Bowser's Fury and the videogame outtake

There's a lot of Sufjan in this one, predictably

Bowser’s Fury has Wind Waker vibes. It takes place on an ocean with a bunch of islands with fun things to do on them. You travel around on a sentient dinosaur instead of a sentient boat, sure, but open up the map screen and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the same universe. To Bowser’s Fury’s credit, the actual “sailing” is far more fun—due in part to objectives that match the mode of transport, and due probably more in part to the fact that there’s just less of it—but as I finished this short and experimental yet still eminently fun Mario game, I couldn’t help but think that it was still a Mario outtake.

But the thing is, I love outtakes.

Let me back up. Playing Bowser’s Fury, released as part of a double-feature with Super Mario 3D World on the Nintendo Switch, is like listening to a B-side from your favorite artist’s best album. It’s great, and you love it, because it’s your favorite artist, but in your heart of hearts, you see why it didn’t make the cut. It’s missing a sense of completeness, even as it has great ideas. So too with Bowser’s Fury. It’s a blast! It’s Mario! And yet! You can’t help but to compare it to Super Mario Odyssey, the Carrie & Lowell to Bowser’s Fury’s The Greatest Gift.

Listen, if you don't want a heavily Sufjan-based metaphor, there are many other videogame newsletters for you.

Anyway, as I was saying about Sufjan—er, I mean, Mario: outtakes, despite being inherently incomplete, are actually an amazing thing to be in possession of. More common to music (hence the now anachronistic term B-side), tracks like this provide a glimpse into the creative process of the artist. There’s enough to them to merit release, enough of the things that make you come to the artist in the first place, but they’re not complete, and they’re not meant to be. Outtakes operate as a kind of gift to a dedicated audience. They let you in on the messiness of the creative process. They show you a mid-process thing, which turns out to be pretty good, actually.

I don’t want Bowser’s Fury to be the future of Mario, but I’m happy it exists, and I’m happy I played it. For one thing, we don’t tend to get videogame B-sides. It doesn’t take much capitalistic wondering to imagine why. An MP3 is easier to drop than a full-on game, and Nintendo is really the only one in possession of properties storied enough to merit such a thing. Whatever my qualms with the game—the lack of visually distinct locales, the repetitive boss encounters, the slightly too glossy look of literally every material—I’m happy to actually get to play it instead of it sitting somewhere internally at Nintendo as a weird but unreleased experiment.

After finishing Bowser’s Fury, that’s what I ended up thinking about. Is there a B-side Zelda somewhere? A Metroid outtake? If there’s a miniature Paper Mario out there with the old battle mechanics, I’ll buy it at a high price. I doubt we’ll ever get such things outside of rare instances like this—Nintendo reselling a Wii U game with bonus content—but the gaming space might be more interesting if we did.