Bowser's Fury

Mario is undeniably one of the most iconic names in video game history. Part of this is that Nintendo’s tentpole franchise reinvigorated the video game industry after the great crash of 1983, but another part of it is that Nintendo is constantly using it as a whiteboard for some of its most off-the-wall innovations. Cat suits? check. A water-shooting backpack? check. A hat that transforms you into a T-Rex? Double check.

People toss around words like definitive when describing games they love, but I think definitive describes the Mario series better than almost any other franchise in gaming history. Super Mario Bros. 3 established the template for the 2D platformer — a template that is still seen to this day as the default for the genre. In the same way, Super Mario 64 established the template for what the 3D collectathon platformer should look like. Again, this template is still seen as the default for the genre.

Almost 40 years later, Nintendo still hasn’t released a bad — or even a mediocre — mainline Mario game (opinions on the spinoffs may vary). Each new game introduces something fresh to the franchise, and each one is satisfying in its own way.

Bowser's Fury

All that said, I had a certain expectation in mind for Super Mario 3D World. I was one of 13.5 million people who actually owned a Wii U, and I was really excited for another 3D Mario game. Remember, before Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo had released Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii, which might be the best Mario games ever made. The Galaxy titles blew the lid off of what was possible for a Mario game, launching Mario into new dimensions and creating a really satisfying new template for what a Mario game could be.

But Super Mario 3D World did something really strange: Instead of using Super Mario 64 as its template, which almost all of the previous 3D Mario games had done (Galaxy 2 could maybe be seen as an exception), it went back to the Super Mario Bros. 3 template, with an overworld map and levels that mostly flow from point A to point B. It’s a much narrower version of the 3D Mario formula, and after Super Mario Galaxy‘s gravity-bending physics and exploration-heavy levels, it felt especially constrained.

Yeah, people loved it. I thought it was good but not great. In retrospect, I acknowledge that its tighter focus led to some really brilliant level design that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. In fact, its Captain Toad puzzle-box levels were so good that Nintendo fleshed out the concept into an entire game. But even so, Super Mario 3D World felt like a step backward for 3D Mario games.

Bowser's Fury

Bowser’s Fury rights this wrong for me. Mechanically, it’s exactly the same as Super Mario 3D World. You can play the two games side-by-side without having to readjust to mechanics or controls. However, where Super Mario 3D World is built on the foundation laid by Super Mario Bros. 3, Bowser’s Fury is built on the more-solid Super Mario 64 foundation.

Instead of moving from point A to point B, you’re given a massive world to roam around in. This means the exploration elements that were largely missing from Super Mario 3D World are back, and they’re as satisfying as they’ve ever been.

The only real flaw of Bowser’s Fury is that it’s painfully short (I often take issue with quantifying games by their run times, but it’s hard to deny that Bowser’s Fury is objectively smaller than any of the other 3D Mario games). On one hand, the game’s small size means that none of its tiny levels wear out their welcome. On the other, this seems like a missed opportunity.

Bowser's Fury

Nintendo can reclaim that opportunity, however, by making Bowser’s Fury the template for a much broader game in the future. They’ve finally shown us that a slightly more Zelda-like formula (with a massive world to explore that opens up further as you progress through the game) actually works really well for Mario. If this were expanded into a fully fleshed-out mainline Mario game, it could be the dawning of a new era for Nintendo’s beloved mascot.

And no, I haven’t forgotten about Super Mario Odyssey. But while Odyssey brought back the exploration-style gameplay that Super Mario 3D World was missing, it also felt less like a Mario game in a lot of ways. For example, New Donk City is an incredible concept for a Mario world, but it really doesn’t feel like a Mario world at all. It’s too modern and too real-world-referential. There’s a dissonance that comes with seeing Mario surrounded by the visual trappings of what’s obviously an analog for New York City, and as much as I enjoyed Odyssey, I was never fully able to get over that nagging feeling that something was a little off.

Bowser’s Fury hits the sweet spot for me. If it weren’t so tragically small, I would be tempted to call it the best Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy. I can only hope that this is just a sampling of what to expect from the next major Mario release rather than just a one-off experiment, because this is the exact Mario format that I’ve wanted for a long time now.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x