For most people, the only birthdays worth making a fuss over are divisible by ten. It takes a 30th or 50th for an individual to really justify pushing the boat out, but global brands operate by different logic. Last year, for example, gaming's favourite plumber turned 35 -- a milestone that would merit little more than an evening in the pub for a person, but is more than enough justification for a slew of new products and marketing activations spanning a full 12 months in the world of mass entertainment.
What lengths will Nintendo have to go to on Mario's 40th? The mind reels.
Based on the reaction from the critics, however, the last big release of the 35th anniversary celebrations is also the pinnacle of the whole flashy affair: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury, a revamped version of the 2013 Wii U game for Nintendo Switch, alongside the first new dose of Mario platforming goodness since Odyssey in 2017. Critics are always excited about Mario games, and as Polygon's Chris Plante pointed out in his glowing review, Super Mario 3D World is up there with the very best.
"The game is polished within an inch of its life, even by the standards of the Mario universe"
"Though technically a sequel to Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario 3D World borrows freely from the entire series," Plante said. "An alternative title for Super Mario 3D World would be 'Super Mario's Greatest Hits': the multiplayer of New Super Mario Bros. U, the colorful levels of Super Mario World, the zippy mobility of Super Mario 64.
Plante continued: "The game is polished within an inch of its life, even by the standards of the Mario universe, in which every enemy, block, and bottomless pit is placed with intentionality. But this game just feels, I don't know, glossier? Perhaps it's the high-definition 3D character designs, which look like collectible vinyl figurines. Or maybe it's the precision of the movement, honed through decades of fine-tuning.
"I won't go so far as to say Super Mario 3D World is my favorite entry in the storied franchise. I will say it's the entry I am most likely to recommend to both newcomers and lapsed fans returning to video games in adulthood. The four-player online multiplayer feature helps. And there's a genuine comfort to the reliability and consistency of the adventure, like listening to Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits."
"If you think Bowser's Fury makes Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury valuable, reset your expectations"
If Super Mario 3D World is Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits, Plante added, then Bowser's Fury is the band's more experimental album, Tusk -- an ambitious analogy, and one I wholeheartedly support. However, like Tusk, Bowser's Fury has divided the critics; even its most enthusiastic supporters offer qualified praise, while its biggest detractors openly question Nintendo's decision to make such a brief experience so central to the marketing.
The Washington Post's Jhaan Elker, for example, argued that those who played Super Mario 3D World on Wii U are more likely to find value in the tweaks to that game than in the brand new content packaged with it.
"If you think that the additional content Bowser's Fury provides is what makes Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury valuable, I encourage you to reset your expectations. Bowser's Fury feels more like a testing ground for the next '3D World' entry than a fully developed game by itself."
Elker continued: "The overall map feels like an oversized approximation of one of Super Mario Odyssey's Kingdoms. Because of this, you'll want every movement option that Odyssey offered in its gameplay and more. But Bowser's Fury is using Super Mario 3D World's controls engine, which feels dated for this game's open-world ambition. You can't do things every other 3D World Mario game offers, like the triple jump, and you don't have things Odyssey offered that gave you incredible movement flexibility, like infinite rolling or Cappy-hopping."
The Guardian's Keza MacDonald enthused about 3D World as "a real riot of fun and colour to brighten up a particularly depressing February," and is kinder to Bowser's Fury given its status as "a side dish" rather than the main course. However, while MacDonald believed the package "impossible not to recommend," she is one of several critics to find fault with the transition to the Switch's controls.
"The Wii U version was on a console that basically nobody owned. To the vast majority, this is an all-new Mario experience"
"The game is near-identical to the 2013 Wii U version, with a few necessary adaptations and the addition of a pandemic-friendly online multiplayer so you can play with your mates without hosting an illegal gathering," she said.
"Some of these ideas were designed for the game's original home on the Wii U, however, and have been reworked awkwardly for the Switch. On levels where one player would use the Wii U's touchscreen to materialise platforms or flip switches, a finicky cursor does a poor job of replicating the fun. But not much has been lost, and though this is a slightly worse version of an almost indecently good game, it's still a Mario adventure that's stood the test of time."
While the game's origins on the Wii U may be the root of some minor niggles in the new version, however, it is also the source of perhaps its greatest commercial strength. In the bluntest possible terms, very few people bought the Wii U, and so Super Mario 3D World may be the least played Mario game ever made. In that context, Nintendo's move to bring the best games from its last console to Switch is not so much an attempt to cash in -- it's virtually a public service.
"It follows on from a decent variety of celebratory titles like the Mario 3D All Stars compilation and Super Mario 35, and it's fair to say that the anniversary has been a little disappointing thus far," said VG247's Alex Donaldson. "That's why 3D World is important; it might be arriving a little later, but it's easily the most suitable game with which to celebrate Mario's lengthy and successful career -- and unlike the others, it's not a limited-time release.
"Ultimately, this is a re-release of a game that was released just seven years ago. Super Mario 3D World was already a good-looking, high definition game with gimmicks and level design tricks that worked brilliantly. All Nintendo ultimately had to do was competently port it for a nice, easy win. Re-releases are often inherently less exciting, but this title has an advantage: the original Wii U version was on a console that basically nobody owned. To the vast majority, this is an all-new Mario experience.
"This was one of the best games on the Wii U, and its status as that has little to do with there being a limited library for that machine. It's just an excellent game, and one that easily jumps onto any must-own list for the Switch."