Sunshine looms large over Bowser's Fury, the expansion that's being bundled into next month's re-release of Super Mario 3D World. It's there from the second you boot it up - which you can do at any point, as this is a standalone experience - though I can't go into specifics just yet. Rather, I can give you a small taste of this most curious of offshoots.
It could be described as something of an off-cut, as Bowser's Fury is built from repurposed assets from Super Mario 3D World - the eight way movement has been opened out a bit here but it's still paired with a sprint button and the same lack of triple jump, as well as the same suite of excellent power-ups including the Cat Suit which once again takes top-billing - but Mario's often been not so much about the building blocks but what Nintendo's designers do with them, and that's certainly the case here.
As opposed to the focussed levels of 3D World, which offered up all sorts of chaotic four-player action, here there's a shift to the more open style of play favoured by Odyssey, 64 and - of course - Super Mario Sunshine. There's that same sense of off-beat experimentation in Bowser's Fury here, and a lot of that same vibe with its islands lapped by gorgeous blue waters as well as so many of the same beats.
Bowser Jr. takes a starring role once again, alongside his magic paintbrush, and here he's on hand to offer help - either by way of an AI-controller partner who can be tuned to help you a little, a lot, or not at all, or with another player in the two-player co-op that Bowser's Fury supports. Have him under computer control and he'll occasionally swing by to bop an enemy on the head, while there are certain secrets nested around the levels that only he can unlock.
Indeed, there's a whole world of secrets nested out there, and this is a more free-form style of Mario than even the likes of 64 or Odyssey - it really is as close to an open world Mario game as we've had to date, with it up to you how you go about procuring Shines. Maybe it'll be one of the ones that's up for grabs by scaling the heights of the islands, knocking Cat Bullys off a platform or chasing down a Fury Shadow Luigi, while unearthing five smaller cat shines in any particular area will unlock one of the real deal.
Get enough Shines and you'll be able to ring the Giga Bell, allowing you to battle Bowser as Giga Cat Mario during one of his regularly scheduled attacks - I didn't have a stopwatch to hand, though they seem to strike around every five minutes, the screen filled with lava and fury as well as some helpful new platforms that might grant you access to previously unobtainable Shines.
It's a fascinating extension of a Mario game that seemed to run counter to the principles of the likes of 64 and Odyssey - 3D World was always positioned as a way to bridge the gap between 2D Mario and its more open-ended strand, so there's something slightly awkward in a Mario with a restricted moveset being pushed towards a very different style of play (and something slightly disappointing in how Bowser's Fury alone only manages 30fps when playing in handheld - a tribute to Sunshine too far, I feel, though it's understandable given the scale of the open world undertaking).
How will it all come together in the end result? We're currently limited to reporting on only the opening few minutes of Bowser's Fury, so I'm looking forward to pressing on and finding out where else this expansion heads. It's a strange thing, for sure, but that's not necessarily a negative - Mario's often at its best when it's full-on weird, and from what I'm allowed to tell you of Bowser's Fury this is one of the weirdest entries yet.