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Don’t let the name fool you; Bowser’s Fury is a game about cats. Mario’s a cat. Rainbows are cats. The bushes are cats. Cats are still cats. Early internal design documents indicate that Bowser was meant to be a cat, but when those same files were leaked to the King Koopa himself, the idea of starring in a game called “Bowser’s Furry” made him so inexorably angry that the devs decided to go with this plotline instead.
Conceptually, this is a weird game. The gameplay isn’t. It’s fun, it’s straightforward, and it never forgets itself. It knows what it is. But “what it is” is… unorthodox. Bowser’s Fury plays like a sort of mini-successor to Super Mario Odyssey. There’s no Cappy, no jet setting between kingdoms, no thematic costume changes, but the gameplay loop is super similar: explore the world at your own pace and complete challenges at-will to earn moons (now “catshines”; remember, it’s all cats from here on out) that can be used as fuel to further Mario’s quest to defeat his archrival, the angry guy from the title. The whole thing feels like an Odyssey DLC world, but it’s not. It’s a side-game packaged with the re-release of New Super Mario 3D World, a game that originally launched on the Wii U.
I’d like to have been a stingby on the wall for the development sessions that created this game. The vibe is squarely 3D Mario, most similar to games like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, but many of this game’s assets and ideas come from New Super Mario 3D World, a somewhat more traditional co-op platformer in the Mario mold. Which came first, the koopa or the egg? Was this a planned content expansion to the 3D World remake that blossomed and carcinized into something better resembling Odyssey? Or was it intended as a larger game but repurposed with 3D World assets and packaged alongside it to sweeten the deal of selling a Wii U-era remake at full price?
Beyond my own curiosity, it doesn’t really matter. Bowser’s Fury feels neither like a low-effort asset flip nor a sequel gone wrong. It’s short, but it’s unique. It’s some of the best of Mario design condensed into a smaller-than-normal package. Honestly, maybe that’s what this is: a little in-house demonstration of the Mario design logos that accidentally made it to production. Either way, it’s delightful.
The game’s story is as simple as its premise: Bowser’s mad. Maybe it’s because of the furry thing I mentioned earlier. Maybe it’s the changing political climate of the mushroom kingdom making it less and less acceptable for him to kidnap and unlawfully detain women. Or maybe it’s long covid (I’ve been sitting on this review for so long that this was topical when I first wrote it). Why he’s mad doesn’t really matter to us. What’s more important is the effect it’s had on his family. Bowser Junior has had it. Forced from his comfortable position as the child of a despotic mass-murderer, Junior sets aside his normal routine of ignoring his father’s crimes and knowing him instead as the guy he plays bob-omb catch with after a long day spent overseeing forced labor at the Bullet Bill factory. He’s at his end. Daddy Bowser’s been spending more time at the office lately (if “the office” is a suitable pseudonym for the Gulf of Mexico after a British Petroleum exec’s prolonged wet dream) and the demands of an executive-level career in ecoterrorism have left precious little time for parent-child enrichment. Something’s got to give.
We have to imagine Junior took to conventional means first but came up short when he found himself unable to hold a proper intervention in the tiny interim between his father’s obligate oil-guzzling and follow-up oil poisoning-related temper tantrums. Left without recourse, the younger Bowser does the unthinkable and forges an unlikely alliance with the Mushroom Kingdom’s most famous Mario brother.
Together, Mario and his nemesis’s favorite son voyage through this thalassian nightmare collecting catshines by any means possible. Each catshine collected acts as temporary fuel for the local lighthouses, whose beacons have the power to cast Bowser away and force him back into his (oil) cups. Gathering enough of these catshines has the secondary effect of clearing the residual gunk from nearby giga bells, oversized powerups that avail themselves to Mario each time Bowser remembers how mad he is again. When activated, the giga bells transmogrify Mario into what I’d be doing an injustice to describe as anything other than a colossal, leonine, Super Saiyan-coded version of the Cat Mario form bestowed by the normal bell powerups introduced in 3D World. It’s in this form alone that history’s most massive Mario is able to take on Bowser at his most furious.
While Bowser’s Fury inherits a lot from its disparate predecessors, including 3D World‘s cat suit and Plessie the aquatic dinosaur, it manages to bring some new ideas to the table, like a more laissez-faire powerup cache system that sees Bowser Junior contributing to the fight by supplying Mario with power ups that can be stored for later and withdrawn when needed. Also interesting is the more dynamic nature of challenges and changes to the world; previous 3D Mario games have allowed Mario to return to already-visited worlds to find them altered, either by his actions or by circumstance, but Bowser’s Fury does it in real time. Given that Mario has only this one world to wander around in, the opportunity for behind-the-scenes set changes is diminished. Instead of leaving one plane of existence and returning to it later to find new surprises, the alterations to one area occur while Mario is actively exploring the adjacent ones. To the player, it’s not that different, but there is something kinda special about it, something that keeps the world new and inspires a sense of constant exploration.
This is an easy game to recommend; if you’re a fan of 3D Mario games like Super Mario 64 or Mario Odyssey, this game follows closely in their footsteps. The one hang-up you should keep in mind, though, is its length. Bowser’s Fury isn’t anywhere near the runtime of either of those games, and with that runtime goes any expectation of a longer, more meaningful story or a retinue of additional features. If you’re looking for something that’ll hold your attention for longer, you might want to hold off. Also worth noting is that this game, at the time I’m writing this review, is still indivorcible from the New Super Mario 3D World remake. If you’re interested in that game, this is an excellent two-for-one. If you’re not, make sure you’re aware that the bulk of the combined playtime is packed in with 3D World. If you’re not comfortable paying $60 for what probably should, on its own, be closer to $15 or $20, it might be best to wait for a sale or a change of heart from Nintendo.
All that said, if you’re still on board, if you’re looking for a short, condensed Mario experience and the $60 price tag doesn’t scare you away, Bowser’s Fury is a delightful time all the way around. It’s a heartwarming game about reuniting a genocidal megalomaniac father with his shitbag son. I really enjoyed it.
Game: Bowser’s Fury
Published by: Nintendo
Available for: Nintendo Switch
Content: Lizard absentee parenting
- 3D Platforming
- Open world
- Low stakes
WHAT I LIKED
- It’s Mario – Bowser’s Fury may be small, it may be somewhat unconventional, and it may be cat-covered, but it’s still a Mario game. Fans of Super Mario 64, Mario Galaxy, or Super Mario Odyssey will find something to love here.
- Good, casual fun – This game won’t challenge your understanding of narrative gameplay. There are no branching dialogue trees that invite you to play family therapist or heartless lizard-turned-oil exec. But that’s not what you came here for.
- Brevity – This is a short game attached to a longer game. Keep that in mind as you consider the full game price.
WHO’S IT FOR?
Bowser’s Fury is Mario in microdose form. If you’re a fan of past 3D Mario games (Super Mario 64, Mario Galaxy, Mario Odyssey) and you don’t mind the idea of a quest to defeat Bowser that’s a little on the short side, this game’s probably for you. If you’re an appreciator of 3D action platformers that put charm over challenge, or if you’re a child, this game might be for you too.
If you’re hunting for a more challenging platformer or if you like your Mario games with a little more meat on their dry bones, Bowser’s Fury may be worth skipping.