If Super Mario 3D All Stars merely confirmed the brilliance of Mario's first three 3D platformers, then Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury offers a chance at redemption for his sixth.
While plenty of die-hards maintain that the Wii U original is a masterpiece, it never attained the widespread love of Mario's previous 3D adventures.
This Switch rerelease presents a tidied up take on the last remaining unported Wii U big hitter, whilst adding a sizeable chunk of bonus content to boot.
Super Mario's 3Dish WorldI didn't click with Super Mario 3D World at the time of its original release. I found it to be too safe and staid after the dazzling one-two of the Super Mario Galaxy games.
Super Mario 3D World seemed to have come from an alternate history where Nintendo gave us a straight-forward 3D take on Super Mario World instead of the revolutionary Super Mario 64.
It's as if someone took Mario's seminal 2D adventure and puffed air into it. Like a balloon animal, SM3DW conforms to the basic shape and structure of its predecessor, but it's now fatter and rounder, with a couple of limbs that have stretched out in unexpected directions.
Simple delightsTo a certain extent, this still feels like 3D Mario with the guard rails raised. Mario's move set is smaller, the levels are shorter, and the camera is way more static than before. It's a lot easier than any other 3D Mario game, too.
Aside from sharper visuals, a refined camera, new multiplayer options (more on that in a bit), and a curiously cranked up speed level, not much seems to have changed for this Switch port. What does seem to have changed, however, is my opinion of the base game.
Perhaps its the perspective that time brings, or a lockdown thirst for easy-going fun. But Super Mario 3D World's uncomplicated charm has well and truly won me over second time around.
Being able to absolutely rinse each colourful level in just a few minutes, with only a small handful of sticking points and one or two awkwardly positioned green stars (there are three in each level) and stamps, is a stress-relieving joy.
Fun multipliedThere's more creativity and variety to these levels than I had initially given the game credit for, too. Whether you're cloning your hero to solve multiple-switch puzzles, surfing on the back of a dopey dino, or employing the unique attributes of a completely different character, Nintendo constantly serves up something fun to do here.
Besides plain old Mario, you can play as the high-jumping Luigi, the long-jumping Peach, or the fast-moving Toad. Bring in three friends or family members, and you can have all four running around at once in local multiplayer co-op, bopping each other on the head and lobbing one another off ledges.
This Switch port adds the ability to play online, which worked pretty well in my limited tests. It's an addition that feels quite prescient under lockdown conditions.
Fire and furySuper Mario 3D World is arguably worth of the price of admission alone, but the additional Bowser's Fury content carries this package into must-have status. And that's despite the fact that it's a little uneven.
Accessed separately from the title menu, Bowser's Fury takes the core components and motifs of Super Mario 3D World and bundles them into a compact yet completely open world environment.
Here there's no hub world as such, simply a sunny archipelago in which multiple distinct challenges exist. Through it all Mario is assisted by Bowser Jr., who smacks enemies and graffitis walls on your behalf. A second player can even jump in and take direct control of Mario's erswhile enemy.
With Bowser Jr.'s presence and the game's cohesive oceanic theme, Bowser's Fury instantly reminded me of Super Mario Sunshine. But pretty soon you'll find yourself getting Breath of the Wild vibes, specifically in the form of that game's periodic Blood Moon events.
Every few minutes in Bowser's Fury, the skies cloud over and a super-sized Bowser appears to unleash fiery hell upon you. Infernal blocks also materialise, granting access to awkwardly suspended items and fresh challenges, while Bowser's devastating attacks can be employed to destroy various bits of level furniture.
Bowser will calm down after a while, or if you collect a cat shine (another Sunshine callback). But from time to time you'll gain access to a giant cat power-up that offers the chance to meet Bowser on his supersized terms, essentially acting as the game's boss battles.
Pesky dragonWhile Super Mario 3D World's assets have been repurposed to good effect, I quickly grew irritated with Bowser's repeated interruptions. Due to this add-on's onion-like challenge structure, you'll typically be right in the middle of scaling one of its jungle gym-like islets when things go dark and stormy, which grows tiresome.
Thankfully this same condensed structure, together with those aforementioned methods of dealing with Bowser's mega-strops, partially mitigate the frustration. I learned to live with this central element of the game, even if I never came to love it.
What you're left with is one of the weirdest Mario platformers you'll ever play. Its oddness is particularly bracing when served up alongside the deeply conservative Super Mario 3D World.
It's a contrast that proves complementary for the most part, however. Taken as a package, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury covers a whole lot of ground. It's both the most linear and the most open that 3D Mario has ever been, and it offers a large chunk of meaty single player content that can nevertheless be blasted through at pace and with friends.
If you've yet to play Super Mario 3D World, or even if you bounced off it initially, it's the ultimate way to experience this deeply malleable platformer.