Friday, February 26, 2021

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury (NSW) Review

This month of platforming goodness continues with even more run and jump action. Today we're ending the work week right with the master of the genre, Mario, and his latest release: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury. Let's check it out with the SPC review!

 Feline fine with this fur-tastic duo of Mario adventures

Nintendo has shown no signs of stopping on its quest to place every possible Wii U game stuck on that failed system to the Nintendo Switch. Judging by the Wii U's abysmal hardware sales compared to the Nintendo Switch, this strategy of porting Wii U games is a smart one, as most Switch owners have never played many of these games, much less have heard of them. Continuing the tradition that started with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo has almost exhausted its supply of port-able Wii U games now that it has Super Mario 3D World on its hybrid system. But, like Pikmin 3 Deluxe and so many Wii U ports, and like the name of the game suggests, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is hardly a quick and dirty port effort. Containing excellent upgrades to the highly regarded Wii U original 3D World, and possessing an entirely new adventure with Bowser's Fury, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is a marvelous marriage of linear and open-world 3D Mario styles.

Let's begin with the wholly new experience as part of the Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury package, the Bowser's Fury addition. It sees Mario entering an entirely fresh world of platforming challenges known as Lake Lapcat. Immediately upon entering inside, Mario is "greeted" with the rage of Fury Bowser. After a quick tutorial that sees Mario scampering up a path to avoid Fury Bowser's attacks and advances, such as Bowser's fiery breath that can blast away blocks of all kinds (something that players will need to remember), Mario collects a shiny medal known as a Cat Shine. This Cat Shine is the main collectable in Bowser's Fury, and upon collecting one, it radiates a nearby lighthouse, causing Fury Bowser to retreat in the process. 

Lake Lapcat is Mario's playground, so play and platform on!

It's a pretty clever tutorial to start things off in Bowser's Fury, because not only do you get some quick playtime as Mario to get settled in a little bit, you get to see what Fury Bowser is capable of, how he can destroy Fury Blocks (something that is needed to collect certain Cat Shines), and the game shows players that collecting a Cat Shine will force Fury Bowser to retreat immediately. 

Defeating a threat like Fury Bowser doesn't seem like the easiest task Mario has ever set out to do, but he isn't alone on his adventure. Not only does Bowser Jr. begrudgingly plead for Mario's help and joins his cause, but Plessie from the 3D World part of the game joins in as a fast way to traverse the open waters. Bowser Jr. can be played by a second player in a Super Mario Odyssey-like co-op fashion, but otherwise, he is controlled by the AI. Prior to playing with Bowser Jr. and any time thereafter, you can select how active the AI is when controlling Bowser's son. Setting it to "A Lot" results in Bowser Jr. actively attacking and engaging with enemies, while setting it to "A Little" means that Bowser's offspring is much more passive. You can set it so Bowser Jr. is as big or as little of a help to you as you want. 

The battle of the boomerangs happens here on Pounce Bounce Isle.

Aside from attacking foes, Bowser Jr. can help the player by hoarding items. When Mario collects an item from an item box, from gathering 100 coins, or otherwise receives a new power-up, his currently equipped one gets stored. Mario can store up to five of each item power-up, and these all are the power-ups seen in 3D World's main adventure: from the simple Mushroom, to 3D World's new item, the Cat Bell, to the Tanooki Leaf, to the Fire and Boomerang Flowers. You can also either use the gyro controls for docked play or touch controls for handheld play to have Bowser Jr. attack specifically selected enemies, or reveal items with his graffiti at specially marked locations hidden throughout Lake Lapcat.

Lake Lapcat itself is essentially an open-world platforming playground for Mario to explore. However, not all of it is able to be explored right away. Just three islands filled with themed platforming challenges await Mario at the beginning of Bowser's Fury. That said, by the end of the game, the entirety of Lake Lapcat is open for adventure, and it's a refreshing take on the Mario formula. 

But, first, let's talk about the gameplay loop for Bowser's Fury. Each island of Lake Lapcat places five challenges for Mario to complete. The first always sees Mario needing to venture along the course and reach the lighthouse. Then, there are ones revolving around collecting five red cat-shaped coins scattered around a given island's boundaries, as well as using Fury Bowser to blow away the Fury Blocks standing in Mario's way in order to get the Cat Shine inside. Other tasks are more varied, including battling bosses, completing a timed obstacle course, or collecting all of the blue coins within a time limit. Of course, players don't have to complete all of a given island's Cat Shine challenges at once or even at all since out of the 100 Cat Shines in Bowser's Fury, only 50 need to be collected to beat the game. Of course, completionists and those simply wanting to further enjoy the adventure will want to aim for all 100 Shines. And why wouldn't you when Bowser's Fury is so enjoyable?

Coming to a theatre near you: a plumber and his aquatic companion in "Free Plessie".

Every so often, the calm, relaxing Lake Lapcat will get rocked by the arrival of Fury Bowser. This occurs every few minutes, and like in the tutorial (except in one late-game case) collecting a Cat Shine will result in Fury Bowser retreating. In the meantime, big, bad Fury Bowser unleashes all heck on Lake Lapcat and aims to destroy his archrival. From launching flames into the sky to letting loose his spectacular fire breath, Mario needs to be on his guard when Fury Bowser arrives to cause havoc. Either after collecting a Cat Shine or waiting him out, Fury Bowser will once again retreat. 

It can be occasionally tedious to wait for or wait out Fury Bowser in Bowser's Fury,
but this is only a minor inconvenience and issue I have with this part of the package.

That said, if you've collected enough Cat Shines (the amount required increases with each successful clash against Fury Bowser), one of Lake Lapcat's three Giga Bells will ring, allowing Mario to rush to its location and transform into a powerful gigantic version of himself to go claw-to-claw with Fury Bowser in an epic confrontation. These boss battles are really exciting encounters that don't really revolve around the same "three hit" philosophy the Mario series regularly uses. Instead, Fury Bowser has a health bar that can be whittled down through various means. The amount of ways that Mario can do damage to Fury Bowser makes for a really entertaining and satisfying series of battles. Mario can claw Fury Bowser, he can take the pylons that Fury Bowser summons and chuck them right into him, he can claw bombs right back at the furious behemoth, and of course, ground pound the exposed underside of his shell for massive damage. Upon depleting all of Fury Bowser's health bar, a new section of islands on Lake Lapcat reveals itself out of the black ooze that once rested on its surface. 

Game on, Fury Bowser. Game on.

Lake Lapcat presents an open platforming playground for Mario, and all of it can be seen and played on without a loading screen in sight. This is an expansive area for players to immerse themselves in, and while it's not positively perfect in execution (for example, after collecting a Cat Shine for one island's challenge, Mario needs to get enough distance away from the island in order to return to it for the next Cat Shine challenge to present itself), it does much more right than wrong. I'm excited to see if Bowser Fury's Lake Lapcat is a prelude to a grander adventure, a well executed working prototype that shares with us fans the future of what the 3D Mario series can be. If so, we're due for some really exciting times for the Mario franchise!

There was a lot of hubbub regarding folks saying that Bowser's Fury fits more as DLC for Super Mario Odyssey than Super Mario 3D World, but I definitely disagree with that. For one, and most obviously, Bowser's Fury's Lake Lapcat is utterly drenched with cat theming. Every enemy type has cat ears, but so too, are the environments. Archways are modeled after cats, heck, even the birds and flowers, and the sun in the sky have cat-like appearances to them. More interestingly, though, is that each island of Lake Lapcat not only has the five Cat Shines to collect, but they're also themed well, too. All islands take one specific obstacle or hazard from the main Super Mario 3D World game and runs with it in remarkable fashion. Fort Flaptrap features Cakewalk Flip's platforms that flip whenever Mario jumps into the air, while Mount Magmeow's main showcase is Switchboard Falls' titular switchboards that move in the direction that Mario stands on. All of this makes it so Bowser's Fury feels more than at home as packaged with Super Mario 3D World.

Speaking of, let's get to Super Mario 3D World. Originally released on the Wii U in 2013, Super Mario 3D World expanded greatly on the design style seen in the Nintendo 3DS's Super Mario 3D Land. The game added multiplayer for up to four players and much more interestingly designed worlds. By itself, Super Mario 3D World on the Nintendo Switch is basically the same game design-wise, but this dog--or should it be "cat" in this case--has picked up some new tricks.

Mario is the most balanced of the five playable characters in Super Mario 3D World.

For one, characters have all had their speeds upgraded and specific abilities boosted. Mario is your all-around, balanced character, while Luigi can jump higher than any other character. Meanwhile, Peach has the ability to float for a second or two on her jumps, but is the slowest of all the other characters. Finally, Toad is the fastest, and with the speed increase, almost dangerously so in the wrong hands! This speed boost makes some levels much easier than they were in the Wii U original. Gaps that previously needed to be avoided can now be leaped across with ease, and certain flagpoles that required precision jumps to make it to the top are now easy as pie to reach. It makes some of the level design expendable, but at the same time, makes some levels more challenging due to how fast everyone is now. The levels in Super Mario 3D World's Nintendo Switch version were not altered at all to make up for the new speed change, and it can be very noticeable at times. Overall, though, the admittedly somewhat sluggish pace that many players criticized the Wii U original game for has been replaced with something much more enjoyable and fun.

Toad is mighty fast, which can be mighty bad if you're a careless player like I am!

Another sizable addition to the Nintendo Switch version of Super Mario 3D World is that of online play (including Captain Toad levels, where all players can take control of a Toad for some fun this time around). Now, while it's limited to friends only and only the host's save file progresses, it ultimately works well. I played with a friend, and despite some mild lag and some delays occasionally, the experience was one that we both loved. Connection, whether competent or not, depends on each player's connection, and I found that even my wireless connection more often than not did not adversely affect that quality of my online play. Perhaps if I played with more people than just one other, the experience would have been a lesser one. Up to one other local player can join the fun and hop online, making a two-person party a three-fer, making for even more multiplayer possibilities. As an experience as a whole, Super Mario 3D World's online is a definite upgrade over what Super Mario Maker 2 had at launch, and that's certainly something players can exert a sigh of relief over.

The amount of variety in Super Mario 3D World's level design is something special to behold.
I remember enjoying the Wii U original so much that I would keep playing just to see what would show up next!

Apart from the large, obvious changes to someone who has played the Wii U version of Super Mario 3D World, the Nintendo Switch version also offers some less prominent changes. Mario and friends can dive and roll out of a jump. Green Stars and Stamps no longer need to be collected again in a level even if you die before reaching a checkpoint or the goal's flagpole. They're saved immediately, which may be a negative for some, as this removes some of the challenge from the overall game. Stamps themselves are now used in the all-new Photo Mode a la Super Mario Odyssey to "stamp" the scenery and walls when taking a picture (as Miiverse is sadly no more). 

One change in the Switch version of Super Mario 3D World is retaining Green Stars
even if you die shortly after collecting them. So, be as bold as you'd like!

Also, what of the Wii U GamePad-centric gameplay functions that required the use of Nintendo's admittedly cumbersome controller? Well, these have been replaced by pressing the R button on either the Switch Pro Controller or Joy-Con to summon a cursor that is controlled with gyro movement. This is used to activate rising platforms, interact with enemies and the environment, and so forth. Platforms that required blowing into the controller--something that made anyone, no matter how cool, look like a total dork--move automatically, no longer requiring player input.

Finally, the Nintendo Switch version of Super Mario 3D World provides a nice quality of life feature in that it no longer brings up a notification after every level saying that the game has been saved. It wasted a handful of seconds each time in the Wii U original, but it was a mild annoyance all the same and one that I'm glad has been streamlined for the Nintendo Switch release.

Other than those rather big additions and changes to Super Mario 3D World when compared to the Wii U game, the adventure is pretty much the same. You won't be too terribly challenged starting out, and even the first eight worlds of the game aren't too taxing for a seasoned player. As you aim for Green Stars and Stamps, you might see a little more difficulty. However, it's not until after the initial credits roll and the final three worlds unlock that you will eventually see your pulse pounding, your fingers twitch with nervousness, and your heart race as the game throws everything at you. That isn't to say that the first eight worlds--the main course of Super Mario 3D World--is boring. That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, you'll see the incredible genius of Nintendo's level designers at work, doing what they do best--crafting unforgettable and engaging levels full of personality, great platforming, and marvelously hidden secrets. It's only that post-credits that 3D World totally ups the ante to truly astonishing and impressive levels. 

This Boomerang Bro thought he could win by bringing a boomerang to a fire fight. Mario showed him otherwise.

Even after all of these years, Super Mario 3D World still retains the amount of stunning sophistication in its design. Levels are well thought out and constantly deliver fresh ideas and new takes on familiar territory. The Cat Suit power-up is an absolute blast to play as, scurrying across levels, scaling walls, and clawing enemies into submission. Multiplayer continues to be a big sell at the SPC household, offering lots of laughs and the occasional "you just got me killed, you jerk. I hate you" moments. Super Mario 3D World is a highly replayable game, much like the all-new attached Bowser's Fury portion of the package. 

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is definitely a must-own if you've never experienced the original 3D World on the Wii U, which happens to be a whole heck of a lot of Nintendo Switch owners. It becomes tougher to recommend if you're only interested in the Bowser's Fury portion of the package. If that's the case, it really depends on how fiercely and furiously you want to play a new 3D Mario adventure, especially since it's basically a $60 price of admission to Lake Lapcat. For me, as a lover of Super Mario 3D World and all of its new features (particularly the ability to play online and the increased playing speed), Bowser's Fury was just gravy on top of an already super satisfying game. On the whole, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is an excellent package and really is the cat's meow.

[SPC Says: A]

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