Benjamin Frisch: OK, let’s maybe start with some quick background: What’s your relationship to the Mario universe? I’ve played pretty much all of the mainline Mario games, with the exception of 3D World, which I was very excited to finally get to play, since I sat out on Nintendo’s previous console, the Wii U.
Karen Han: I’ve always lived in a Nintendo household, but I admittedly haven’t played that many of the big Mario games—most of my Mario experience comes from the Mario Party and Mario Kart series, though I feel like no one who was around when Super Mario Sunshine came out [in 2002 on GameCube] could escape that game completely. I also played through Super Mario Odyssey when it came out on the Switch, but I’d say that’s the only Mario game I’ve ever actually completed.
Evan Urquhart: The first video game I really got into as a child was Super Mario Bros. 3, and one of my all-time favorite games is Super Mario 64, so I have a deep connection to this series. I’ve played most of the 2D and 3D games, but like others, I skipped the Wii U entry, so I’m new to 3D World.
Gabriel Roth: I spent many hours with Super Mario Bros. on the NES, which is really the core video game experience for me. After that, I didn’t really play games for 30 years. Then I had kids and got a Switch during the pandemic and got Mario Kart and Odyssey, but I mostly spent a lot of time with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, the old school–style 2D Mario platformer also imported from the Wii U. (I completed it 100 percent, apart from two bastard levels in Superstar Road.)
Frisch: One of the things that seems kind of funny about this rerelease of 3D World is how much it feels like an event. Like, it originally came out in 2013! It’s kind of wild for a rerelease to be this highly anticipated.
The Bowser’s Fury add-on is a great addition, which we’ll get to, but I just think it’s funny that we’re so starved for Nintendo content, we’re happy to play Nintendo’s recyclables.
Urquhart: Bowser’s Fury really makes it for me—I know you’re saying we’ll get to it, but WOW.
Frisch: I remember 3D World was lauded when it came out, but I remember having very little urge to get a Wii U to play it.
Han: I don’t remember this game coming out previously at all.
Frisch: I think part of our lack of interest was, just looking at the gameplay, 3D World feels like a more dialed-down version of the Wii’s Mario Galaxy games, trying to translate 2D Mario gameplay into 3D space.
Urquhart: It feels that way, too. The levels are beautifully designed, but they feel cramped and constraining.
Frisch: At the time that 3D World was released on Wii U, I thought, “Huh, looks boring!” But in actually playing this game, I have to acknowledge that this is some of the finest design work Nintendo has ever done.
Roth: Yeah, I think there are games that you want to be spacious and games that you want to be a succession of perfect little jewel boxes, and for me, Mario works best in the jewel boxes mode. Show us a cool mechanic, exploit the mechanic in combination with two or three other mechanics, and get us out. It’s like a pop song
Frisch: There’s a wonderful Game Maker’s Toolkit video on the design of the game’s levels, which were influenced by four-line Chinese poetry. 3D World feels almost like a challenge to itself: How can we turn level design into a kind of poetry?
Urquhart: I’m a little irritated by the jewel boxes, while accepting that they are lovely for what they are!
Han: Can you say more about that, Evan? Are you looking for something more Odyssey-esque?
Urquhart: Going back to Mario 64, what I love about 3D Mario games—and 3D platformers more broadly—is this feeling of freedom. You can run, jump, ride a shell, fly through the air, do amazing feats, and everything is possible. Odyssey has that. Bowser’s Fury has that. 3D World … eh?
Frisch: I think Evan’s point is totally fair. There is definitely some tension between the 3D elements, which encourage exploration, and the design sensibility, which is cribbed more from the classic 2D games and demands a more linear approach.
Roth: 3D World does make me think that 2D is just better for, like, actual platforming (meaning precision jumps and timing and stuff like that). In 3D, there’s a dimension that’s always foreshortened to some degree, and it makes it hard to position your guy precisely in a complex environment. Whereas in 2D, both of the dimensions are literally represented in pixels on the screen.
Frisch: Another criticism of 3D World I’ve seen thrown around is that it’s too easy. Thoughts on that?
Han: Oh man. I’ve actually found the later levels pretty hard! Maybe it’s just because I’m bad at the scrolling levels? But the levels get more fast-paced to the point that, even though they’re small, they’re not necessarily a breeze to get through—at least for me.
Roth: I think that goes to my point about 3D militating against precision. The level design has to be a bit easier, because the player’s control is intrinsically a bit squishier than in a 2D Mario game. (But yeah, eventually it gets hard.)
Frisch: It also has to be able to accommodate multiplayer! Which I think discourages difficulty, early on, at least.
Roth: New Super Mario Bros. U has multiplayer and is way harder, in my opinion.
Han: Maybe that’s why I started the game feeling overconfident …
Urquhart: To Gabe’s point, one thing 3D World pared down is some of the movement options, like the jump dive and the triple jump. In Odyssey, those are replaced by moves you can do with the hat. More movement options are a way to lower the skill floor, giving you more “fudge factor” to make the precision less precise, while raising the skill ceiling, giving advanced players more toys to play with.
Han: I think fewer immediate movement options also forces you to be more careful about the power-ups you take, though. You have to give a little more thought to the tools you’re using because not all of them will be suited to every environment.
Roth: Before we get to Bowser’s Fury, I would like to hear about people’s favorite levels.
Urquhart: My favorite level is the finale. SO MANY CAT BOWSERS. I was overcome with joy.
Frisch: I love a lot of the postgame levels, after you “beat” the game. Some of them are absolutely crushing.
Han: I have not beaten the game yet, so I will reserve my “favorite level” pick until that time.
Roth: I haven’t gotten to the ending yet, but I really like the one with colored cubes that turn on and off in time with the music, and the one with the panels that flip back and forth as you jump—those grids use the core jumping-in-3D mechanic really well. And the ones where Bowser throws a kind of Soviet military parade are funny too.
Frisch: That reminds me, this game is so musical! Did you have feelings about the music? I too loved the timed musical blocks, and the big-band soundtrack is wonderful.
Han: Nintendo’s big titles all have incredible music across the board, and this game is no exception!
Roth: I usually turn the sound off and listen to other music, but I had to turn it back up for the timed-blocks one.
Frisch: Gabe!! Heresy!!!! Everyone knows you listen to PODCASTS while gaming, you heathen.
Roth: Yeah, sorry, I got into the habit with New SMB U, when those new arrangements of the classic Mario themes started getting stuck in my head as I was trying to go to sleep.
Han: What are podcasts?
Frisch: ANYWAY, let’s talk Bowser’s Fury! What did we all think? I adored it. An uncharacteristically substantial add-on, right?
Roth: I have not played it yet, but my kids really like it.
Urquhart: I can’t praise it enough. I wish it were three times longer. Heck, I wish it were 10 times longer. Like the main 3D World campaign, it’s a little on the easy side. But it’s SO different from 3D World, and it gives me that feeling of exploration and freedom I was craving.
Frisch: I agree, Evan. I think this was great as a little Mario digestif, but I would have loved a full meal of this.
Han: I love any game that gives me more Bowser. I feel like it’s also a particularly gonzo entry in the Mario series—like, giant cat Mario? What???
Frisch: I have no idea if this was intentional, but Lion Mario it kind of reminded me of Kabuki lions, with their big hair.
Urquhart: I loved the mechanic where you could just use any power-up you wanted, whenever you wanted it. A real Mario power fantasy.
Frisch: I think Bowser’s Fury also shows how strong the 3D world movement mechanics are, and it sort of highlights how restrictive the 3D World levels can be.
Han: I think that’s the thing with all of the remasters, though—I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but they’re not fully new games in the way that we would want, right? Like, a Link’s Awakening remaster is not going to fill the shoes of Breath of the Wild 2.
Roth: I think it’s probably good for Nintendo to have different game sizes available. If everything they make has to be the scope of Odyssey or BotW, there are restrictions that come with that—they have to sell a certain number of copies to justify the investment, and it has to live up to the fans’ expectations for a full-scale franchise title. Like, Bowser’s Fury probably gets to be weirder than it might otherwise be because it’s part of a package, and that hopefully informs the next big Mario game.
Urquhart: Agreed, Gabe. And Bowser’s Fury at least doesn’t feel unfinished. It’s complete—but just a little on the short side.
Frisch: Yeah, I agree too. Bowser’s Fury, even at its small size, feels uncharacteristically generous to me, both because it’s such a substantial add-on, and that it feels like the developers really enjoyed working on something without the expectations or restrictions that a bigger project may come with.
Where would you all like to see the series head next?
Roth: Honestly, I want more precise jewel boxes that are, at their core, about jumping on little guys’ heads. That’s the high I’m always chasing with Mario.
Urquhart: I’d love to see a full game that takes the open world gameplay and on-demand power-ups from Bowser’s Fury.
Frisch: It maybe feels too obvious, but a more open world take à la Bowser’s Fury set in the Mushroom Kingdom feels like my childhood dream of a Mario game.
Roth: Super Mario Staying at Home. Super Mario Domesticity.
Han: I agree with the “more open world” ask, but I also like what Gabe is getting at—Mario Harvest Moon sounds pretty nice to me.
Frisch: Anything else you want to say about the whole package? Or Nintendo in general?
Han: Maybe this is a strange duology off of which to make this statement, but I do feel like Nintendo is still king of the video game world. Yes, Xbox and PlayStation have their big titles, but I don’t think they feel as one-and-the-same as say, Nintendo and Mario and the Legend of Zelda do. Nintendo has also proved with not just this remaster but also with titles like the Link’s Awakening remake that, even when it’s bringing older games up to speed, it’s looking to the future of what else it’s going to create.
Urquhart: The Switch being a console everyone loves to own and use is a dream for those of us who love Nintendo’s whimsy and mastery of the fundamentals that make playing games fun. I just hope it’s a long, long time before Nintendo’s next dud console ruins my fun for a while.
Frisch: Hardly anyone is better at fundamental game design than Nintendo right now. As other games get bigger and more bloated with more mechanics and skill trees, etc. Nintendo is still focusing on crystalline game design, which feels so surprisingly fresh!
I also love how this package serves as a survey of the past decade of Mario. For most of the 2010s, Nintendo was attempting to translate the (much more profitable) 2D Mario games to 3D, and now Odyssey and Bowser’s Fury are translating some of those lessons back into free-roaming environments. To me, this seems to indicate that the Mario series is in good hands.
Roth: I have two children and a job and there will always be more good video games to play than I have time to play them, but I would really like it if Nintendo would just rerelease all the Zelda games everyone talks about from when I wasn’t playing video games in one big package. But also I appreciate them making games like 3D World that a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old and a middle-aged dad can play together, until the kids go to bed and the dad can finally make some real progress.