. Also, its gameplay style differs significantly from what you had in the original game. If SM3DW was all about the classic Super Mario Bros. 3 tropes, with finite, timed levels you make your way through until reaching the flagpole, Bowser's Fury is a fully open world.
An open world like no other you've seen before in a Mario game. We can't talk about its size, but think that, where in Super Mario Odyssey you had some massive kingdoms flirting with open-world mechanics, here you'll find an even wider approach in how you explore Lake Lapcat, an area worth of platforms-filled, kitty-themed islands.
And pretty bizarre it is, I tell you, as it aligns with some of the quirkiest, out-of-the-box Mario ideas I can remember. You know, Bowser's Fury is pretty literal, as your arch-enemy's got a temper due to some mysterious black goop corrupting him and eventually turning him into the kaiju beast that was unveiled earlier this month.
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Fury Bowser is a timed event, which means he'll eventually wake from his water slumber to cause a rain of fire aimed at you, and only when you've collected enough Cat Shines are you ready to face him proper. I can't get into detail about these battles, but of course kaiju-super-saiyan Giga Cat Mario is key here.
Until you've collected enough Shines to ring the Giga Bell, the only thing you can do during this spectacular encounters is to run until the monster gets bored. If you grab a Shine during these, it'll at least blind Fury Bowser and send him back to sleep, but perhaps you want to take advantage of his breath of fire, as it's the only way to break the special Bowser blocks...
So there you are, running, swimming, and above all jumping around these islands collecting Cat Shines upon completing a pretty varied range of different platforming challenges, including timed runs, hidden objects or just tricky sections - mostly what you'd expect from 3D Mario mechanics, but also including some new ideas and sections that change along with your progress.
Besides Cat Shines (and Cat Shine fragments to complete more Cat Shines), you also collect a significant amount of power-ups (we won't spoil them all just yet), and this is also a core mechanic as choosing the best item for the task is essential to the experience here.
Another unique addition is that Bowser Jr., who seems naturally interested in cooling off his furious daddy, accompanies you at all times. He floats around on his Koopa Clown Car, his Mario Sunshine paint brush ready to brush some enemies off your way, to collect coins, or even to unveil secrets when pointed at a hidden graffiti. He can be an AI companion and you can choose how much you want him to intervene (down to "nothing"), but he can also be controlled by a second player, even if I see little fun for now in being Bowser Jr.
As I can't talk much about the islands, the Fury Battles, or how this works like almost a Mario open world design experiment by Nintendo, let me close by saying that this expansion so far feels as weird as it feels interesting. It's EAD Tokyo trying new things and concepts once again. And even if Mario himself doesn't feel as smooth as his evolved Odyssey version (whose moveset including mantle was admittedly better prepared for 3D... worlds), and even if Bowser's Fury looks blurrier at 720p than the base game (which is a shame given some of the new art), this is looking to be a great, complementary expansion to an already great platformer.