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An original illustration shows Mario in a cat suit

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The Switch finally gets the best Mario game you haven’t played

Plus, an open world spin-off game

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

Take our mittened hand and let Polygon’s Winter Games package for 2021 guide you through the playground of wintertime games — what’s great, what’s not, and what exciting features await you in the games coming out in February and March.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury combines one old Mario game and one new Mario game. The first half of the game’s math equation title, Super Mario 3D World, was originally released on the ill-conceived Wii U home console.

Don’t be fooled by its origin: the game is marvelous, an inspired combination of 2D Mario and 3D Mario. It’s the not-so-missing link between New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Odyssey. Mario and pals can move freely through three-dimensional space, but most stages are quite confined and linear.

Super Mario 3D World’s best enjoyed with three friends. Thanks to Switch’s internet connectivity, you won’t need to break CDC guidance to host a Mario party. And for folks who prefer to play alone, there’s always the double cherry power-up, which duplicates Mario. In fact, the double cherry can duplicate the duplicates, filling the screen with beautiful mustachioed men.

Giga Cat Mario stands against Fury Bowser in the rain Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

The second half of the titular equation is Bowser’s Fury, the first truly “open-world” Mario game. Gone is the level-by-level format of every other Mario entry; instead we get an archipelago of platforming challenges.

Every now and then, a storm of fires rolls over the sky and a kaiju-sized Bowser stomps across the place, hurrying the plumber to collect a star and scare off the hulking beast. In her effusive preview, Polygon’s Julia Lee called it “the most chaotic Mario game I’ve ever played.”

So, why are these two games being sold as one? That’s a great question, and I have a serviceable answer: cats! Super Mario 3D World introduced to the franchise a cat power-up, a kitty costume that lets Mario and friends climb walls and dive through the air, claws out.

Bowser’s Fury takes the feline feature further, occasionally transforming Mario into a skyscraper-sized “Cat Mario.” Is that a logical method for a plumber to fight a giant fire-breathing lizard? No. But who needs logic when you can turn Mega-Bowser into a scratching post?

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury will be available on Nintendo Switch on February 12.