Super Mario 3D World would be incredible if I didn’t already know who Mario was and what he was all about.
In his 2013 review of the Wii U original, Kotaku writer Luke Plunkett described Super Mario 3D World as a “greatest hits collection, bringing together all the best things Mario has already done in a single package.” It should come as no surprise that Super Mario 3D World (plus Bowser’s Fury, but we’ll get to that in a bit) is still a great game on Switch, if only a little lacking as a Mario outing.
Much of my disappointment with Super Mario 3D World centers on the fact that Mario just doesn’t feel very spry. Even with the Switch version’s increased movement speeds, I never quite feel 100% in control of my characters, which is further compounded by a dearth of movement options (the lack of a triple jump is a glaring omission). Super Mario 3D World just doesn’t play as effortlessly as I’d expect of a Mario game, a feeling perhaps compounded by this re-release coming hot on the heels of last year’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a compilation which included some of Mario’s best 3D outings. Add in a wonky camera that only gives the player a bare minimum of control, and the Super Mario 3D World experience often feels more full of frustrating deaths than the satisfyingly precise platforming for which the series is known.
A silver lining to Mario’s hobbling, however, is the increased importance of the series’ ubiquitous power-ups. While previous installments can be tackled as regular Mario with little problem, a fair share of the more difficult levels in Super Mario 3D World feel as if they were designed with a singular transformation in mind, and god help you if you don’t possess the requisite item. This can also be a point of frustration, but it made me appreciate the unique skills each power-up brought to the table—like Cat Mario’s climbing abilities or Boomerang Mario’s long-range item snatching—apart from simply giving Mario an extra hit before dying.
Where Super Mario 3D World shines is in its level design. Rather than resting on their laurels and giving players a simple collection of trope-filled Mario stages, the folks at Nintendo really went above and beyond in crafting levels with unique gimmicks. Notable high points (barring late-game levels I’m not allowed to talk about despite the game being over seven years old) include:
- Shadow Play Alley (2-3), which plays with perspectives in a creative way.
- Shifty Boo Mansion (3-3), which emulates the tricky ghost houses of Super Mario World with false exits, hidden traps, and secret collectibles.
- Sprawling Savanna (5-4), which includes a huge, open area that lets Mario unleash his inner lion.
- Searchlight Sneak (5-7), in which Mario does his best Solid Snake impression by trying to avoid cannon-activating spotlights.
- And any level that features the Double Cherry, an item that clones Mario and gives you an additional character to pay attention to every time you grab one. It’s chaotic, messy fun.
The more complicated the level, however, the more the Switch struggles to keep up. Despite being a little over seven years removed from its Wii U debut, Super Mario 3D World still chugs and hitches when too many effects are on screen at the same time. And while the issue is fleeting during the main adventure, these framerate dips become increasingly detrimental to the experience in Bowser’s Fury, the bundled bonus game exclusive to the Switch re-release.
Bowser’s Fury, for those who haven’t already read my buddy Mike Fahey’s great write-up, is essentially Mario by way of Breath of the Wild. Traditional Mario courses are scattered across an open-world map with no borders or loading zones, and it’s up to the player which they tackle and when. This would be pretty dang fun by itself, but you also need to keep an eye on Bowser, who for some reason has grown in size and is covered in an inky goop. Every so often, King Koopa rises from the sea like some sort of cartoon-y Godzilla, assaulting you with fireballs and laser beams until you unlock the power to grow gigantic as well. From there, it’s a matter of engaging in Power Rangers-esque battles to lull Bowser back into a fuming hibernation. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The only glaring issue is that gameplay slows to a crawl whenever Bowser makes an appearance, hampering your ability to complete levels. This turns frustrating if you don’t have enough Cat Shines to activate Mario’s superpowers, because you then either need to wait out Bowser’s tantrum or complete difficult platforming sections while he’s attacking you. Given the performance issues, Bowser’s Fury is the first time during the Switch’s ongoing lifespan that I’ve longed for a more powerful machine, and I hope Nintendo is close to announcing a follow-up to address these kinds of technical shortcomings with big games like the Breath of the Wild sequel and Metroid Prime 4 on the way.
That said, Bowser’s Fury is very much worth a double dip on Super Mario 3D World, if only for a preview of what might be the future of the Mario franchise. There’s something magical about its (albeit limited) free-roaming format, unshackled by constraints like demarcated levels and worlds, and I look forward to the day Nintendo decides to make a full game in the same vein.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is essentially the same game on Switch that some of you may have experienced on Wii U. While there’s no denying that the new hardware can’t keep up with the game’s ambitions at times, this bundle is at its core another fantastic Mario experience. Sure, it pales in comparison to the franchise’s best installments, with a limited moveset and janky camera angles often spoiling the imaginative stages and power-ups, but just like pizza, “bad” Mario is still pretty damn good.