Nintendo has been experimenting as of late with adding new game modes to their ports of Mario games. Both AlphaDream RPGs that were ported to the 3DS – Superstar Saga and Bowser’s Inside Story – had an entire side mode added in addition to the main game. In both of these cases, that side mode was pretty universally dismissed as a waste of time. When Super Mario 3D World came to the Nintendo Switch it came with a new mode of its own: Bowser’s Fury. The trailers for this mode featured Mario scurrying across islands while Bowser loomed ominously in the background, blowing fire at the plumber as he hopped his way desperately towards a lighthouse with a shine sprite -like object with cat ears. At the end, the trailer teased a giant Cat Mario squaring off with Fury Bowser in a kaiju-style battle. After finishing up my time with Super Mario 3D World I hopped over to Bowser’s Fury to see what the fuss was all about. In this article I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the mode based on completing three of the game’s islands and having two battles with Fury Bowser.
Similar to 3D World, Bowser’s Fury doesn’t waste any time dumping you right into the action. Mario is walking down a path near Peach’s Castle when he sees a familiar symbol: the painted M of Shadow Mario from Super Mario Sunshine. The symbol opens into a portal of shadowy sludge that absorbs and dumps Mario onto a strange island in the middle of a vast sea. Connected to the island is a wrecked pirate ship, and as Mario approaches the ship a flash of lightning in the distance illuminates the intimidating silhouette of Fury Bowser – an absolutely massive version of Bowser whose body and shell are both black and his eyes and mouth burning red with flames. Bowser immediately begins peppering the ship with blasts of flame and sending huge columns of stone to crush Mario. But jumping around the ship brings him to a cube of strange blocks with a Bowser symbol, and when Bowser breathes his flames onto the cubes they shatter and reveal the path to a Cat Shine. When Mario claims the Cat Shine, it is sent to a nearby lighthouse and ignites the beacon within. The light temporarily repels Fury Bowser, who retreats into his shell and settles into the sludge until the next time he awakens.
This is a quick lesson in the basic structure of this mode. The region Mario has been dropped into features a number of different island with lighthouses that are powered by Cat Shines. Mario can explore those islands freely, but Fury Bowser is always lurking just in the distance and at times he will awaken and begin to try to attack Mario on the island. These segments, while dangerous, also open up unique opportunities as Bowser’s flames and stones will create new platforms as well as crushing barriers, allowing you to reach previously inaccessible areas of the map in order to get new Cat Shines. Collecting those shines drives Bowser away for a time so you can continue exploring the islands at your leisure. It creates a nice rhythm of moments which are calmer where you feel free to run around wherever you like, and brief moments of greater danger and focus where you often have a specific goal in mind.
Mechanically, Bowser’s Fury has a lot in common with 3D World. Mario’s movement and health bar work similarly. You can walk around normally with the control stick or hold the Y button to run. B allows you to jump and there are a number of specialized jumps like the side somersault, wall bouncing, long jumping (quickly pressing ZL + B while running), and a heightened ground pound jump (ground pounds are done by pressing ZL in the air). These movements feel a little smoother than they did in 3D World – the side somersault is easier to do in this mode, for example – and in a larger 3D environment than the one presented in 3D World many of the trickier maneuvers feel more necessary or justified. Mario starts at his default height but taking damage will reduce him to a small, hatless Mario. This can be corrected by picking up a mushroom, and this mode features all of the same powerups that make an appearance in the main game mode. Taking damage with a powerup on simply removes the powerup, meaning at most Mario can survive two hits before the third one takes him out. This mode doesn’t have lives – dying simply drains all your coins and then puts you at the beginning of the island you were exploring.
There are a few mechanical changes from 3D World which I personally would label “quality of life improvements.” The removal of lives means there is no punishing “game over” state, which in the main game really just serves to make you feel like you failed extra badly and force some annoying backtracking. But losing your coins still feels like a meaningful penalty, because collecting 100 coins in this mode automatically adds a powerup to your collecting of backup powerups. In 3D World, each player has one slot for a backup powerup different than the one you currently have equipped, allowing you to change between two powerups or serving as a safety measure if you take a lot of damage. In this mode, you have slots for each powerup type and each one can hold up to five of the same powerup at once. In other words, as long as you play carefully and/or skillfully and make sure to collect coins and powerups on a regular basis, you’ll always be able to quickly change into whichever Mario form you need for a particular puzzle rather than having to wander off to a different location to find the upgrade you need in order to progress. Being able to stock powerups in this way is such a major improvement over the main mode, rewarding you for exploring and paying attention to the environment by giving you more resources to spend.
One feature that is totally new to the Bowser’s Fury mode is the presence of Bowser Jr, the son of the Koopa King and your reluctant ally in the game. He wants his dad to turn back to normal, so he agrees to help Mario on his journey. A second player can control this character or he can contribute automatically during play, occasionally whacking enemies with his paint brush or collecting coins off to the side. In single player mode you can select in the options menu how much help you want from Bowser Jr from a list of three settings: no help, a little help, and a lot of help. Even if you are playing with no help, you can still order Bowser Jr to go to specific locations using the gyro controls. This is used when you see question marks on features in the environment, which indicates a location that Bowser Jr can paint in order to spawn another powerup to add to your arsenal. Even if overall Bowser Jr’s presence isn’t a feature I utilize much, I appreciate that it is there for folks who want it and of course I love the unlikely team-up of Mario and the son of his long-standing enemy.
I’ve talked quite a bit about what you do, so let’s take a moment to focus on where you do it. The setting of Bowser’s Fury is a series of islands on the sea. You can think of each island as a more open version of the levels within a world in the 3D World mode. They aren’t as expansive or distinct from one another as kingdoms in Mario Odyssey, but each one is an open space you can freely explore with nooks and crannies for hidden goodies. They are also mechanically distinct, with each one generally featuring a particular platforming challenge that they are built around. As an example from the first three islands (the ones I have explored so far), one is built around climbing and wall-jumping between spinning grates, another features a large number of launching points for big jumps, and the third has red and blue platforms that swap between one another when you jump. None of these mechanics are new – they all feature in 3D World – but some of them are implemented in new contexts (such as using the swapping platforms to bait the Bully enemy type into falling in lava).
Each island has five Cat Shines to collect. Three of those shines are tied to the island specifically and have unique objectives. It could be defeating a specific group of enemies, getting to a tricky location, beating a timed challenge, or carrying a key across the level to a cage. There are also two objectives that every island has in common: collecting five cat coins and destroying Bowser blocks by baiting attacks from Fury Bowser. While the two special objectives can be completed essentially at any time, you have to leave an island after completing one of its main objectives in order to unlock the next one. This gives you an incentive to swap between islands, although I was able to focus down a specific island by just leaving the area where the island is considered “active” and then coming back. Fully completing islands isn’t necessarily a requirement, though – your progress markers in this game are the Giga Bells, which can only be unlocked after earning a specific number of Cat Shines.
Giga Bells are the powerup that triggers the transformation into
Furry Mario Giga Cat Mario so that you can fight Fury Bowser on more even terms. These fights seem surprisingly common unless they are just frontloaded – I did two during my brief time with the game – but fortunately there are steps to make them mechanically distinct. When you fight Fury Bowser on this grand scale, the battles are essentially boss battles on similar terms to the fights in the main game. Bowser will move through a series of attacks that you need to dodge in order to prevent from being depowered or shrunk, because even at giant size you can lose your cat form and be reduced to small Mario (just, you know, a really big small Mario). Bowser’s attack patterns seem to be different in each showdown so I assume they get more complex as you get deeper into the game. At times during the fight, there will be a clear opening when you can hit Bowser for some big damage. Do this a few times and not just he but the black sludge that has corrupted him will recede, revealing new islands for you to go and explore. In this sense, your motivation is to collect at least enough Cat Shines to activate a Giga Bell so you can then go and explore new islands with new opportunities for shines.
So far this mode is a much better fit for the type of Mario experience I enjoy. The quality of life features added to the powerup system and the more open levels make this mode feel a lot more enjoyable for me, and I think there’s promise to the Fury Bowser mechanic. I’m interested to see how his role is expanded or his sequences become more complicated as I move forward through the mode. I’m also hopefully that the upcoming islands will either add brand new mechanics or will find some clever ways to use the existing mechanics that helps them to feel fresh in this open environment. I mentioned in my Super Mario 3D World review that what ultimately disappointed me about the game was that it played in too safe of a space and didn’t bring anything new to the table. Bowser’s Fury may very well be the injection of something experimental that the game needed, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.