Wario World Review

On paper, Wario World sounds like some kind of dream come true: a beat-em-up starring Wario created by Treasure, the developer behind such outrageous action games as Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Heady? Sign me up! Unfortunately, in execution, the 2003 GameCube title falls well below expectations. And what should have been an easy winner for Treasure and Nintendo instead feels like a tedious time-waster, and a missed opportunity.

Of all Nintendo’s iconic characters, Wario seems to be the most fitting to star in a beat-em-up. The burly anti-Mario is a greedy, selfish brute. It just makes sense for him to be the one to pummel enemies to a pulp over pretty much any other Nintendo character. And Wario World gets off to a decent start in that regard.

“Bang! Zoom! Right in the kisser!”

Wario can punch enemies, perform his signature charge attack from the Wario Land games, and perform a ground pound (as platforming heroes wont to do). But this time around, Wario can also pick up KO’ed foes and proceed to throw them, swing them around, or pile drive them like a pro wrestler.

Similarly, the enemies at first seem to show some promise: You have tiny foes who are taken out with a single punch. Slightly bigger foes get knocked out after a few hits, thus allowing you to perform the aforementioned throwing, swinging and pile driving. And some large and flying enemies show up and require a little more clever uses of Wario’s abilities.

At first glance, you might think Wario World is heading in the right direction. But then it quickly becomes apparent that you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. There’s not enough variety (or polish) in the combat to make Wario World feel like a memorable beat-em-up. And much like Wario’s moveset, the enemies also rapidly reveal their limitations, with each of the game’s stages simply putting different skins on the same few enemy types.

The only thing preventing the game from reaching absolute monotony is if you’re gunning for 100% completion. Each level houses eight bonus stages, with red rubies waiting at the goal of each. The bonus rounds range from single room puzzles to platforming challenges that bring to mind the bonus stages of Super Mario Sunshine. You only need some of the rubies to complete a stage (three in World 1, four in 2, five in 3, and six in 4), but for completionists, there are more to get your hands on.

Other collectibles include eight fragments of a gold Wario statue on every level, with completion of a stage’s statue increasing Wario’s health by half a heart. There are also eight unique treasures to be found on every level, which appear on a certain colored pad on the ground if you’ve found and pressed the button of the same color. Finally, there are five captive ‘Spritelings’ to be rescued on every level. The more Spritelings you rescue, the better the game’s ending will be for Wario.

It may sound like Treasure added a good amount of content to the stages via these collectibles, but unfortunately, there are more than a few elements that make you not really care about what Treasure crammed into their levels.

“I don’t know what they were thinking with some of these bosses…”

Along with the repetitious combat and bland enemies, the camera controls are exceedingly clunky (which makes the Sunshine-esque bonus stages way more difficult than they’d otherwise be), and the level design leaves a whole lot to be desired. Without good gameplay and level design, the collectibles come across more like an arduous chore than an engaging side quest.

If on the off-chance you actually manage to get into Wario World, you won’t be into it very long. The game features four worlds plus a final boss, with each world housing only two stages and a boss fight of their own. The whole game can be completed in a couple of hours, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if what the game did boast were memorable. Sadly, it isn’t. This makes Wario World feeling completely absent of depth and creativity, leaving the game feeling shallow and pointless.

It’s hard to recommend Wario World to anyone but the most diehard of GameCube nostalgics. While the concept shows some promise (especially when paired with its developer), Wario World fails to fulfill that promise. Though it looked decent in its day, Wario’s sense of control felt more like something from the early years of the Nintendo 64, as opposed to the GameCube title it actually was.

Somehow, what should have been a wonderful joint venture between Nintendo and Treasure ended up being a disappointment to both parties involved, let alone the player.

 

4

Dynamite Headdy Review

Developer Treasure is known for their unique brand of game design, often taking popular genres and filling them with oddball characters and an insane level of action. Though they were made famous for their first game – Gunstar Heroes on the Sega Genesis – Treasure released another game on the same console which, although not as popular nor quite as good as Gunstar Heroes, greatly epitomizes Treasure’s approach to gaming.

That game was Dynamite Headdy, an action-platformer that, in many ways, is one of the best examples of the genre. But one whose immense difficulty may not make it to everyone’s liking.

While Gunstar Heroes was a run-and-gun platformer, Dynamite Headdy is a little more straightforward. Players take control of Headdy, a puppet-creature with a detachable head, which can be swapped out with other heads that give Headdy different abilities.

Headdy controls simply enough. The C button jumps, B performs your current head’s ability (Headdy’s standard attack is throwing his head in different directions), and the A button removes one of the power-up heads.

These additional heads come in a variety of forms, each bringing a different power. One head shrinks Headdy so that he’s more difficult for enemies to hit, and can explore areas he otherwise couldn’t. A shuriken head allows Headdy to stick to walls, which can uncover more paths throughout the stages. The hammer head doubles your damage output for a short time. The pig head shoots homing stars out of its snout. And a sleeping head heals Headdy, at the expense of making him temporarily immobile.

This is just a sample of the many heads Headdy can find, which are obtained by (how else?) throwing your head at little boxes held by one of the friendly characters.

Dynamite Headdy is separated into nine different worlds (called “scenes” here, as the whole game is presented like a stage play), each of which are separated into different sections, which work as stages, in the sense that they are each given a label like 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, and so forth, similar to Super Mario Bros. But calling them levels wouldn’t be entirely accurate, as some of the sections are just a singular boss fight, and others are just abrupt cinematic moments.

In case of the latter, it feels a little bit like a waste. When you reach a new level, you kind of want an actual level, not a single screen where you just walk for a few seconds to activate a cinematic. Though in the case of the former, the boss fights are plentiful, varied and really creative. Major bosses are referred to as “Keymasters” and are identifiable by their immense size by a key that’s visible on their person.

The boss fights are a definite highlight of the game, and showcase Treasure’s unique brand of insanity (the first Keymaster is the game’s secondary antagonist – a teddy bear named Trouble Bruin – inside of a giant, inflatable wiener dog, with an orchestra playing a rendition of The Nutcracker Suite in the background). The good news is that the levels themselves showcase a similar variety, many of which take advantage of the Genesis’ graphical capabilities to the benefit of gameplay.

One early level sees Headdy jumping on rotating platforms, with players able to move Headdy in either a two-dimensional or three-dimensional plane, depending on the current position of the platforms. Another stage has Headdy jumping vertically up a tower, which rotates as Headdy moves from platform to platform, all while avoiding another of Trouble Bruin’s contraptions, which will remove sections of the tower at a time. The entire sixth world changes the game’s genre to a shoot-em-up, with Headdy getting three heads unique to this section (a plane, a bird, and a rocket, each with different shooting patterns).

The sheer variety and creativity in the game’s levels and boss fights are among the best of any 16-bit platformer. And they are complimented by colorful graphics, quirky character designs, and a fun and catchy soundtrack.

What prevents Dynamite Headdy from reaching the top of the 16-bit platforming mountain, however, is its unforgiving difficulty. Thankfully, the game doesn’t start out ludicrously difficult, but once the challenge does pick up, it’s downright brutal. Later stages will often have enemies and dangerous projectiles coming from all sides, some of the bosses begin using attacks that are random (which just makes them feel unfair), and more one-hit kill deathtraps are introduced as the game progresses.

Perhaps worst of all, the game features one head that is intentionally useless, as it’s so heavy that Headdy can only crawl on the ground, unable to even jump. And unlike the other heads, you can’t manually remove it, and have to wait for its time to run out. While I can appreciate the joke at hand, the problem is that this “power-up” is often placed in the heat of boss battles, where it’s really easy to grab it by accident, at which point you’re basically screwed. Again, it’s a funny gag when you first see it, but given how difficult the later bosses already are, placing this useless item in the midst of them feels like taking the joke too far.

What really makes this high level of difficulty a detriment is that you have very limited lives, and the levels don’t feature checkpoints. Die once, and you have to start the current stage all over again (including tough-as-nails, multi-phase boss fights). Get a game over, and you have to start the game over from the beginning.

“This is the boss of the shoot-em-up world, in the process of changing forms. It’s even more difficult than it is weird.”

It is possible to refill health, by finding bananas (Headdy’s favorite food) or grabbing the aforementioned sleeping head, but extra lives are incredibly rare. What’s worse, the only way to get a continue is after defeating a Keymaster boss, where you have to grab a large amount of the orange cubes that pop out of the boss’ explosion. The number of cubes don’t stack with subsequent bosses, so if you don’t grab enough cubes after a single fight, you don’t have any continues.

There is a saving grace to this, however, as there’s an easy-to-learn cheat code you can use at the title screen to select a stage. Normally, I wouldn’t want to resort to such things, but with how brutally difficult Dynamite Headdy is, and how stingy it is with the extra tries, I had no other choice but to use the level select code to get back to the levels I kept dying on. I don’t think I could beat this game without it. Even with it, some of the later bosses took several attempts to take down.

Dynamite Headdy is a game that showcases Treasure’s approach to game design in a nutshell: It’s weird, action-packed, chock-full of memorable boss fights, aesthetically pleasing, and really creative. On the downside, Dynamite Headdy’s embodiment of all things Treasure also includes their notorious difficulty, which is taken to all new levels here. Dynamite Headdy is a great game in so many ways, but its lack of opportunities to tackle its challenges outside of cheat codes gives it a weird disconnect with the player. If a game is going to be this difficult, at least give me some extra lives!

 

7