Wario is quite possibly one of Nintendo’s greatest creations. What has become Nintendo’s anti-character, this cousin of Mario is nothing like his happy-go-lucky counterparts but is rather a crude, selfish, money loving jerk who’s willing to do just about anything to increase his pocketbook. From his sinister, unnecessarily evil attitude to his silly, crude, and quirky style, Wario has become a Nintendo phenomenon to some (me being included). In almost every game he’s appeared, it’s almost compulsory for me to choose him as my player. From Mario Kart and other Mario sports and party titles to Super Smash Bros: Brawl, Wario begs to be played with his demeaning personality and lack of sportsmanship.
Appearing first in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, he was given his first solo game shortly thereafter (Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land). This game followed the previous format of Mario as a straight up platformer but added a few spins on the tried and true platforming gameplay of the early 90’s. However, it wasn’t until Wario Land 2 that Wario games began to take off with a completely different style of gaming. Wario Land 2 first made Wario invulnerable and created an interesting format where levels had multiple endings with different paths and secret levels along the way. The goal was to reach the end of the level and collect as much money as possible and emphasis was placed more on puzzle solving than actual platforming.
Next came the pinnacle of the series (in my opinion) with the ever expansive Wario Land 3. In this game, I believe Nintendo found the most complete mix of puzzle solving and platforming of any Wario game to date. In this title, Wario was still invulnerable as he traversed through 20 or so levels in a completely nonlinear fashion searching for treasures. These treasures (4 in each level) were either priceless commodities or items that could affect the layout of the current or other levels. Thus, levels were traversed multiple times in order to unlock secrets and with each came a new unique change to the game’s layout. Enemies were used as puzzle solving elements (either by throwing them or by using their attacks to his advantage). Wario Land 3 was something magical and it capped the lineup of incredible games on the Game Boy Color.
By the time Wario Land 4 came around, my expectations were so high it was difficult to grade Wario Land 4 on a fair grading scale. Changing the gameplay up again, Wario lost his invulnerability this time around and the gameplay reverted back to a more platform oriented title. Sure, there were still a ton of puzzle elements to be had in the game but it became completely linear this time around with more of a traditional feel to the gameplay. One major change, however was the way you finished each level: given a time limit to escape, if you wanted to get the most coins on each level as well as the secrets, you had to quickly solve some of the later puzzles. This was an interesting addition to the format and this along with a few mini-games (that were precursors to the whole WarioWare lineup of titles) included a few of the nice additions to the format. Still, my love of Wario Land 3 kept me from giving this great game much credit, purely because I thought the adventurous format of Wario Land 3 was more unique and enjoyable.
The true bastard of the Wario franchise was Wario World, featuring a 3D platformer akin to the Mario 64 style of gameplay with similar mechanics but only around 5 hours of total gameplay. The style of the game was good but it was in no way indicative of the excellent variations that Wario games are known of (and thus, it was also the most critically reviewed game of the bunch). At this point, I had thought that the Wario series had been left for dead. Until…
At E3 2008 I got to play a little of Wario Land: Shake It! and against my initial assumptions about the game due to its casual sounding name, I came away fairly impressed. I was happy to see Wario back in the 2D realm, with some of the best looking 2D graphics to date (fully animated motions and highly colorful environments). Still, I was a little soured by the most recent installment and I expected the game to be plagued by easy difficulty and lack of creativity. Were my critical assumptions correct or could the game provide the gameplay I expect from such a unique series?
Same old, Same old?
Wario Land: Shake It! has one of those purposefully bad stories where the shake dimension is attacked by an evil nemesis known as the Shake King. Using his unparalleled power, he kidnaps their princess and steals their prized possession, the endless bag of coins which is capable of producing coins whenever shook. After a messenger enters Wario’s world, Wario decides to embark on the quest to save the endless bag of coins (he could care less about the princess).
The game begins in a very similar fashion to Wario Land 4, with a tutorial level to show you the ropes of the basic gameplay. In fact, the game itself is very similar to the format of Wario Land 4, where Wario must traverse levels in a linear fashion, collecting gold and hidden treasures, and having a time limit to escape the level at the end. Thus, gone are the days of invulnerability and adventure gaming in the Wario series (*sigh*).
The game’s format really doesn’t add much to the format of Wario Land 4 in terms of gameplay but it does add a lot of different elements to the mix nonetheless. For one, each level has a series of different quests to finish for some of the more hardcore gamers to strive for completionism. These quests are similar to the Xbox Live Challenges, including ones such as finishing the level without getting hit, breaking all the blocks in a level, or defeating a golden enemy. Quests change for each different level, and when I say that they are difficult, I mean that they take multiple times on each level to achieve them even for some of the most seasoned of gamers (myself included). These challenges signify some of the best of 2D platforming and level design with their interesting uses of Wario’s moves and the environments around him.
Intuitive (but not over the top) Motion Controls
Another element that seemed like a gimmick at first but shined later on were the motion controls included in the game. As the name signifies, you will be shaking a few different objects throughout the game including moneybags and enemies. And though this sounds like a complete gimmick in terms of using the Wii’s unique controls, there is some quality to this function. For one, shaking enemies may have completely different effects according to type of enemy. For instance, some enemies can only be defeated by shaking off their armor, while if you shake birds, they’ll run forward destroying anything in their path. Also, bags spew out coins when shaken so if you don’t find a suitable place to shake the bag, you may not be able to retrieve all of the coins before they disappear (in order to achieve the money collection quest on each level). These elements help to add to the puzzle gaming and difficulty of the levels.
Other uses of the Wii controls are also welcomed in their intuitiveness: Wario can aim his direction of throwing by rotating the Wii-mote; Wario can pound the ground by thrusting the Wii-Mote downwards; vehicles throughout the game such as rockets, unibuckets, and submarines. My only complaint with the motion controls involved the submarine levels. In these, gamers are taken back to the days of classic shoot-em-ups where you play in a constantly moving level and attempt to kill enemies with your missiles and finish off a final boss. I like the idea behind the controls where the submarine is aimed using the rotation of the Wii Mote and it can move forwards or backwards by using the D-Pad but I don’t feel like it works very well nonetheless. Without the ability to move your submarine up or down, it’s difficult to traverse the levels or aim the submarine and it never really felt intuitive.
More than Meets the Eye?
Wario Land: Shake It! features some great boss battles in each of the four worlds, each of which has multiple stages of attacks and some interesting uses of the game’s overall mechanics. The final boss is also a very enjoyable one to be had (and quite difficult as well). And, assuming you haven’t already attempted to finish every quest and collect every treasure before you beat the game (this would take numerous hours to do so), the game gives you an incentive to do so once you finish it.
Another interesting aspect of the game that is tucked away within every world are the elusive secret levels found each world. Finding them is not an easy task and beating the levels (along with their quests and treasures) is an even more difficult task. I won’t go into any details for spoilers’ sake but I will say that these levels add to the game’s replay value immensely and are a treat for core gamers such as myself.
Other forms of depth occur in the game’s shop where Wario can buy maps to the next worlds, extra hearts, recovery potions, and music/movies. There are 40 songs in all that he can buy as well as a few movies too, so 100% completion extends the gameplay of the bare bones game immensely. If you were to play through the game from beginning to end, just by beating every level, you could probably finish the game in a little more than 5 or 6 hours. However, if you’re in it for the long run, the game could take longer than 20 hours to finish. Thus, core gamers who miss the days of 2D glory can get their kicks from this game’s expansive set of extras.
If Nintendo got the gameplay correct in this glorified 2D platformer, how about the graphics/sound/presentation department? Does the game’s lack of 3D/2D hurt its overall appearance and does its midi soundtrack hurt the ears? In fact, though the game does adopt a strictly 2D style of graphics, the game is one of the best (if not the best) looking 2D platformers I’ve ever seen. Implementing fully hand-drawn environments as well as great looking character sprites and overly animanted actions, this game looks absolutely brilliant. My only complaint is that the widescreen presentation is just a stretch version of 4:3 picture viewing.
As for the music, I didn’t like it much at first as it sounded like the typical sub-quality music from a (first impressions) gimmicky game. However, as I played through the game, I was delighted with a soundtrack of 40 songs, almost a different one for each level, and the complexity of the midi I was hearing. Sure, midi is midi, but in this case the instruments are high quality, the composition is top notch, and the length of the songs is generally quite long.
Don’t Judge a Book by its Color!
Going into Wario Land: Shake It!, I encompassed the attitude I’ve had about many sequels to series’ that are dear to me: if the game doesn’t meet my utmost expectations, I will be left somewhat let down, if not discouraged. However, after playing through what turned out to be a masterpiece of 2D gaming, I was more than thrilled throughout the entire experience of gameplay (and was brought back to the days when certain platforming elements could invoke emotions of giddiness as well as a strong sense of achievement). If you’re into traditional 2D gameplay or you just enjoy a game with a challenge, Wario Land: Shake It! will exceed your expectations as well.