Almost every significant game Nintendo made for its interesting but ill-fated Wii U console has found its way on to the vastly more popular Nintendo Switch, either as a rerelease or remake. Super Mario 3D World sits somewhere between the two: 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.
This is excellent news, as this superbly colourful run-and-jump romp of a game is enlivened by more players. Its beautiful levels are all conquerable solo, but become chaotic and hilarious when Mario is joined by Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach, and you find yourselves flipping every minute between jostling for coins and working together to get past a tricky series of pits and dawdling Goombas. The game design is flexible enough to accommodate parents and kids, veteran Mario players and novices; two skilled players can ping around the levels in record time, or one group leader can shepherd everyone else through mad obstacle courses of gurning Thwomps, tall trees with cat ears and vanishing platforms.
Super Mario 3D World is testament to modern Nintendo’s unusual and democratic creative process, which gives every designer’s ideas a fair throw. The result is a cascade of playful ideas that appear, shine brightly for a level or two and then vanish again to make way for more. Platforms that flip whenever you jump, a rideable plesiosaur, shadow levels, a surreal circus, invisible bridges that materialise beneath your feet, an item that duplicates and triplicates Mario and friends until there’s a whole crowd running around on-screen – nothing sticks around long enough to grow tiresome and almost every new level has some twist, power-up or perspective shift. It is like a never-ending fountain of fun, combining the linear, discrete, themed levels of 2D Mario games with the joyous freedom of movement of 3D Mario.
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.
The deal is sweetened by Bowser’s Fury, a short new 3D Mario game that comes bundled with 3D World and feels like a bonus world for the Switch’s native Super Mario Odyssey. Here, we explore an archipelago of islands blighted by dark goop and a giant especially furious Bowser, who emerges Godzilla-like from the sea every now and then and transforms the place into a hostile nightmare of fireballs, black volcanic rocks and lava. Some places can only be reached when Bowser’s in a rage, a challenging and unexpectedly atmospheric twist to Mario’s endless quest for shiny things. A second player can join in as Bowser Jr, hovering in a little clown car with a paintbrush to thwip enemies away with – this is ideally suited to playing with a kid, as you can either take charge of Mario or use Bowser Jr to make a budding gamer’s life a little easier.
3D World is one of the brightest and cutest Mario games, a real riot of fun and colour to brighten up a particularly depressing February. Bowser’s Fury, meanwhile, is itself a super little Mario experiment, a novel adventure that might have felt thin as an individual release but which works perfectly as a side dish. It’s impossible not to recommend.
• Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is out 12 February; £49.99.