The Mario games have one of the most storied and legendary positions in all of video game history. Nintendo remains a powerhouse of technology, consistently challenging the market, full of oddity and experimentation, for every one safe move that Sony or Microsoft makes, Nintendo takes at least five major risks. Between the entirely unique control schemes of the N64 and Gamecube, the bizarre, uncanny tech at work in the DS and 3DS, not to mention the incredible sales of the Wii and Switch which are completely original in design and execution. They’ve applied that same innovation and sense of childlike wonder to their flagship franchises. In recent years both Zelda and Mario have endured incredible, unprecedented overhauls in design, there is an argument to be made that alongside Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the most influential games of the last decade, while Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy have iterated, expanded and overhauled an already towering figure in 3D platforming as Super Mario 64 wrote the rulebook for the genre.
With the release of Super Mario 3D World+Bowser’s Fury, Nintendo has allotted a similarly audacious approach to its beloved, deeply athletic, murderous and forlorn plumber’s adventures. 3D World was one of the best games of their short lived Wii U console, which essentially served as a Switch-prototype, which few people owned, leaving many out in the cold on what is arguably one of the best Mario games ever made. More interesting in the package though, is Bowser’s Fury, an open-world take on the Mario franchise. While Super Mario Odyssey flirted with this formula, engaging in miniaturized, multiple faux-open-world levels, Bowser’s Fury allows you to view the entire map and more or less go anywhere on it, revealing new pieces as you repeatedly beat his classic enemy Bowser in massive Kaiju battles where you and this spike-shelled baddie face off using the entire map as your arena. In addition to these battles there is a storm that announces Kaiju-Bowser about to spoil your plans as he begins firing off lethal blasts of fire across the entire map while giant, obfuscating platforms fall from the sky. Also, the entire game is obsessed with cats, they are everywhere, Tanooki Mario seems to have left it’s mark on the franchise, and in games known for getting as weird, hallucinogenic, psychedelic as this series, it’s an unsurprising but nonetheless charming twist. The whole affair is completely novel for the franchise, and while likely a one-off engagement for the series, the short, three to four hour experience rivals any of the best games in the franchise.
And this is essential to the Mario franchise’s endurance even as video games morph and alter what is fundamentally appealing about them, Nintendo is willing to send their most sacred property headfirst into uncharted waters. The series has gone as far to create a Battle Royale-style Mario game and the infinitely renewable Mario Maker series which see fans crafting their own increasingly difficult and obtuse Mario levels, a constant source of precise platforming for those who crave it. There is not a field in which Nintendo will allow to remain dormant, short of a first-person-shooter, the company seems completely comfortable allowing their beloved plumber to inhabit any environment or genre they see fit. Bowser’s Fury, though extremely abbreviated in terms of scope, is a masterpiece of what makes Nintendo’s brand durable: idiosyncratic design coupled with ruthless commitment to personal growth and transformation.