"If there's one flaw in the whole presentation, it's that sometimes the games begin so quickly, you don't really have time to react to your surroundings. You'll start to mess up more than you would if you had time to get your bearings. Of course, the frantic pace throughout is the reward for putting up with this apparent lack of polish, and it overwhelms any general objections one might have to the game as a whole."
The problem with playing video games over a long period of time is that you'll eventually come to the same place in your life that I have. Some of you already know what I mean. Maybe you go down to the rental store, you look at the rows of shooters, then the rows of platformers with cute mascots, or even the section where everyone in sight is carrying a big sword and a magical rod. You look at those, and you wonder why you you're still playing games when, in essence, you played everything there was to play ages ago. It seems like everyone is just out there to cash in on the big craze, to make huge bucks entertaining the masses. It's no surprise, then, that even Wario joined in on the trend.
Wario is known for his lust for money and treasure. The first time we ever saw him, in fact, he had stolen Mario's castle and was making a general nuisance of himself in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. Since then, Nintendo has featured their mascot's nemesis in a variety of games, from platformers to sports titles to cart racing. And while those games have all worked, my impression is that there's never been a role that better suits the fat, evil guy than his role in Wario Ware, Inc.: Mega Microgames.
As I mentioned already, Wario decided to cash in on this video game craze. The idea came to him one evening when he was watching television in his fortress and heard about skyrocketing sales. From there, he went to work on a bunch of different games. When that got old, he called his friends together to see if they would help him test his huge collection, to see which was the extra special one ready for a little marketing muscle.
This is where you come in. You get to play the role of each of his friends as they test a series of games. Basically, the games are lumped into categories, ranging from action games, to nature ones, to Nintendo ones (more on those and the other types in a moment). You get to play through a bunch of them in a row. The number of games varies according to the section you've selected, but you must play through them all and lose no more than three times. Reach the end of a batch of games and there's a 'boss' encounter before you've cleared the area.
Nintendo really does a good job of presenting this all. The visual style is all over the map, with some backdrops that look seriously cool, then others that look like something off a Saturday morning cartoon. Prepare for cool cut-scenes between, frames that tell the story of a given character. Some of these are animated with the same visual effects we've seen for years, such as sprites growing smaller on a static background, or whatever. Nothing is particularly stunning by itself, but the amount of variety in the cartridge overall really takes things over the top. Few other games have ever shown us a little girl ninja traveling across feudal Japan in one scene, a disco-dancing fool in another, and a police-eluding employee in another. Yet it all comes together and works perfectly.
Visuals aren't all that contribute to this effect, either; sound is just out of this world. While the voice acting is limited primarily to grunts and groans, the musical selection stunned me almost immediately. There's a bouncy title screen tune, then cool music for each of the sections, and clever compositions on the menus. While I can't say anything here pushes the system hardware to the limits, there were some selections that really surprised me and had me humming along before I realized what I was doing.
Of course, the real audio treat comes from the sound effects. Everything sounds perfect, from the typical jumping sound you would expect from Mario in Donkey Kong to the laughing dog from Duck Hunt. There's really a terrific sense of nostalgia here, but the game never dwells on anything for long. Listen to someone playing the game and you'll wonder if they're cycling through at a rate of several games a minute. The thing is, well, they are.
Perhaps I should explain. You see, when I said Wario had developed quite a few games, what I really meant is that he crafted somewhere around 200. Each of these games is short to a ridiculous extreme, and Wario also wasn't afraid to steal a little bit from the classics. There's really no way to easily give you an idea of the effect without describing a brief run through one of the game's sections.
Suppose you pick the Nintendo-themed selection of games. Your character appears on a map that looks like something out of Dragon Warrior, only in mono-chrome. Suddenly, it's a random encounter and you're popped directly into a mini-game. You're a car, speeding down the road, similar to a game of F-Zero. Your goal? To avoid other racers. So you start weaving back and forth around cars except--wait, the game has already ended. You survived for now, and it's on to the next game. Now you're looking at a giant pill bottle, and you have to set a pill down on colored viruses of the same color. It's Dr. Mario. So you quickly move the pill while a timer counts down at the bottom. There's no margin for error; you'll either do it right or you won't. And suddenly, you're onto the next game, and floating through the skies with two balloons over your head. There are spiked stars ahead, which you need to avoid. So you drop below one, then start to rise over the next hurdle, only the game is already over. Getting the idea?
The way Nintendo tied everything together is just amazing. What is distracting at first quickly becomes thrilling. With so many games to choose from, there's little chance of growing bored because even the games you don't like are gone almost the minute they appear. Of course, so are the ones you do like, but such is life. If there's one flaw in the whole presentation, it's that sometimes the games begin so quickly, you don't really have time to react to your surroundings. You'll start to mess up more than you would if you had time to get your bearings. Of course, the frantic pace throughout is the reward for putting up with this apparent lack of polish, and it overwhelms any general objections one might have to the game as a whole.
Something else I liked is that even if you've conquered an area, you really haven't. You can go back to zones you've cleared and try for high scores. Each game you clear is a point, whether you win or lose, so you're just playing against yourself to see how long you can go without making too many mistakes. Things get faster and faster, games come in different orders, and before you know if you've spent an hour staring at the screen without any concept of what's going on around you.
This is, you'll soon find, what makes Wario Ware such a great title. It certainly doesn't have a lot of depth. Instead, it adopts the 'less is more' line of thought, then multiplies it a hundred times over and crams everything into a single cartridge. The end result is a collection of games you've played hundreds of times. The difference here--the one that makes the experience so fresh--is that you haven't played them all at once. Give Wario Ware a try at the earliest opportunity. You're unlikely to regret it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 30, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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