Bowser’s Fury: Mario’s latest is not Mario’s greatest

In 2007, as a nice surprise for people who bought their Orange Box bundle, Valve bundled Portal: a short game, full of great ideas executed perfectly, accompanying a larger product as a deal-sweetener for people who might have already played the main parts of the bundle. Bowser’s Fury is similar to that, but I wouldn’t say what it accomplishes is nearly as impressive in 2021 as it was back then.

As a game in itself, Bowser’s Fury is competent, creative, and fun, but I feel the need to prepend each of these adjectives with the word “moderately”.

Moderately competent, because it does everything right enough, but almost nothing impressively. It’s tough to criticize, because it functions well for the majority of time — but less so than the really great Mario games such as Odyssey and Galaxy. Even the platforming physics feel a bit off sometimes. For a game of any other series, this would be a strong commendation, but I expect more from Nintendo. I expect more from Mario.

Moderately creative, because although it does try new stuff for the Mario formula, it seems too afraid to commit to these new ideas, and too reliant on tried and true ideas such as the cat powerup, the abundance of powerups (which, along with the lack of consequence for dying, removes any semblance of a real challenge), and the helpful sidekick who can even defeat enemies for you. It feels like someone cooking an interesting dish for you, one that you’re not used to eating, but then making sure to serve a giant bowl of “sure to please” mashed potatoes on the side, out of fear that you will not immediately like the adventurous food. It just reeks of lack of confidence in your ideas, like if Breath of the Wild included a very prominent Ocarina and Hookshot: “we’re trying new things, but please don’t be alarmed! We are still the same old thing you know and love, see? Play Song of Saria!”

Moderately fun, because, as I’ve said before, the game lacks anything that would make it truly challenging or truly interesting. It has challenge and it is interesting, but just enough to pass by. Nothing to write home about. I played the entire thing and could count in one hand’s fingers how many times I was truly like “wow, I loved this part!”

Speaking of playing “the entire thing”, I was warned the game was super short, and it is, but the reality is I didn’t think it was excessively short. It ends quickly because it doesn’t have much to say. It’s not full of surprises. It has a very short amount of surprises, in fact. Its ideas can’t hold an entire game, so Nintendo made a microgame out of them.

People who say this game points at the post-Odyssey future of Mario games are, I think, shortsighted. Mario Odyssey is dozens of hours long because its ideas are full of juice and can be endlessly iterated on. Bowser’s Fury ideas don’t last even as long as the not-even-half-a-dozen hours it will take you to 100% it.

Plus, remember what I said above regarding Portal? It released on the Orange Box in an era when selling smaller indie games with outside-the-box ideas for a lower price still wasn’t a thing. But today it very much is! Why did Nintendo feel like they needed to bundle this with Super Mario 3D World? Again, it speaks of insecurity. Did they feel like 3D World wasn’t appealing enough as a product in itself? Did they feel like they could not “cheapen the brand” by selling Bowser’s Fury directly for like 15 bucks? Both of these assumptions are wrong — or at least they feel wrong to me.

So, not a bad game. But not a great Mario game, either. If you must play it (and I wouldn’t say you absolutely do), play it with expectations in check.

The very definition of breadth over depth.

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