Nintendo’s first big release of 2021, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, packages together a re-release of a seven-year-old game alongside a new, yet bite-sized, adventure. The main draw is the latter, which offers a showcase of what an open-world Mario game could be. What’s more, Bowser’s Fury technically has a couch co-op mode. But you’re planning on picking the collection up because of that and that alone, heed this simple advice: Don’t.
Like you, I love Mario games. I love great couch co-op. (Living in a packed, four-person household, it’s one of a scant few things helping me get through the pandemic.) So I picked up Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury pretty much the second I heard it had local co-op.
Here’s how it works. You, as player one, are cast as Mario. You’re strolling along, and see some paint that bears a strong resemblance to the signature graffiti of Shadow Mario, the villain from Super Mario Sunshine. In short order, you’re whisked off to another realm, where you come across Bowser Jr. (as if the Sunshine-style paint weren’t a clue). That’s who player two controls.
Bowser Jr. is less of an entity and more of a gadfly. As usual, he’s confined to his buggy, which player two uses to fly around, collecting coins and the like, all in service of assisting player one. Player two doesn’t get to mess around with the precision platforming that’s defined Mario games since the Paleolithic era. Really, insofar as I’ve experienced, there are little to no stakes for whomever controls Bowser Jr. Even worse, it’s all too easy to fly right off screen with nothing other than a small indicator pointing to Bowser Jr.’s location, at least in local co-op. (Bowser’s Fury has online co-op, but you’d need two Switch consoles for that. I haven’t been able to try that out.)
It’s the sort of “cooperative” mode perfect for, say, a younger sibling or kid—just interactive enough to make them feel like they’re really, seriously playing. At the same time, it’s not so invasive as to allow player two to screw things up, by accident or on purpose, for player one.
Now, that’s not to say Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is a total bust in terms of couch co-op. I, in my eternal basicness, only ever used my Wii U to play Super Smash Bros., and thus missed out on Super Mario 3D World’s original run. Uh, why did you all not tell me that Super Mario 3D World is a phenomenal couch co-op game? We’ve been playing it nightly in my household and have had an absolute blast.
For those, like me, who skipped it the first time around, you’d be forgiven for thinking Super Mario 3D World is yet another Mario platformer with a fixed perspective. The gimmick is that you can play with up to four players, each taking over the roles of Mario, Peach, Toad, and that other guy with the green hat and skin-tight gym shorts. Each character plays a bit differently. Toad, for instance, runs the fastest, while Luigi has a bit more airtime while jumping. Your goal is much the same as it is in many of these games: make it to the end of the stage and jump onto a flagpole. As you complete stages in a particular region, you’ll unlock that region’s castle level. Completing that will allow you to move on to the next area.
But here’s the catch: you’re scored. Every star you find, every Goomba you stomp on, gives you points. There’s a shared team score, but whoever scores the most individually is bequeathed a literal crown. What’s more, whoever jumps highest on the flagpole at the end will then have that flag marked with a symbol of their character on the overworld. You might forget the scores, but there’s always some sort of visual reminder as to who’s really winning all these stages. In any given level, yes, you’re all working together, but you’re also working against each other.
Better yet, as with all the best local co-op games, you can ruin your team’s day. At the push of a button, you can pick up any of the other players and, I don’t know, throw them into an enemy or off a cliff. You share lives as a team, though, so you often have to choose between sowing chaos and actually playing the game as intended. (Always choose chaos, folks.)
But Super Mario 3D World is smart enough to force you to work together at points. In one level, you and your team control an aquatic dinosaur steed while traversing whitewater rapids. If you coordinate when you turn or jump, you’ll have more control, thus minimizing the chance you’ll careen off the side of the stage. Another stage requires players to navigate platforms that are marked with two opposite facing arrows . To make any progress, you’ll have to both jump on the same arrow at the same time.
Bowser’s Fury may indeed be a letdown in terms of cooperative play. But, if you’re hungry for a new couch co-op game and missed it the first time around, Super Mario 3D World is worth checking out.