Wario Land 4 Review

*Review based on Wario Land 4’s Wii U Virtual Console release*

Here’s an unpopular opinion: The original Game Boy hasn’t aged well. Sure, there are a few games from the original Game Boy that hold up decently (namely Game Boy Color exclusives), but for the most part, its games represent a time when the convenience of gaming on the go came at the expense of quality. The Game Boy Advance, however, marked a time when handheld games began to capture a more timeless quality. The GBA was the SNES to the Game Boy’s NES, with its predecessor feeling archaic (save for a  handful of titles) while it itself holds up so well, it doesn’t feel like a retro console at all.

Case in point: Wario Land. Wario Lands 2 and 3 on the original Game Boy were once hailed as some of the best handheld games of all time, and while they’re still decent to play, they’re getting on a bit. Wario Land 4, on Game Boy Advance, however, is still a worthwhile platformer today. Perhaps not an all-time great, but it’s certainly not disappointing to revisit.

Like its predecessors, Wario Land 4 is all about the greedy anti-Mario’s quest for treasure. This time, Wario is pillaging an ancient pyramid in the middle of a jungle, but gets trapped inside and has to find a way to escape, all while collecting as much treasure as possible, of course.

Wario retains his brutish strength from the past games, with his charging attack, ground pound and ability to pick up and throw enemies intact. Additionally, by holding the R button, Wario can run at such a great speed, that with enough momentum, his hard noggin can break through blocks that even his charge attack can’t budge. Similarly, if he ground pounds from a great enough height, he can also destroy these stronger blocks (there’s even one puzzle in the game that cleverly combines this with a teleporter, meaning that Wario was thinking with portals even before Portal).

The structure of the game takes a different approach from its predecessors, however. There’s a quick tutorial that shows you the ropes of the game (it’s actually one of the better tutorial levels I’ve seen, effectively condensing all the game’s elements to their bare basics, thus giving you insight to the entire adventure ahead). After that, the game features four worlds, which you can play in any order you see fit (and if you get stuck in one world, you can leave it and do another for the time being). The worlds themselves follow a more linear structure, however, with each featuring four stages and a boss fight at the end.

Stages work a bit differently here than they did in past Wario games (and most platformers in general, for that matter): Wario searches through the levels collecting treasures, but instead of a traditional goal found at the end of a stage, each level features a statue of a blue frog (why not?) that, when jumped on, activates a timer. With the time ticking down, Wario has to make his way back to the beginning of the stage, where a portal now waits to take Wario back to the hub. Naturally, Wario gets to keep every treasure he collects if he makes it back before time runs out.

While most of the jewels and coins scattered about add to Wario’s score, each level also contains three unique treasures: One is a bird with a key for a beak (again, why not?) which is needed to unlock the next level in that given world. Another treasure is a tablet separated in four pieces found in golden treasure chests, with all four pieces in all four stages needing to be found in order to open the boss door. Finally, a well-hidden music CD can be found and subsequently played in the sound room of the pyramid’s overworld.

While these items add some extra depth to the stages, it’s kind of a shame that – aside from the CDs – they’re required to complete the game. Had there been more non-story items, Wario Land 4 would have a fun staying power for completionists, instead of most return visits to levels being out of necessity for having missed a key or one of the four tablet pieces the first time around.

The levels themselves are well designed and creative. It’s fun to search through them for treasures, and they never feel so labyrinthian as to be confusing. The stages are also less bland than in the past few Wario Lands, with fun gimmicks added into the mix. One of my favorite stages is built around knocking over stacks of dominoes, then racing to the end of a room before the final domino falls and hits a switch that closes off a treasure.

Level design is always a make or break factor for platformers, and the clever structure and gimmicks of the stages of Wario Land 4 ascend it above its predecessors. There are, however, two notable elements that prevent Wario Land 4 from reaching its full potential.

The first such issue is that, while Wario retains his ability to gain special powers after being struck by certain enemy attacks (swelling up and floating like a balloon when stung by a bee, sliding across surfaces when frozen by an enemy, etc.), Wario is no longer invincible as he was in Wario Lands 2 and 3. In the past games Wario would gain such abilities from almost every foe (with the exceptions merely robbing Wario of coins), here you rarely know when an enemy attack will give Wario a power, and when it will just take health away. It unfortunately gives the game a gambling element that wasn’t present in the past.

The other issue is the process of fighting the bosses of each world. Not only do you have to find all of the aforementioned tablet pieces in each level just to face them, but every boss also features a time limit. If you take too long to defeat a boss, you’ll miss out on the opportunities to claim all of their treasure chests. That’s not so bad on its own, as before every boss fight, Wario has the opportunity to purchase special items (from what looks like Mr. Game & Watch), which are then used to damage the upcoming boss before the fight begins. Some items will do marginal damage, while others will nearly take out the boss on their own. That may sound like a cheat, but considering this is a Wario game, it’s actually a fitting element that compliments Wario’s character and humor.

None of that is a problem on its own. The whole boss process becomes an issue, however, by the simple fact that you can’t just purchase the boss items with the treasure Wario collects along his adventure. Instead, you purchase the items with special tokens. You get these tokens by spending your points/treasure to play one of three mini-games located before the boss fight of each world. You are then awarded tokens based on your performance in these mini-games. The problem is that acquiring these tokens can take a fair amount of time, and with how slowly Wario chips away at the bosses’ health on his own, you’re going to want to spend the extra tokens for the more powerful items to beat the bosses as quickly as possible. So if you want to claim every boss treasure and complete the game at one-hundred percent, you have to repeat the process all over again if you can’t beat the boss fast enough the first time around. Some might say that’s a fair price to pay since the game essentially gives you the ability to cheat, but buying these items is optional anyway. So why not just use your points to buy the tokens and skip the mini-games? It’s just a tedious process that seems counterproductive.

Aside from those elements though, Wario Land 4 remains a winner in most respects. Wario himself controls better than ever, with his every action feeling far smoother than in past games. The level design finds some fun and creative ways to mix up the formula. The game still looks great with its colorful graphics and vibrant animations, and the soundtrack stands tall above its predecessors, meaning that collecting those CDs is worth the effort.

It may not be among the best games on the Game Boy Advance, but Wario Land 4 is another testament that the GBA is when handheld gaming truly made it.

 

7

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review

With a name like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch’s edition to Nintendo’s massively-successful crossover fighter certainly gave itself a lot to live up to. Somewhat miraculously, Ultimate manages to pull that very feat off, delivering what is undoubtedly the best entry in the long-running series to date. Bursting at the seams with content and fine-tuning the series’ gameplay, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its lofty expectations, even if a lackluster adventure mode and a thin (and inconsistent) lineup of new fighters means it doesn’t quite surpass them.

Super Smash Bros. really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. The franchise has become one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers thanks to its engrossing gameplay, which combines elements of traditional fighting games with Mario Kart-esque party elements, all while incorporating sumo style rules that make it unique unto itself.

By ‘sumo style’ rules, I of course refer to Super Smash Bros’ key mechanic of sending opponents off the screen – similar to sumos throwing each other out of the ring – in order to defeat them, as opposed to depleting a health bar as in most fighters. Though with that said, the ‘Stamina mode’ first introduced to the series in Melee, in which players do deplete each other’s health, returns as one of Ultimate’s primary game modes, no longer relegated to a kind of bonus mode as in the past.

That seemingly small change is indicative of the very nature of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is the Super Smash Bros. that attempts to legitimize every play style for the series, and to appease every type of Smash fan. And for the most part, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wildly succeeds in doing just that.

If you’re a serious Smash player, you can remove items and play on flat stages a la Final Destination or small stages with minimal platforms in the vein of the classic Battlefield stage, with no match-altering Final Smashes included. Players who want chaotic fun can have all items active, Final Smashes turned on, and enable every last, crazy stage hazard and gimmick. Or, if you’re somewhere in between, you can play on the standard stages with the gimmicks turned off, only allow Final Smashes by means of building up a power meter during battle, and only enable the occasional Pokeball and Assist Trophy in regards to items.

The ways in which you can customize matches are boundless. This really is the Super Smash Bros. that can appeal to any Nintendo fan. At least in terms of the core gameplay, that is.

If there is one glaring downside with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s with the game’s adventure mode. Dubbed ‘World of Light,’ Ultimate’s adventure mode is mind-numbingly tedious, and simply not worth the time and effort it takes to see it to the end.

In World of Light, players initially take control of Kirby, the only survivor of a Thanos-style mass extinction, as they progress through one battle after another, unlocking the other characters and collecting ‘Spirits,’ which are won after defeating opponents in possession of said Spirits.

These Spirits are a new feature in Ultimate, replacing the series’ long-standing trophy collectibles. It’s ultimately an unfair trade. While the trophies of Smash’s past featured unique character models and gave some insights into Nintendo (and gaming) history, the Spirits are merely presented as stock promotional art from past games, and provide statistical bonuses to your characters when equipped. Spirits can grant boosts to attributes like strength or speed, or provide you with a special ability (such as starting fights with a particular item, or being resistant to certain types of attacks).

This may sound interesting in concept, but it kind of goes against the very nature of Super Smash Bros. This is a fighting series all about learning the different play styles of the various characters. So if you have Spirits activated in the standard game, it makes things more about who has the best Spirits equipped, as opposed to who played the best in any given round.

Suffice to say the Spirits find all of their appeal in the single player World of Light mode. Though even then, the game often mishandles their usage. Pulling a page out of Paper Marios Sticker Star and Color Splash, there are a number of battles in World of Light in which it is necessary to have specific Spirits equipped in order to win. If the Spirits gave you advantages in these situations, that’d be fine. But on more than one occasion you will come across a battle in which victory is impossible unless you have a specific Spirit equipped.

Another issue with World of Light is that it’s just too long for its own good. It features an unnecessary amount of branching paths, alternate routes, and  overall battles. And when it finally looks like you’re done with it, World of Light pulls a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins on the player and extends the adventure by rather lazy means. To detract from the experience even further, World of Light is exclusively played by a single player. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, was far from a winner, but at least I could play that with a friend.

Not to mention Subspace Emissary served as a fast means of unlocking every character. But World of Light just drags on and on, with the lonesome tedium making you seek one of the many other means of unlocking the characters (thankfully, there are no shortage of options when it comes to expanding the roster). The fact that World of Light actually makes me long for Subspace Emissary could be a sign that maybe Super Smash Bros. is better off without an adventure mode at all.

Of course, the adventure mode is just a small part of the overall package, and every other mode included in the game delivers in spades: Classic Mode is more fun than ever, and includes unique challenges for every last fighter. Tournaments are easier to set up than ever before. New Squad Strikes have players selecting teams of characters and eliminating them one by one. Smashdown sees players cycle through the entire roster one at a time, with previously selected characters getting locked out after use. The variety never ceases to impress.

On the concept of variety, the biggest selling point of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that every playable character from the franchise’s history is present. If they were playable in a past Super Smash Bros. title, they’re playable here. So those of you who missed Solid Snake for being omitted from Super Smash Bros. on Wii U/3DS, he’s back. Young Link and Toon Link can now face off against one another. Pichu makes his return after seventeen years (they can’t all be winners). The DLC characters from Wii U/3DS return. Even the good ol’ Ice Climbers have found their way back to the series, after technical limitations on the 3DS prevented their appearance in the last installments. And yes, we even get a handful of new characters joining the fray, meaning that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has all of the character variety of each and every one of its predecessors put together and then some.

“You’re the man now, Croc!”

Speaking of the new characters, that’s where things can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to selections. Ridley and King K. Rool feel like the most meaningful newcomers, given that they’ve been in high demand from fans since Melee. Splatoon’s Inklings also make sense as they represent one of Nintendo’s contemporary success stories. And Simon Belmont feels long overdue in the third-party character department (seriously, besides Mega Man, what other third-party character even compares to Castlevania’s early history with Nintendo?).

The remaining newcomers, however, are a bit of a mixed bag. Isabelle from Animal Crossing – though a welcome addition in her own right – doesn’t exactly come across as a character fans were dying to see join the series. Incineroar feels like he could have been any randomly selected Pokemon. And the downloadable Piranha Plant just feels like a big middle finger to the fans who have been requesting their favorite characters for years. That’s not to say that these characters detract from the gameplay by any means. But for a series so grounded in fanservice, some of these character selections feel misguided.

“Evil kings from classic series are the coolest!”

Perhaps with more newcomers the more disappointing entries wouldn’t stick out so much. But with most of the emphasis going towards bringing back every past character, you kind of wish that the smaller quantity of newcomers would have translated to a consistent quality. And that’s unfortunately not always the case.

Some fans may also lament that clone characters – now officially referred to as “echo fighters” – are still present, but at least now they’re categorized appropriately, and not treated as though they’re full-on additions to the franchise.

“The colors, Duke! The colors!”

Still, it’s hard to complain too much when Ultimate boasts seventy unique characters (with more on the way via DLC. Here’s hoping some favorites make the cut). There’s simply never a shortage of characters to choose from, and all of them bring their own sense of fun to the gameplay (with the possible exceptions of the excessive amount of sword fighters from Fire Emblem, who often feel interchangeable even when they aren’t clones).

Each character’s Final Smash has also been altered this time around, as they take on a more cinematic approach. Unfortunately, while the Final Smashes look more impressive than ever, their infrequent interactivity makes them less fun than in previous installments. This was probably done for the sake of balance, which is admirable. Though chances are, if you have Final Smashes active, you aren’t exactly aiming for a balanced, competitive bout.

The stages also adhere to Ultimate’s “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. Although there are a few omissions, the majority of stage’s from past Super Smash Bros. titles make a return (unfortunately, Brawl’s Electroplankton-inspired stage is bafflingly among them). There are only four brand-new stages in the base game: Odyssey and Breath of the Wild themed levels for Mario and Zelda, and courses based on newly-represented series Splatoon and Castlevania. That may not sound like a whole lot of newness, but more stages are planned to be added along with the DLC characters. Besides, with the returning courses, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate includes over one-hundred different locations to do battle. And as stated, every last stage comes in three different versions (standard, Battlefield, and Final Destination), so you’re not very likely to get bored from repetition.

For those who don’t always have someone at the ready for some couch multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also expands the series’ online capabilities. Creating online matches has been streamlined by means of creating arenas, where players can set the rules as they see fit. You can even search for specific rulesets if you want to join an arena that’s more to your play style (though admittedly, the search engine needs some work). It’s now much, much easier to set up or join an online match and play with or against Smash players from around the world.

Sadly, the online functionality still isn’t perfect. Though lag is considerably less frequent than in Brawl or Wii U/3DS, it’s still present more often than you’d like. It isn’t limited to worldwide matches, either. I’ve encountered some slowdowns in games against my friends. Again, the lag isn’t so common as to detract from the overall experience, but considering that in five years’ time I’ve never encountered any lag issues in Mario Kart 8 (whether on Wii U or Switch), you have to wonder how and why Nintendo can’t replicate that level of online functionality with their other multiplayer franchises.

Other quibbles with the online mode include some minor (but no less irritating) design quirks, such as leaving your place in cue for the next fight in an arena just to change your character’s color (let alone change your character). Or why entering the spectator stands also removes you from cue (why the cue and spectator stands aren’t one and the same is anyone’s guess). Again, these are all just minor annoyances, but you have to wonder why they’re there at all.

Of course, it must be emphasized that, with the exception of the World of Light adventure mode, all of the complaints to be had with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are minor grievances in the big picture. The series’ signature gameplay has never felt so polished, the content has never felt this endless, and with every last character in franchise history present, Super Smash Bros. has never felt this complete.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also a technical showcase of the Switch’s capabilities. Though it retains a similar overall look to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS and Brawl, the graphics are much sharper and more refined. The level of background detail in the stages themselves – often so small you’d never see them in the heat of battle – is a testament to the abilities of the artists behind the game. The character animations are similarly impressive, especially those with unique characteristics (such as DK’s eyes bulging out of his head when hit, Donkey Kong Country-style; or Wario’s manic, sporadic movements).

Complimenting these visuals is a soundtrack that represents an unrivaled array of video game music, featured in both their original and new remixed forms in addition to many remixes from past Super Smash Bros. installments. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s quite as many new pieces of music added into the fray as Brawl and Wii U/3DS brought to the table, but it’s hard to complain too much when the music is this terrific. Not to mention the soundtrack to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is inarguably the biggest library of classic video game themes ever compacted into a single game.

On the whole, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an absolute winner. Its overall sense of newness may not be as prominent as the past few entries, but its inclusion of the best elements of every past installment, along with each and every last one of their characters, makes this the definitive entry in the long-running Super Smash Bros. series to date. With the exception of its egregious adventure mode, everything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exploding with fun. With so many characters, stages, modes, and options, the content included in the package is seemingly bottomless, leading to an unparalleled replay value.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is not only the best game in the series, it’s one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made.

 

9

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

Wario Land 3 Review

Wario’s misadventures continued on the Game Boy Color with Wario Land 3. As the third installment in Wario’s initial platforming series, Wario Land 3 polished what its predecessors started, and added some new tricks of its own into the mix. It was such an improvement over the first two entries that, upon its initial release in 2000, Wario Land 3 was widely hailed as one of the best handheld games of all time. While the aging process has taken away some of the game’s spectacle (especially when one remembers the far more timeless Gameboy Advance was released the following year), Wario Land 3 remains a fun platforming adventure in its own right.

Like Wario Land 2 before it, Wario Land 3 sees its nefarious anti-hero as an invincible brute. He can charge through enemies without any worry of defeat. The greedy Wario risks losing only his precious treasure when struck  by attacks that would do in other platforming heroes. And just like its predecessor, Wario doesn’t grab power-ups, but receives new abilities via ‘conditions’ which are inflicted upon him by enemies.

If Wario gets smashed on the head, he becomes as flat as a pancake and can float in the air. If snow should fall on Wario, he’ll become a snowman who can roll down hills and destroy enemies and obstacles. And in one of the game’s funniest gags, eating a donut will transform our hero into Fat Wario, who can fall through floors and, despite having reduced jumping height, will launch enemies into the air when he lands back on the ground.

Once agin, this not only makes for some fun gameplay and unique twists on platforming norms, but also shapes Wario’s character. Mario is a selfless hero, so we want him to succeed. Ergo, Mario getting hurt results in losing a life. Wario, by contrast, is a greedy buffoon who only wants to make himself richer. As the player, we may help Wario out, but he still has to pay for his greedy ways by means of getting hurt to gain his powers. It’s actually a pretty unique example of building gameplay around a character, and visa versa.

Another unique aspect of Wario Land 3 is in its level progression. There are twenty-five levels total, but each stage has four different goals. The goals are four different treasure chests, with each chest requiring a similarly colored key to be opened. Although most of the time the chests have to be opened in a set order (often requiring the completion of another stage before you can get the others), you don’t need to open every chest in the game to face the final boss (Wario only needs to collect four magic music boxes from different treasures before the big showdown). This of course means that many of the chests are optional, and the game can continue after the final boss, should you so desire.

Unfortunately, there are some aspects to Wario Land 3 that haven’t aged well. Throughout the game, some treasure chests will reward Wario with a new move, enabling him to reach previously unreachable places. That may sound like a cool, light Metroidvania twist. But the issue is that most of the moves Wario learns along the way are moves he had from the start of Wario Land 2 (ground pound, picking up and throwing enemies, etc.). It actually makes the character progression feel a bit pointless if you’re mostly learning basic moves from the game’s predecessor.

Another problem arises with the game’s puzzles elements. While credit is definitely due for how Nintendo tried to expand on Wario’s various conditions by building new puzzles around them. But issues arise when the puzzles in question are either too easy (with Wario gaining the required ability then and there) or too vague, leaving you wondering what power you even need.

One other notable flaw in Wario Land 3 is its ‘Golf’ mini-game. This mini-game is already required for more treasure chests than it needs to be, but what’s worse is that it costs a decent number of coins every time you try it. And of course this mini-game has to have finicky and imprecise controls, meaning that you’ll be forking over a good amount of your hard-earned loot just to try the mini-game over and over again. And if you run out of coins, you have to scour the stage for more, which can take time. I would honestly take Wario Land 3’s vaguest puzzles over this mini-game, so it’s a real shame it shows up as often as it does.

While these elements do make Wario Land 3 feel more like a product of its time than one would hope, it still provides some classic Nintendo fun and Wario’s distinct charm. The levels are fun, and it’s entertaining just seeing what other messes Wario can get himself into all in the name of gold. But  Wario Land 4 on Gameboy Advance and Wario Land: Shake It on Wii probably hold up better.

 

6

Wario Land II Review

Though the third entry of the Super Mario Land sub-series opened the door for Wario to become a video game star, Wario Land II completely kicked the door down for Wario to rewrite the rules of platformers. Though Wario Land II’s sequels would better the formula, this ambitious 1998 Game Boy title really set the stage for Wario’s unique place among Nintendo’s stars.

There are two key components that made Wario Land II such a standout both as a Game Boy title, and as a platformer: The first is that Wario Land II featured branching paths with its story, with players being able to alter the course of the game through specific actions (a feat that was a very bold move given the limitations of the Gameboy). The other key mechanic – the one that turned the platforming genre on its head – is that Wario is invincible.

That’s right, nothing can stop Wario’s path of destruction. You may wonder where the challenge is if Wario can’t be harmed. But Wario is out for treasure, and every enemy wants that same treasure. Instead of taking damage, Wario will lose coins and, subsequently, get a lower score when all is said and done. It’s a fun twist on platforming norms that has been duplicated many times since, with Kirby’s Epic Yarn being a prominent example of a game that studied Wario’s rulebook.

However, here’s where things get really interesting. The power-up helmets that were found in the first Wario Land are gone. And the concept of power-ups are instead combined with Wario’s invulnerability, with many enemy attacks having status effects on Wario that can benefit Wario with temporary abilities (in addition to serving as minor inconveniences).

By getting hit with an ice attack, Wario becomes frozen and slides backwards, and can glide across spikes unscathed. If Wario gets set on fire, his flaming backside causes him to run at super speed and can burn down certain obstacles blocking his path. And if Wario gets stung by a bee enemy, he will have an allergic reaction, with his head swelling up so much he can float like a balloon.

Having enemies inadvertently aid Wario not only serves as a fun twist on genre traditions, but also plays into the sense of humor of Wario’s character. While Wario was originally the ‘anti-Mario’ by being a dastardly villain, Nintendo quickly made him a more unique character by making him Mario’s opposite in terms of being a comical scoundrel. Mario goes off on daring adventures to save princesses, and gains super-powers like flight and shooting fireballs. Wario, by contrast, has to find success through his own misfortunes. Wario’s own games punish him for his greed, but also reward him in the end because, well, he isn’t such a bad guy. And there’s something kind of hilarious about that.

As you might expect, players often have to utilize Wario’s various ‘conditions’ to find new paths throughout the game, as well as uncover hidden treasures for 100% completion. Though some of the game’s branching paths are found by other player actions (in one of the game’s best gags, you can go through a whole other story route simply by doing nothing and letting Wario sleep through his alarm at the start of the game). Although some routes through the game are much shorter than others, they do add to the game’s replay value. And for completionists, you’ll have to go through all of the game’s routes and uncover every secret treasure to see the real ending.

Not all is peaches and cream for Wario Land II, however. The boss fights can feel a bit unpolished and finicky with how you’re forced to go back to the previous room if you’re even a pixel off with their patterns. Sure, with Wario invincible, they needed to do something to give bosses a challenge. But perhaps robbing Wario of more treasure would have been a less tedious consequence than having to start the boss process all over again.

Other than that, the only real complaint with Wario Land II is that – through modern eyes – it definitely feels rough when compared to its sequels, which perfected the formula (Wario Land III in particular, is often considered one of the best handheld games of all time). Wario Land II is still fun, and its Game Boy Color version (which is readily available for modern gamers to download on the Nintendo 3DS) still looks pretty great, all things considered. But the two subsequent handheld entries (as well as their Wii sequel) provide the more definitive Wario platformers.

Wario Land II may not be the best game starring the mustachioed anti-Mario. But it is the game that really helped shape Wario’s character. No longer simply the “bad Mario,” Wario was now the comic foil of Nintendo’s lineup of gaming icons.

 

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Super Mario Party Review

Super Mario Party is something of a bittersweet occasion. It’s mostly sweet, mind you, as this eleventh installment in the long-running series feels refreshingly like a return to form, after the past few sequels seemed to go off the rails. Super Mario Party is, in essence, what Mario Party should be: four-player multiplayer fun. The bitterness is felt in Super Mario Party’s technical restrictions, a few unfortunate gameplay limitations, and at least one element in the main mode which feels outright unfair… even by Mario Party standards. So while Super Mario Party may be a return to form for the beloved series, its shortcomings prevent it from reaching the staggering heights it otherwise may have.

“Star get!”

First and foremost, Super Mario Party resurrects the series’ classic gameplay (No more ‘party car’ nonsense). Four players face-off in a giant board game, where they compete to gain the most stars. In between turns a mini-game is played, with the winner of each mini-game claiming coins. Players primarily gain stars by purchasing them from Toadette on the game board, though there are a few other means of obtaining them.

Although the classic gameplay has returned, a few new twists have been made to the formula. Super Mario Party includes twenty playable characters (four of which need to be unlocked). While they may all play the same within the mini-games to keep things fair, each character now possesses their own special dice, in addition to the standard six-sided die that anyone can use.

“I kind of love how you can play as iconic enemies like Shy Guy, Boo, Monty Mole and a Hammer Brother.”

The character specific dice are a case of risk and reward. Shy Guy’s dice, for example, is comprised of five sides of 4 and one 0, giving him a safe chance of moving a decent number of spaces, but risking not moving at all. Meanwhile, Bowser’s dice allows him to trample all over the place with high rolls of 8, 9 and 10 spaces, but also risks landing on a 1 or losing three coins (in addition to not moving). It’s an interesting twist on the Mario Party formula, with the characters who boast the biggest advantages also having the biggest shortcomings, which not only balances things a bit, but prevents the standard dice from losing its relevance.

“Oh lord, it’s Double Dash all over again!”

There’s another interesting new element to the proceedings, as players can now gain allies by means of landing on a special space or using an item to summon them. These allies are comprised of any of the playable characters not currently in the session. Whoever you claim will not only add to your roll (allies can only roll a 1 or 2), but also give you access to that character’s dice. You can also gain multiple allies, which means that much more can be added to your rolls, and you can use that many more dice. There are even a few mini-games in which your allies can help out, which may seem unfair, but it’s the kind of “hate your friends” unfair that has always been associated with the series.

“Waluigi wins? Is it possible to use those words together in a sentence like that?”

As for the mini-games, Super Mario Party boasts no less than 80 of them. And for the most part, it’s a pretty stellar lineup. The usual four player, two-vs-two and three-vs-one mini-games return, though the battle and dueling mini-games from the series’ oldest entries are sadly still absent. The mini-games use a variety of different play methods, whether traditional button presses, motion controls, and even games with minimal interaction (like selecting objects in one of the game’s surprisingly fun memorization games). Thankfully, very few of the mini-games feel based around luck this time around, and the motion-control implementation is top-notch (one game which sees players try to jiggle candy out of a jar is the best use of physics in a video game this year).

On the downside of the game, there is one aspect that is completely luck-based: the end-game bonuses.

Yes, the old Mario Party titles also included end-game bonuses, which could turn the tide completely at the last minute, but they were consistent with what their bonuses were. Those entries rewarded the player who won the most mini-games, landed on the most green spaces, and claimed the most coins (an odd choice, considering it usually coincided with the mini-game bonus). But in Super Mario Party, the bonuses are randomly selected, as are the number of bonuses it decides to dish out at the end of a match (usually it’s two, but every so often there will be three).

In the first game I played, I managed to snag a bonus star for winning the most mini-games, but I ended up in a close second in my second game because one of my opponents got bonuses for having an ally and for moving the least spaces (why should that even warrant an award?). It was frustrating in the old Mario Parties when your friends would steal first place in the last minute thanks to the bonuses, but at least you could somewhat strategize with the knowledge of what the bonuses would be. You could try to win the most mini-games, or aim for the most coins. But here, you have no idea what the bonuses will be until they’re dished out. If the game had to have random end-game rewards, it should at least inform players what they’ll be at the start of the game, so that they can actually try working towards earning them, instead of keeping their fingers crossed.

“Hey! The Bob-omb King! Remember that guy? One of the boards revolves around him.”

Aside from that (admittedly infuriating) aspect, the classic board game play style of Mario Party is at the best it’s been since the early GameCube titles. And the excellent mini-games are the most memorable since the beloved N64 trilogy. Unfortunately, there is a strange shortage of game boards to choose from at only four. Each board is fun and finds ways to stand out, but you can’t help but wish there were more.

On the bright of things, Super Mario Party makes up for the lack of boards by providing some interesting new modes, one of which – River Survival – is actually a great alternative to the classic board game setup. If classic Mario Party is all about competition, River Survival changes things up in the name of cooperation.

“Race for your life, Shy Guy!”

In River Survival, four players work together to – as the name suggests – survive river rafting by working together. All four players paddle their oars using motion controls, with the players on the left swerving the raft right, and the players on the right swerving the raft left. Players will have to pop balloons spread throughout the river to play cooperative mini-games, which will add more time to the clock upon completion. While the number of mini-games in River Survival are limited, the river itself contains branching paths, with each path providing their own challenges. So there’s still a decent sense of variety.

The other new mode is Sound Stage, which pits players in a series of motion controlled, rhythm-based mini-games as they compete for the highest score. It’s a fun and welcome diversion, but Sound Stage lacks the heft of the classic mode and River Survival. In addition to these modes, you can always choose to play a selection of unlocked mini-games.

“Alex, I’ll take “Things Sakurai Would Never Say” for 500.”

One unavoidable aspect of Super Mario Party that might not sit well with all players is that it’s a Switch title that cannot be played in the Switch’s handheld mode. There are a few mini-games that can be played with multiple undocked Switches – which serve as cool tech demos but won’t last long – but you can’t play any of the game’s main modes in handheld form. At the very least, this is an understandable technical limitation, as the game requires players to only use a single Joycon so that it’s easier for multiple players to join in (not to mention the game brings out some creative uses in the Joycons’ motion and rumble features). But it’s obviously a limitation that won’t sit well for those who enjoy the on-the-go nature of the Switch.

A far, far less understandable restriction comes in the form of Super Mario Party’s online mode. Continuing Nintendo’s infamous trend of bizarre online decisions, Super Mario Party’s online is limited to a single mode which sees players sprint through five mini-games. Five mini-games that are on rotation from a grand total of ten.

That’s right, Mario Party finally has an online mode, but you can’t get the whole Mario Party experience with friends across the world. You’re limited to a measly ten mini-games, with only five of which being playable at a time. No board game, no River Survival, no access to the majority of mini-games.

This not only comes off as a huge downer, but also an embarrassing missed opportunity, considering Super Mario Party’s release practically coincided with the launch of Switch’s online service. Some might say that the board game matches are too lengthy, and have a higher risk of players dropping out, but I can’t see why they couldn’t limit the board games to be played with people on your friends list, and giving access to every mini-game to the broader online crowd.

“My favorite characters (minus Geno) teaming up? Yes please!”

For those who long for the glory days of Mario Party, Super Mario Party serves up a fitting return to form for the series. The classic board game style is resurrected and at full force – being muddled only by a lack of boards and the obnoxiously random end-game bonuses – and the additions of character dice and allies provide some meaningful change. The mini-games are varied and among the best the series has ever seen. The River Survival and Sound Stage modes provide some good versatility to the overall package. The game boasts simple-but-catchy music, and incredibly sharp, colorful visuals (it’s no Odyssey, but it doesn’t need to be). The single control option won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s the bafflingly restrictive online features that serve as the real party-pooper.

Super Mario Party is a whole lot of fun, and it’s great to see the series get back on track. But here’s hoping the Switch sees a Mario Party sequel in the not-to-distant future that expands on what Super Mario Party started, and isn’t afraid to take the entire friendship-ruining Mario Party experience online.

 

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WarioWare Gold Review

Is there any series – whether in the arsenal of Nintendo or any other developer – that better showcases the joys of video games in their purest form than WarioWare? Wario’s bizarre collection of ‘micro-games’ strips the medium to its most bare bones state: Push the A button. Go right. Duck, jump, tap the touch screen. WarioWare deconstructs and parodies the very idea of video games through sheer simplicity, but also providing a great time while doing so. WarioWare Gold serves as something of a greatest hits of the irreverent series, showcasing micro-games from past entries as well as a host of its own; featuring traditional button presses, touch controls and motion controls to create the biggest WarioWare yet. Possibly even the best.

After the well-meaning but misguided Game & Wario on Wii U, WarioWare Gold is back to basics. Players face a succession of seconds long micro-games, each one asking the player little more than a button press or two. But the more micro-games the player completes, the faster they get, until everything turns into a jubilant chaos worthy of Wario’s maniacal laughter.

WarioWare Gold features three different primary modes of play: Mash games simply require the use of the D-Pad and A button (y’know, button mashing). Twist style games – named after the Game Boy Advance’s brilliant WarioWare Twisted – see players rotating their 3DS console in a myriad of ways to accomplish them through motion controls. Finally, Touch based games use the 3DS’s touchscreen.

The games are wonderfully silly, with my personal favorites being the Twist-style of games. These micro-games can be unlocked by playing through the story mode (a loose term here, as there isn’t much story, but it should provide some good laughs). The story mode sees the absurd cast of WarioWare each introduce a different theme of games within the different playstyles, with players needing to beat a ‘boss game’ within a character’s series of games to move on to the next chapter within a particular play style. Once the boss round is completed, players can replay the chapter and try to shoot for a high score, with four failed games leading to a game over (though extra lives can be earned by defeating the boss rounds).

After a micro-game is played, you unlock it in the other game modes. These modes include the Index, where you can play any micro-game you want repeatedly to get a high score on a specific game; meanwhile, Challenge Mode is unlocked once the story is completed, and bring changes to the micro-game marathons (such as randomly switching between the three play styles of micro-games, which is sure to keep players on their toes). You can even compete against another player online to see who can outlast the other as the micro-games get faster and faster.

“One of my favorite Micro-games sees players repeatedly press the A button to keep unwanted guests out of Wario’s house.”

WarioWare Gold features a strong presentation, with the usual , purposefully cheap animation making a return, albeit looking crisper and cleaner than ever. Notably, this is the first entry of the series to feature full voice acting, which makes the story mode all the funnier. And of course, the micro-games feature a dizzying variety of art styles which range from Nintendo throwbacks to anime to stock photos and scribbles. Many of the micro-games will leave a goofy grin on your face through the art alone.

WarioWare Gold may not reinvent the series formula, but this isn’t exactly a series aiming to revolutionize. What WarioWare Gold does achieve is providing the closest thing to a definitive entry in the series yet. It takes bits and pieces of its predecessors and tosses them into a blender. WarioWare Gold’s rapid-fire micro-games and different play styles make for an ideal on-the-go gaming experience.

 

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