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Wario's Woods (NES) artwork

Wario's Woods (NES) review

"Back before he became a game developer, Wario liked to harass small woodland creatures."

Wario’s Woods, the final licensed NES title and the only one that was released after the introduction of the ESRB rating system, is a puzzle game from Nintendo’s R&D1 team (the same developers responsible for classics like Dr. Mario and the Nintendo versions of Tetris). The title pits a heroic Toad against the villainous Wario in the latter character’s only appearance on the platform. Wario invaded the Peaceful Woods, home to sprites and other pleasant little creatures, and filled it with monsters… because that’s the kind of thing Wario was doing in 1994.

Toad must clear the woods of monsters by destroying them with bombs that are dropped into the playfield by helpful sprites. Lining up three or more like-coloured monsters and bombs (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) will cause the bombs to explode and the monsters to be destroyed. Of course, Tetris Attack-style combos are possible. Each stage starts with a predetermined monster layout. Levels are cleared when all monsters are destroyed. However, the helpful sprite will be replaced by a pesky Pidgit (who will drop both bombs and monsters) if you take too long clearing a field. During this phase, Wario will occasionally charge the side of the screen, causing the ceiling to drop down a bit. Naturally, the game ends if the screen overflows.

Toad occupies the actual playing field, which is different from the setup in most similar falling block puzzlers. He can move left and right and climb stacks of bombs and monsters (henceforth collectively referred to as “blocks” for the sake of simplicity). Toad can move blocks by picking them up with either the B button (to lift a single block) or the A button (to grab an entire stack of blocks). He can also kick a single block across the screen by holding the Down direction on the D-pad and pressing A or B.

The controls sound simple on paper, but they enable quite complex interactions. Toad can’t climb while carrying blocks. He can place whatever he’s carrying atop a stack of blocks in front of him, but only if the top of the stack is no more than one space above his head. He can drop blocks directly below his position by pressing Up, or grab only certain blocks from a stack by climbing partway up a column before pressing the A button, or he can remove only a single block from partway up the column by doing the same thing with the B button.

Situations only grow more complex once new types of monsters are introduced. For a time, all monsters you encounter can be destroyed with a single bomb blast. Eventually, new monsters will force you to change your strategy. One type will change colour after being blasted once, and it will need to be bombed a second time with a new colour of bomb. Another monster type can only be destroyed if it is caught in an explosion along a diagonal line. The most annoying monster type is defeated only after being blasted twice in quick succession. Defeating those particular foes requires more luck and planning, since you’ll only waste time and resources if you bomb them once and don’t have a second bomb handy.

As was customary for NES games, there’s an A mode and a B mode. Mode A is the most straightforward. Every ninth stage ends with Wario showing up to taunt you before you can move onto the next stage. Mode B, however, introduces boss battles. These mix things up a bit, for better or worse. Bosses are large sprites that can teleport around the screen. If they land on a space that’s occupied by Toad, he immediately dies. Bosses all have their own unique skills, such as the ability to destroy all blocks of a certain colour, or to summon more monsters. Bosses are defeated by detonating bombs and destroying enemies in the spaces adjacent to them, a fact the game doesn’t really make clear (despite actually having a tutorial mode, which is a rare thing for a NES game).

The game’s biggest strength is the head-to-head Vs. mode. Each player races to be the first to clear his or her own playing field of monsters. Playing well and setting off chains causes more monsters to fall onto the opponent’s side of the screen. It’s much more satisfying to have your screen flooded with monsters by a friend than by a Pidgit.

The unfortunate thing about Wario’s Woods is that the controls feel almost necessarily clunky. The ability to turn around without moving is important, so there’s a brief pause between the moment Toad turns and the moment he starts moving in the new direction. This adds accuracy when picking up or dropping blocks, but in more frantic moments, it can feel as though that pause is intended to make you fall behind. Even the mere act of walking from one side of the screen to the other feels laborious. The large number of possible actions to take in any situation can also be confusing, especially since one or two actions are context sensitive. For example, if Toad is facing right and there’s a block one space to the right and one space below, he can pick it up. However, if there’s also a block directly to his right, he’ll pick that block up instead and leave the lower block where it is. Things like this feel inconsistent, even if they’re technically not.

Wario’s Woods is far from a bad game. As the very final NES game, it boasts a level of polish not reached by many other games on the system. It features some nice graphics, several distinct modes, 99 levels with save points, and even a tutorial. It’s a noteworthy but often forgotten piece of video game history, made somewhat redundant by the fact that a superior SNES version of the game was released on the exact same day (there’s probably a metaphor for passing the torch hidden in there somewhere). Though it may not carry the same simple, addictive quality of some of Nintendo’s other puzzle games, Wario’s Woods is still a fun little diversion… especially if you have someone with whom to play that killer Vs. mode.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (December 15, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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