A few days ago I did something I will never do again. Fool that I am I left my laptop on the tube, what a plonker. If I’m extremely lucky it may yet turn up at the TfL Lost Property Office but chances are I’m going to have to buy a new one. I’m grateful to my excellent flat mate Tom for lending me one of his laptops until either of these things comes to pass. I had a review of one of the biggest films of the year, Marvel Avengers Assemble written and ready to go which I unfortunately hadn’t backed up. I can’t be bothered to rewrite it straight away so if you see a review of that film appearing in the near future that will be your indicator that I’ve been very jammy. Otherwise I expect I’ll knock something else out in a few weeks, for now though it’s time to cover another 3DS Ambassador game and a GBA classic.
Nintendo’s greedy anti-hero was an unlikely poster-boy for handheld side-scrolling platformers with the consistently outstanding Wario Land series before he jumped the shark. He also caught the toast, picked the nose and brushed the teeth. If all this sounds bonkers that’s because it is. Wario Ware Inc. Minigame Mania is a highly innovative title from Fire Emblem creators Intelligent Systems that presents us with the concept of the microgame, very simple interactive challenges that last just a few seconds. You might have to jump a skipping rope a couple of times, detonate a firework at the right second, assemble a robot or move an umbrella to protect a cat from the rain. The variety of objectives and scenarios on offer is unpredictable and imaginative and there are over two hundred to get through.
Believe it or not there is a story, of sorts. Wario is watching a news report about a phenomenally successful video game and sees dollar signs but he’s too lazy to create video games on his own so he calls up his friends, a cast of memorable and colourful characters to give him a hand. The game is structured around these characters, each one marshalling a few dozen such oddities of similar themes. You’re given a brief and eccentric story to set up the games in an extremely loose context for example Mona the ice cream parlour girl is late for work and speeding on her moped and every time you successfully win a game her pet monkey will throw a banana and capsize one of a fleet of pursuing police cars. The games themselves play out one by one with a pithy, often one-word instruction appearing on screen to guide you (Catch! Watch Out! Fight! Eat! Count! And so on) and you have a few seconds to either complete an objective or survive until time runs out.
Actions are performed only with the A button or D Pad, a sensible move as more complex multi-button games would not work with the tight time constraints. What it boils down to is this, if you need to do something such as jump, shoot or make a selection you press A whereas if you have to move a character or cursor or perform a directional gesture you tap the D Pad. It’s intuitive and straightforward and it allows the primal, instinctive gameplay to shine. This is the kind of game that reminds you why interactivity is so much fun, a game distilled into the simple pleasure of perceiving an image deciding to act, taking action and perceiving your input on screen in its purest form. The exhilarating quick pace and nutty sense of humour demand constant repeat play and very effectively draw out the lifespan of what is essentially quite a compact and short game. You can complete all the character stories in an hour or so but you won’t have seen everything the game has to offer by a long way.
Each gauntlet of games dances to a set rhythm manifesting as an endlessly repeating cycle. After between ten and twenty-five games have been completed or rather, survived with at least one of four lives in tact you must tackle a slightly more in depth boss game free of time constraints, such as hammering in a nail or winning a boxing match. Beat these games on your first visit and you’ve completed the associated character’s particular challenge but for every replay the cycle will simply repeat and games will be harder in a number of ways. The stick you have to catch will be shorter, the timing for closing the cat’s eyes will be tighter and the safe space between the falling arrows will be narrower. With the tempo also gradually increasing you continue in this endless cycle until you fail too many games and record your high score which can unlock various other nutty minigames for you to try.
The concept in itself is inspired but the execution is what makes this game a classic. The all-new characters are immediately engaging and entertaining and the grouping of the games gives a sensible degree of uniqueness to each set to break up the randomness. Disco dancing Jimmy T marshals the sport based challenges, cabbies Dribble and Spitz offer up a science fiction flavour, tiny alien Orbulon presents you with more intellectual challenges but best of all video game fan 9-volt supplies a steady stream of games inspired by classic Nintendo products. Whether it’s stomping goombas in Super Mario Bros., blasting Mother Brain in Metroid or avoiding opponents in F-Zero, any fan of retro Nintendo goodness will be given a strong nostalgic blast.
What you’ll mostly take away from Wario Ware, however, is how silly and funny it is, not just in terms of the mad things you have to do like helping a beautiful girl sniff up a huge drip of snot but from the audiovisual design which maintains a strongly consistent tone of craziness throughout. Dr Crygor’s offerings make use of realistic graphics that look remarkably decent on the GBA screen and the contribution the accompanying sound effects make to the overall comedy is priceless in more ways than one. Intelligent Systems may be best known for their strategy games and RPGs but they’re clearly very clever innovators with a mastery of the fundamental appeal of interactivity and no title of theirs demonstrates this better than Wario Ware.
Presentation – 9
Inspired in its insanity, the game revels in being quirky and downright different in every aspect.
Design – 8
Most of the games are diverse and engaging but there are a few forgivable clones.
Gameplay – 9
Fast, fun and addictive. Few games tap into something quite this instinctive and yet intuitive.
Graphics – 8
A lot of fun is had with the visuals and many of the games are striking.
Sound – 9
Comical effects abound with a couple of fun, characterful tunes thrown in for good measure. Masterfully entertaining on the ears.
Difficulty – 8
The ever increasing difficulty leading to inevitable defeat is essentially the flawless challenge but the main game isn’t too tough.
Longevity – 8
Despite the relatively short length the reply value is through the roof.
Who would have thought a compilation of minigames could be so much fun? Certainly nobody familiar with the endless shovelware titles available for the Wii but Wario Ware is a shining example of what can be done with a little imagination and personality.