Bowser may be furious but we certainly aren’t.
I wasn’t expecting much from Bowser’s Fury going in. While I certainly enjoy Super Mario 3D World as I do all the other 3D Marios, it is without a doubt on the lower end of my 3D Mario list. With that in mind, I questioned how much a bonus spin off could really offer me and how far it could deviate from the base game. The answer I found was that Bowser’s Fury is not only good, it might just be a glimpse at the future of 3D Mario. It takes some key mechanics of 3D World, much of the design philosophy of Odyssey, and a few core elements of Mario Sunshine, and what results is, in a word, fantastic.
The basic premise of Bowser’s Fury is that as Mario you need to collect Cat Shines, which will eventually allow you to power up and face down a giant kaiju Bowser, who’s been corrupted by some very familiar looking black sludge. To do this you’ll traverse a giant lake full of stages, each housing a few shines. On paper, it seems not too different from the classic 3D Mario structure started with Mario 64; however, Bowser’s Fury does something no previous 3D Mario has done: it presents an entirely unified world. There is no menu or hub world separating each stage; they’re simply laid out across a large map. And at the center, is the looming threat of Bowser, occasionally rising to wreak havoc across the entire map.
What results is a game that feels a bit like a giant map in Mario Odyssey but with individual, bespoke micro-levels rather than a constant smattering of moons. It solves my few complaints with Mario Odyssey without overloading every inch with macguffins. Each shine feels like it matters, and part of that ultimately feeds back into the way Bowser’s Fury presents its goal.
As previously mentioned, your goal is to defeat a giant kaiju-ed up Bowser. However unlike other 3D Marios where Bowser is presumably waiting at the end of a set level or beyond the collection of a specific number of Stars, Shines, or Moons, in Bowser’s Fury he is always present. He is a looming threat. He can become active at any time and drastically alter how you proceed. He may randomly strike during a platforming challenge and as a result make things infinitely more difficult, but his destructive nature may also inadvertently clear you a path. Even when he’s inactive, the constant presence of Bowser in the stage helps convey a feeling of purpose. Every shine you acquire is progress towards dealing with a very real threat that at any time is lingering in the background.
As I explored, I was for some reason reminded of Mario Sunshine, and it wasn’t just the aquatic theming of the game, or the presence of Baby Bowser’s paint brush. Finally it clicked that Bowser’s Fury is the realization of a concept that had first been explored in that game. In Mario Sunshine, a darkness covers Isle Delfino. Collecting shines fights back that darkness and allows you to clear up goop to access new areas, exactly how progress functions in Bowser’s Fury. But on a deeper level Sunshine was the first instance of the sense of place in relation to your goal that Bowser’s Fury executes on so well. Sunshine was unique in that rather than traveling from a hub world to arbitrary environments, you were traveling to other areas of the same island. In most cases, this meant that you could always look back and see a giant shine above Delfino Plaza, and the looming threat of Corona Mountain. Like Bowser’s Fury, your goal was constantly visible and that gives the player a sense of purpose. It's an element that no other Mario game has explored until now. In Mario 64, you vaguely knew that you needed to get to Bowser at the top of the castle; in the Galaxy Games and Odyssey, you were on a quest to reach Bowser who was somewhere far away. But in Sunshine and Bowser’s Fury, you know exactly where Bowser is at all times, and that provides worthwhile motivation to the player.
Bowser’s Fury may just be a bonus mode for Super Mario 3D World, but at the same time it may very well represent the future of the series. Bowser’s Fury implements classic 3D Mario ideas in bold new ways and in some respects is a more interesting evolution of these mechanics than even Mario Odyssey. Of course we can’t say too much just yet, but we’ll be exploring more of what Bowser’s Fury could mean for the future of the series in another feature once we’re clear of embargoes and able to explore the entirety of Bowser’s Fury. We’ll have a full review of Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury soon, so keep an eye out for more as we draw closer to release.