A friend once told me that when Mario 64 came out, people were feeling right with Mario falling asleep. If you left it idling long enough, it would let go. A couple of magazines started asking for pictures of him sleeping in strange places – balanced on tiles, sitting in trees, spouting on a flagpole. I don’t think the enthusiasm was just because of the animation. For years, Sonic would have grabbed his leg if you left him and the Bonanza Brothers had turned stray flies away. With Mario it was more of a disappointing thing. Mario’s world was suddenly in his place. It was still levels and levels, but also fields and mountains and forests. The kinds of places where, if the sun is just right, you probably are would to go to sleep for a while.
I know that feeling – of starting yourself into the world of Mario and getting lost. To me, Mario 64 was not as big as Mario Kart games. I like Mario Kart well enough – I had 24 hours of Mario Kart 64 at university one term and since then I’ve gone down a bit in my commitment to them – but at least, as long as I like the racing, what really moves me is the world.
These great places, endless horizons, with amazing details to be seen. He always hits me the same way. I’ll wander around Bowser’s castle, lava bubbles and cobblestones underfoot, and suddenly think: I wish they did Mario games right like this. By right I mean platformers I believe. And they do, sort of. Since 64 Mario’s world has often been in three dimensions. So far I couldn’t explain why they didn’t feel like this – why they didn’t feel like Mario’s adventure at the Mario Kart level. It was something, I think, about the sense of space and scale – a sense of unbroken space, of something panoramic.
Now, of course, I could say: oh, like Bowser’s Fury. Suddenly we have games like this.
Bowser’s Fury is an add-on for Super Mario 3D World, and I’m currently happy with it. I don’t think it’s that big, so I share it for myself, ration it. Every moment is a special joy. You know how special something about Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, in that it is both so focused and unconventional, a tight little playground that somehow feels toylike and completely on half from the wider series? I feel the same way about Bowser’s Fury. I’m in love.
This is Mario not only in three dimensions but in what is in an open world. Each level is, as it were, designed and filled in one place – islands on a calm ocean. At times it is almost a member of Ubisoft’s open world games. Mario unlocks new land by climbing towers! Yes, laughs, but they’re light houses, and they fit Mario well. Delfino Plaza and its Shines feel very close.
I love open world games, but Mario ‘s open world game, even one that feels a bit broken and experimental, is still very special. It goes over the formula, and somehow makes the formula feel more visible and more alcoholic. My favorite part of Bowser’s Fury so far plays with the idea of pipes – you have to navigate a series of pipe systems to collect different doodads, all centered around one island and one tower. I know, deep down, that this is a pipe level, in the same way that enough levels are built around one idea in Mario 3D World itself. But somehow, the fact that I can leave the pipes at any time and go somewhere else, the fact that I can stand on the pipes and see other parts of the world around me, the truth that I can stand on the pipe and not have to worry about a countdown timer, and I don’t have to feel connected to any particular goal, making it feel very different. It’s a level, of course, but it’s not limited by the level at which it is. It feels like I’m standing in the piping area of Mario’s big city. Down on 12th.
The more I play, the more I start to see the limits of Bowser’s Fury. I understand, for travel speed and element separation, for example, why the whole thing has to be water – based, but it still feels like a missed opportunity. I feel like we gave Mario the opportunity to mourn the equivalent of Hyrule Field. But for all who feel a little off, there is something stellar. Bowser’s Fury is not just a day and night cycle, it is actually a weapon. It’s the night when Bowser returns, no matter what you were up to at the time, and the world is transformed. Why put a day and night circle in a game just because the real world has days and nights? Nintendo seems to be asking. Don’t put anything in a game unless you’re going to spin it, to use it in a new way. Don’t use it unless you can make it count. And there is something else, perhaps. Series like Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs will never benefit from this unconventional reality: there’s something very fascinating about an open world view into a game series that was never before in the open world. Bowser’s Fury is partly powered by innovation, partly by experience, and partly by day and night bike thinking: it’s Mario with broader game ideas, and it is also the broader game ideas with the Mario thought process.