Bundled with the enhanced port of 2013’s Super Mario 3D World coming to the Switch on February 12, Bowser’s Fury is an open-world side-story that pits Mario against the scariest damn Bowser ever. So far it’s the most fun I’ve had with Mario since Odyssey.
Bowser’s Fury is a 3D Mario sandbox adventure that would have been right at home as downloadable content for Super Mario Odyssey. Our hero finds himself transported to a mysterious chain of islands being terrorized by Fury Bowser, a super-sized, power-mad version of Mario’s turtle-dragon foe. The key to defeating this fire-spewing monster lies in collecting Cat Shines, special medals earned by completing challenges across the island chain. Collect enough and the Giga Bell is activated, transforming Mario into Giga Cat Mario, big enough to go toe-to-toe with his massive foe.
Due to Nintendo’s preview guidelines, I cannot tell you what exactly happens when Giga Cat Mario and Fury Bowser fight. I also cannot say how long the game is or how many Cat Shines Mario can collect throughout its course. I can’t ever tell you how Mario ends up in the islands helping Bowser Jr. get his dad’s rage under control. There’s nothing egregious about these guidelines, I just wanted to let you folks know why important bits of information are missing.
Bowser Jr. and Mario make a pretty good team. The Koopa Kid follows Mario around the islands, the Tails to Mario’s Sonic. Set the “Help from Bowser Jr.” option in the game menu to “A little” and Bowser Jr. will occasionally attack enemies. Set it to “A lot” and the kid becomes a stone-cold killer, dispatching cat-eared bad guys with ruthless efficiency. His aid can be turned off completely or, better yet, Bowser Jr. can be controlled by a second player.
The game map is made up of a series of islands. Each island hosts multiple challenges for Mario and Bowser Jr. to overcome in order to win Cat Shines. Upon first visiting Pounce Bounce Isle, one of the game’s initial islands, Mario is tasked with simply getting to the top of an obstacle course. Earn that Shine and the island is reconfigured for a new challenge with deadlier obstacles. A third visit has Mario fetching a key from the top of the island and carrying it safely to a Cat Shine-holding cage on the ground below. It’s a great way to pack a lot of fun and variety into a relatively small area.
The game’s big angry Bowser doesn’t sit on the sidelines while the heroes gather the instruments of his destruction. From time to time the behemoth rises from the inky blackness of the ocean to rain terror down upon the islands. The skies turn dark, rain pours, and lightning crashes. Precarious platforming becomes even more treacherous as fireballs leave pools of molten earth behind after they fall. Bowser jumps about the map, shaking the ground and firing off massive beams of fiery breath. The normally cheery background music becomes the closest thing you’ll get to heavy metal in a Mario game.
The sudden dramatic shift is pretty damn epic. As frustrating as it can be to have a good run through a platform challenge ruined by an errant fireball, these storm sequences add a lovely bit of tension to an otherwise chill island romp.
To dismiss big Bowser, Mario and Bowser Jr. can earn a Cat Shine, the light of which drives him back into the inky depths. But to truly be rid of the beast, Mario must become Giga Cat Mario. What happens next? I cannot say.
I can say that Bowser’s Fury is a neat little 3D Mario adventure. It’s a series of entertaining platforming and puzzle challenges presented in an exciting way with a compelling dramatic twist. If smaller, self-contained adventures like Bowser’s Fury is where Nintendo wants to take Mario, I’m all for it.