Super Mario World (1990)

My earliest memories of playing video games were sitting in the back of the car on a road trip playing Super Mario World on my Game Boy Advance. While I hold more nostalgia towards GameCube games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, and of course Super Mario Sunshine, there’s something about Super Mario World that is special to me. Surprisingly, I have never revisited the game over the years, but after replaying it recently I was blown away with how excellent it was. Many games from its era are dated, overly difficult, and hard-to-control relics that are better left in the past. But Super Mario World is a joyful masterpiece.

Everything about Super Mario World exudes charm and personality. Being the launch title of the SNES, it made use of the expanded color palette and sound system. There’s a plethora of enemies and characters, each wonderfully designed to fit their environment and taking on personalities of their own. Super Mario World was Yoshi’s first appearance, and there’s a reason why everybody loves Mario’s dinosaur companion.

Yoshi is now an iconic character, and much of that can be attributed to how integral he was in Super Mario World. The game takes place in Dinosaur Land, the home of all different kinds of Yoshi. Mario travels from section to section, comedically toppling castles and rescuing Yoshi eggs. The world itself is vibrant, colorful, diverse, and full of secrets. While each world has an overall theme, the levels themselves also distinct archetypes. There are traditional levels, underwater adventures, fast-moving contraptions with ropes and saws, castles with lava and deadly smashers, and mysterious ghost houses. This variety keeps things fresh and avoids the repetition that may come from themed worlds.

Another aspect that really sets Super Mario World apart from its predecessors is how it handles secrets. While early Super Mario games did have secrets within levels, you could only hope to get some coins, a 1-Up, or to find a Warp Pipe to let you skip to future worlds. Super Mario World instead focuses on secret exits that reveal hidden levels. Finding all the secret levels is a great motivator for exploring and engaging with stages instead of blazing towards the finish line.

 These secret levels make the overworld of Super Mario World feel more interconnected. Secret levels can open up alternative paths through the world, which is a great reward for discovering hidden exits. Moreover, there are five routes to Star World, which acts as a central hub that makes it faster to travel around the map.

For being an early SNES title, I was surprised with how smooth the gameplay was. The controls are fantastic as they balance precision and the momentum-based movement that Mario is known for. In the early Super Mario games, Mario would have a hefty amount of momentum, making precise jumps more difficult. While momentum is still present, it does not feel like you are slipping around on ice at all times anymore. Super Mario World is easier than its predecessors because of this, but I wouldn’t say the game is a pushover either. There are plenty of more challenging levels that will test your mastery of platforming.

The biggest strength of Super Mario World is its simplicity and charm. It makes full use of the expanded color palette and music capabilities that the SNES offered. It’s easy to take these things for granted today, but at the time Super Mario World was so much more vibrant, colorful, and visually pleasing than other games. The levels are absurdly creative, making use of a huge variety of enemies, obstacles, and settings. Every single level is memorable for its own reason, and there was not a single level that I disliked. Not to mention the music from Koji Kondo is masterful as always. The catchy and famous main melody of the game is frequently reused in recognizable but unique ways depending on the level’s setting. An echoey version is used in caves, a slower-tempo and grandiose version is used in castles, the athletic piano version that we all know as quintessential Mario is used in the obstacle courses.

While Super Mario World may seem simple by today’s standards, it set the gold standard for platformers going forward. It’s just pure fun to explore the levels, uncover secret bonus levels, and master the movement and courses so you can speed through. The vibrant visuals, memorable music, imaginative environments, and clean controls make Super Mario World the purest kind of game. It’s a classic game that has aged gracefully, and its one that everyone should experience.

Bowser’s Fury

After playing Super Mario 3D World, my primary complaint was how disjointed the experience felt. Other 3D Super Mario games felt like a coherent adventure, while Super Mario 3D World feels a series of fun but unrelated obstacle courses. Bowser’s Fury is a game that was packaged alongside the Switch port of Super Mario 3D World, but that’s not the only game that it takes inspiration from. Bowser’s Fury is a glorious marriage between the platforming excellence of Super Mario 3D World and the open-ended collectathon adventure of Super Mario Odyssey. It’s a relatively short game, but Bowser’s Fury is a massive success.

Bowser’s Fury is set in one giant area, an ocean dotted with islands and partially covered in black ink. Bowser has gone berserk and you have to collect Cat Shines to revert him to his usual self. Each island is like one of the levels from Super Mario 3D World, a short challenge that usually is focused on a unique gimmick. Additionally, the islands have five Cat Shines each, meaning the player gets to revisit each island multiple times. The islands morph with each subsequent level, retaining their core theme and gimmick but changing up the layout to accommodate for different objectives.

The ability and necessity to revisit areas is a massive improvement over Super Mario 3D World. Instead of every level being a one-and-done affair that is easily forgotten, the designers are able to evolve on the ideas and gimmicks that make each level unique. You get to fully explore these dense areas and really familiarize yourself with them. They feel like real locations rather than artificial obstacle courses.

Another aspect that contributes to the adventure of Bowser’s Fury is the world. As previously mentioned, the whole game takes place in a single area. While not all the islands are immediately accessible, you will quickly uncover them. Getting between the main islands is a breeze, as Plessie makes a return from Super Mario 3D World. Plessie acts as a mode of transportation across the giant body of water, and she is a ton of fun to ride. She’s fast, handles well, and is always available no matter where you are. She will pop up out of the water seamlessly, without any need for the player to summon her or go to limited predetermined locations where she resides.

Like many other 3D Super Mario games, many of the Cat Shines reside not only in the main levels, but in side challenges and secrets hidden around the map. These are usually quick trials like racing Plessie through an obstacle course or catching a rabbit running around on the lake. These little side missions also contribute to the feeling of cohesion, as you can find these little distractions while exploring the greater world.

A central aspect of Bowser’s Fury is when Bowser gets furious. He is a behemoth in this game, always residing in the center of the map, occasionally awakening to cause terror. When Bowser emerges from his slumber, the sky goes dark in a torrential downpour and fire balls rain down as the colossal Bowser towers above you and spits his fiery breath at Mario. It really is a phenomenal sight to see, and it makes the game much more frantic while Bowser is awake.

While you could just hide from Bowser until he goes away, but I found it much more fun to engage with the more difficult platforming challenges that Bowser creates. Dodging the raining fireballs and fire breath make things more challenging, but Bowser also causes giant obelisks to be lodged in the ground. These can act as additional platforms and shields from his attacks. It can be fun to dodge all the chaotic madness using these temporary platforms, and after collecting a single Cat Shine Bowser will temporarily halt his rampage and go back to sleep.

The other method of dealing with Bowser is to fight him directly. Across the world there are a few Giga Bells, power-ups that transform Mario into a giant to contend with his equally goliath foe. Battling with Bowser is enjoyable, and it slowly ramps up in complexity as the game progresses. These Kaiju battles visually fantastic, even if they are similar to Bowser battles from past games.

While I generally enjoyed Bowsers constant looming presence throughout the game, it also has a fair share of issues. The first being that Bowser can get irritating when he starts to appear more frequently at the end of the game. While I enjoy the additional challenge of dodging his attacks, sometimes it can get annoying when he seems to appear during every single level. On the flip side, many Cat Shines require Bowser’s presence to acquire. This is also frustrating as it led me to abandoning levels halfway through to scramble to get to where I needed to be for these time-limited Cat Shines. And at the end of the game, I had to literally just sit still and wait for Bowser to show up for the last five or so Cat Shines. Lastly, whenever Bowser appears there is noticeable performance drop.

I enjoy the inclusion of Bowser and his rampages; they definitely make for some fun platforming and cohesive theming across the game. I’m not sure how I would feel about it if Bowser’s Fury was a much longer game. It only took me a few hours to beat with couple more hours to 100% complete it, and a popular opinion that I have been seeing is that many people want the next Super Mario game to be an extended version of Bowser’s Fury. While I can agree that this is a great foundation to build off, I think the format would outlast it’s welcome if it was any longer than the short romp that was presented in Bowser’s Fury.

A totally open world Super Mario game with no world or level selection would be fantastic, but even in Bowser’s Fury I felt there was a lot of filler or repeated Cat Shines. For being such a short game, I was disappointed with how many of the objectives were identical to one another. There were so many Rabbit chases, Bowser blocks, Lucky Island Cat Shines, Plessie speed challenges, and so forth. There wasn’t a great balance between the number of core platforming levels and these side missions. I love exploring and completing optional tasks, but I think Bowser’s Fury just has too many of them in relation to how short the game is.

Bowser’s Fury is an immensely successful experiment. It meshes classic Super Mario platforming and the giant, open-ended exploration from Super Mario Odyssey. The singular area scattered with short levels is a fantastic formula. Bowser himself was a fun gimmick for a majority of the game, and I would love to see an expanded upon game with big areas and gimmicks similar to Bowser’s reign of terror. It is for these reasons that I give Bowser’s Fury a 9.5/10. While it had a few flaws, I think Bowser’s Fury is the sensational appetizer for what’s to come next.