Super Mario 3D World Never Promised a Revolution, But Still Stands Apart 8 Years Later

The criminally underrated Super Mario 3D World makes the jump from the Nintendo Wii U to the Switch. Here's why the game is still worth experiencing 8 years later.

Super Mario 3D World Review
Photo: Nintendo

Getting a new Mario game, even one ported from a previous generation, always feels like opening a present on Christmas morning. Nintendo obviously knows this, having gone so far as to include the never-before-seen Bowser’s Fury expansion as a bonus for players already familiar with the wonders of Super Mario 3D World. And while this new side experiment may not quite be enough to encourage returning players to undertake a second playthrough, newcomers finally have the chance to play one of the most underappreciated Super Mario gems on Nintendo Switch. It’s an apt way to cap off the plumber’s 35th birthday celebrations.

Originally released on the Wii U in 2013, Super Mario 3D World hasn’t lost any of its charm in the eight years since. This may sound surprising considering that all Nintendo fans seemed hungry for back then was the next proper evolution of 3D Mario platforming. We of course eventually got this with Super Mario Odyssey, but the truth is that Super Mario 3D World never promised to be that kind of leap forward. Instead, the game served as a natural next step of the ideas first laid down in the daintier Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS, blending the concept of a 2D and 3D Mario game together and giving this creative core a HD lick of paint.

Yet, this unique melding of perspectives allows Super Mario 3D World to continue to stand apart from its peers in 2021. At first it all feels too familiar: You once again play as Mario, this time joined by Toad, Luigi, and Peach (and later Rosalina) in madcap four-player co-op adventures, progressing through a string of colorful overworlds and their inventive sub-levels in order to thwart the menacing Bowser. This time you’re doing so in the hopes of rescuing the Sprixie Kingdom’s seven fairies, utilizing new abilities like the Double Cherry and cat-transforming Super Bell to complete various platforming challenges.

The added dimension provides the balanced challenge Mario is known for, with just one poorly timed jump or oddly placed enemy being enough to send you back to a stage’s beginning. You forgive this, though, seeing as most of 3D World’s bite-sized stages play like a Greatest Hits album of platforming brilliance. One minute you and friends might be boosting alongside a road in a homage to the Mario Kart spin-off franchise, the next you’re plunging down a cascade of waterfalls on the back of a cutesy sea monster. Such sheer unpredictability is enough to make younger players croon and adults feel like a kid again, hence why it’s a shame that the base game doesn’t offer up much new content for Wii U alumni.

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Competition might not be something most fans are used to in a Mario game but in 3D World it’s placed firmly at the forefront. While this isometric adventure is perfectly enjoyable when played solo, the levels themselves really come to life when there are four of you simultaneously bandying about on screen while trying to hunt down every green star and hidden character stamp. Most of the stages have been designed to easily accommodate such high degrees of multiplayer mayhem, though there will definitely be times you find yourself betraying friendships anyway, purposely blocking pathways and throwing your cohorts off platforms in the effort to reach the final frame’s flagpole first.

If there’s anything holding Super Mario 3D World from becoming an all-time classic, it’s the game’s limited replayability once every hidden collectable has been uncovered, and the monotony of the boss battles, which all follow the same “hit three times to defeat” formula. Nintendo’s insistence to not shake the latter up too much is understandable given bosses have to be approachable to players of all ages, but by the time you’ve entered the last overworld and are still seeing the same boss template pop up with only minor tweaks, it really hammers home what Nintendo could have done to modernize this game a little more for the re-release. Trying to keep up with Bowser’s car while dodging his attacks is a magnificent spectacle the first time around, less so during the fourth attempt.

Release Date: Feb. 12, 2021
Platform: Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer

Bowser’s Fury on the other hand, being the one entirely new element of this two-pronged package, rarely rests on its laurels. The ultimate way you do battle with the titular beastie might still descend into a repetitive bash of hits and slams, yet the lead up to these Kaiju-level fights is a refreshing change of pace. And though I was initially worried that it would feel more like a piece of Super Mario Odyssey DLC rather than an extension of the vocabulary established in 3D World, the overabundance of cat-themed iconography solves that issue.

Overall, this is a smaller-scale experience that’s more in line with other full 3D Mario adventures. This time, however, the mustachioed plumber must visit a series of islets, completing courses and solving increasingly challenging platforming puzzles to collect the cat shines needed to keep the Godzilla-sized Bowser at bay. Eventually, though, the skies darken, and the big guy appears, transforming what would normally be a straightforward platforming level into a rain-fueled nightmare, with extra obstacles to overcome as Bowser hurls all manner of fire projectiles at you.

First-party Nintendo games have experimented with idyllic locations descending into madness before (mostly in the Zelda series), but having Bowser’s actions be specifically timed so as to directly inform the flow of gameplay brings a sense of urgency rarely seen in Mario. Do you uncover as many of the easy cat shines as possible early on while Bowser is still manageable, leaving the hardest until last and deal with the consequences later? The more cat shines you collect, the more aggressive and difficult to deal with Bowser becomes, giving Bowser’s Fury a welcome sense of risk/reward.

Much like in the main game Mario isn’t alone and is in fact joined by Bowser Jr., resulting in a mini Super Mario Sunshine reunion. His inclusion is cleverly tied into the story, yet is more so an excuse to bring in co-op to the experience. Unfortunately, there’s only so much Player Two can assist from the comfort of a floating clown car. Even when playing solo, though, he’ll accompany Mario to help take on certain enemies and provide handy power-ups.

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For all its dark-tinged ingenuity and unconventional design, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend anyone pick up this package purely for Bowser’s Fury alone. What’s here is undoubtedly unique and a definite glimpse as to where the 3D Mario formula might be headed in the future, but it’s over far too quickly and doesn’t differentiate itself enough from other mainline Mario games (outside of Bowser’s time-mechanic) to justify the price. There’s a reason this concept wasn’t used as the basis for a full game, but as a companion piece it’s a fun, intense romp.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is a no-brainer purchase for anyone who has yet to experience one of Mario’s most imaginative adventures. The Nintendo Switch version might not introduce a lot that wasn’t already here before, but both the base game and Bowser’s Fury are primed to delight players of all ages seeking two distinct flavors of pawsome platformer. The decision may not be so clear for returning players curious about the re-release’s one experimental side dish, but when taken together the collection still represents the peak of Nintendo’s charm and invention.


4 out of 5