4 games 1 cup begins now
Although nowadays he’s all about surreal microgames and flatulence, Mario’s pink-nosed, yellow and purple doppelganger Wario actually got his start in a quality 2D platformer on the Game Boy. However, as the WarioWare series grew in popularity the Wario Land series eventually died out. Now, seven years later, the one series that was good even on the Virtual Boy is back on the Wii. In the hands of upstart developer Good-Feel, Nintendo’s sole offering for the hardcore in the fall of 2008 is one that fans of old-school games can get excited about.
Wario Land Shake It is a hand-drawn 2D platformer. It’s rare to see a completely 2D game one a console but even when stacked against 3D juggernauts, the extra power allows them to hold their own visually. Production IG, the anime company behind projects such as Ghost in the Shell, was brought in to help with the animation and it really paid off. The quality of the anime opening is enough to make you look past the throwaway story about fairies, princess, pirates and infinite coin sacks, although I do enjoy the plethora of similarities between Wario and the main villain, from personality to look to move set. But what’s remarkable is the almost seamless transition from animated cutscene to gameplay. It’s probably the best looking 2D animated game I’ve ever seen. The crisp and detailed sprites move so smoothly and with so many frames it makes the flash animator inside me burn with jealousy. The environments are also visual splendors featuring multiple layers of parallax and transparencies. Wario travels across the typical platformer fare like fire and ice worlds but seeing the varied locales in this new way is a treat onto itself. The sound is fine but much less impressive. Wario’s victory theme from Smash Bros does make a welcomed appearance however. The typical Wario noises are always good for a laugh but they feel a bit more subdued here than usual. But I guess when compared to the WarioWare series everything is subdued.
While Shake It looks fresh and new, the gameplay is anything but. What we have here is perfect send up to the platformers of old, like the original Wario Land games. Wario is controlled NES style and pull off a variety of moves including butt stomps and shoulder dashes a.k.a his forward smash. All of the different abilities are used in the traversal and they also mix up the combat which many classic games didn’t seem to do. The controls are also incredibly precise making any missed jump your own fault. But don’t worry, the game isn’t that hard. The one move that that makes use of the platform is the waggle activated ground pound. Also, after picking up money bags or enemies Wario can shake them for extra goodies. The bosses, like the living car Hot Roderick, are a tad more clever and challenging than those found in older games though.
Shake It does have a few odd design choices. In order to unlock new maps you must buy them from the seductive Captain Syrup. Often times this means backtracking those old levels trying to stuff your wallet. Oddly enough, backtracking is one of the few similarities between Shake It and the Metroid series. One good thing they both share is intricate level design. The levels in Shake It are complex and multi-tiered. Using a combination of abilities fast enough in the right area will often lead to treasure. The game has an achievement system that usually forces you to find them hidden passage but discovering them on your own adds even more to fun. It also adds to the level of replayability which Wario Land has in spades. It’s a pretty short single player campaign but there is plenty to go back to after you beat the Shake King. First, there are many treasures, achievements and unlockable songs. Second, in each of the five worlds there are at least two new levels to unlock adding almost two more worlds worth of levels to the game. However, these new levels are usually just harder rehashes of old levels. Third, after you get to the end of a level, you have to make your way back to the beginning before time runs out, also like Metroid. The path back is usually different than the path you just took and during your sprint there are Max Fastostity Dasherators that speed you up even more as long as you don’t hit something. The path is set-up in such a way that if you are good enough, you can find a line back to the beginning that only needs one dash or a chain of dashes. It makes the game perfect for speed runs.
I do have a problem with Shake it and it’s a strange one. It’s a very good game but I think I would have preferred it if it wasn’t a Wario game. The weirdness of the Wario license isn’t used very effectively. The man just needs to stick to microgames and leave the platforming to one of Nintendo’s myriad of other mascots. Besides, there’s was a Wario game on Wii last year. Nintendo would make so many of there fans so happy if they used more than a handful of their characters. With a couple of tweaks, Shake It could have been something like a new Stafy game. It’s time to bring that franchise to America.
Character issues aside, the gameplay and presentation of Wario Land Shake It are of a quality that you associate with Nintendo. If core gamers need proof that they are cared about, pick this one up and you’ll be reminded of a time when the Nintendo seal of quality actually meant something.
and now, an aside from Saturday Night Live