When I first started playing Bowser’s Fury, I thought it had a chance to be my favorite Mario game since Super Mario 64. Now that I’m finished with the game (which didn’t take a long time, it’s pretty short), my feelings about it are a little more nuanced, and there were certainly parts of my experience with the game that weren’t unequivocally positive. But, having said that: Bowser’s Fury is a very good game, and I hope that the next mainline Mario game has more in common with Bowser’s Fury than not.

A lot of this is just personal preference: Super Mario 3D World (which Bowser’s Fury is packaged with) is also a very good game, it’s just a very good linear Mario game, and I don’t like those as much as I like the games that embed goals within a larger world. Bowser’s Fury is, in contrast, in the lineage that started with Super Mario 64 and whose most recent prior entry was Super Mario Odyssey; and I like wandering around worlds and poking my head in places.

Bowser’s Fury goes farther than its predecessors in that it’s a single open world; this is an improvement, and I hope that Bowser’s Fury is the seeds of an experiment that we’ll see in Nintendo’s next large-scale Mario games, rather than an experiment that they couldn’t figure out how to scale up and release on its own. I like wandering from place to place; I like having the whole world feel relatively coherent; and I’m glad that the series is stepping away from the desert world, lava world, etc. stereotypes. (Not that those stereotypes have disappeared in Bowser’s Fury, they’re still there in the smaller groupings of puzzles, they’re just reduced in intensity and forced to be coherent within a larger setting.)

Having said that, it’s probably not a coincidence that the larger setting is a water-based one. It’s the same design problem that Nintendo had when trying to open up the world a bit more after Ocarina of Time and move away from a hub-and-spoke model: Wind Waker was their solution, and there’s water everywhere there, too! Fully realized 3D worlds are hard, making them feel alive, making the in-between spots not feel barren; Breath of the Wild continues to be an amazing achievement in that regard. But open world games are figuring this out; hopefully Nintendo can come along with that tradition, and in the meantime, the world of Bowser’s Fury at least feels connected in a way that the world of Wind Waker didn’t.


So: open world Mario, yay. That’s a pretty straightforward evolution of where one branch of the series has been going, but it’s a good one.

The other thing Bowser’s Fury adds is, well, Bowser’s fury. Every few minutes, a huge Bowser shows up, spitting fire at you and temporarily adding some new blocks into the terrain for you to climb on. So you spend a while dodging that, or maybe trying to use the fire to get at some shines that are only accessible that way. And then, after a few minutes, he goes away, or if you get a shine, he goes away then.

And, to make matters weirder, you can sometimes turn into a giant Mario (or, to be specific, a giant cat Mario; one of my favorite weird aspects of Bowser’s Fury is its love for cats), and you have this big Kaiju fight. Which is kind of awesome?


For a while, this all worked really well for me: very solid 3D nonlinear Mario gameplay, the open world worked very well, the Bowser sections were nice punctuation.

But then the Bowser sections stopped being nice punctuation: I stopped seeing new stuff in those sections, and more and more I’d run into sections where I was halfway through figuring out a kind of tricky shine and Bowser would show up, and I’d have to spend a minute dodging him, potentially getting put back to the start of the path to get to that shine in the progress. That’s not a lot of fun.

To make matters worse, once I got around 45 shines into the game, Bowser stopped going away: I was stuck in permanent Bowser mode. So then I had to basically just ignore him while trying to get shines; and the shines at this point were, on average, quite a bit trickier than the ones at the start of the game. I spent a while getting frustrated by this; and then I decided that I just had to deal with it, figured out some shines that were probably going to be easier to get, and got them.

Which ended up actually being fine: getting 5 more shines wasn’t hard, and once I hit 50 shines, I got transitioned into a final boss fight mode. Which also was a little tricker than I would have liked, in ways that were fairly different from the rest of the game, but not in a way that was particularly out of line for a final fight.


After that, there were another 50 shines to get; and that was actually quite a bit of fun. And the experience was quite smooth: even thought it was half the shines in the game, and even though they were, in some sense, probably harder to get individually than the first 50 shines I’d gotten, the fact that I knew how the game worked meant that I could still get them pretty quickly.

The only annoying bit in the middle was when I accidentally triggered the endgame boss fight sequence again; but that actually ended up being kind of useful, because I figured out some new techniques to use, which meant that, when I hit 100 shines and saw the endgame yet again, with the difficulty ratched up that time, I wasn’t as frustrated as I would otherwise have been.


So, my top level reaction: Bowser’s Fury is a very good game, one that I fully recommend, and one that I hope is, in some sense, the future of the series. But it’s also got these Bowser sections, and I don’t see those as a new pattern that I want future games to follow: not just that they were actively frustrating at times, but also that they’re just not an archetypal template that you can build on.

But, even despite my frustration with the Bowser sections, I’m still kind of pro them? For one thing, the frustration always managed to stay on the acceptable side of things, and when I made it past frustrating bits, I could see some game design tensions that made those frustrations have benefits in retrospect. And, for another thing, I support games doing weird stuff that doesn’t land 100%; I’d much rather have that than a game that plays it safe everywhere. So I really like the model of a short game that’s packed in with another game that’s more of a headliner and that’s trying different stuff.


But also, thinking about what I liked so much about this game, and which Mario archetypes I like the most: I think I might actually prefer many things about the Paper Mario series?

Taking Paper Mario: The Origami King as an example, since it’s the one I’ve played most recently: sure, it’s not a single open world, but the areas in the game are quite large, larger than in Super Mario Odyssey (at least I’m fairly sure they are?). So there are multiple areas that are large enough to allow you to wander around, poking your head in different places, and be surprised. But also, the world of The Origami King is grounded and inhabited, while Bowser’s Fury still has an overly abstract world. (And I could say the same of all of Super Mario 64 except for the castle, or all of Odyssey except for the castle and New Donk City.)

Ultimately, I think, what I want isn’t any one of those. I like the grounded worlds and companions of the Paper Mario games; I like the way platforming is your main verb in the mainline 3D Mario games. (But I’m less convinced I want abstract platforming challenges to be your main source of rewards; but I also am slightly less of a fan of being repeatedly kicked out to a separate mode for combat, as in the Paper Mario games. I mean, it’s fine, it’s just not my ideal.)

And, more than anything, what I want is a Mario game that pulls this all together in a way that Breath of the Wild did: somehow giving you an open world without compromising in the slightest with either the living nature of every corner of the world or with the fundamental gameplay virtues of the series. This is, of course, a big ask, I continue to think that Breath of the Wild is one of the best and most impressive video games that has every been made.


But there are some really interesting seeds there in Bowser’s Fury. I’m not sure if it was always intended as a short experiment, or if it was the potential next big game in the series, but it didn’t hold together well enough for that. (And my feelings about the Bowser sections would probably be considerably more negative if this were a 40 hour game instead of a 10 hour game!) Either way, I’m glad we got to see it, and I’ll be curious what Nintendo learned from their experience making Bowser’s Fury.

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