Who would have guessed that a gluttonous, money-grabbing cad with personal hygiene issues would become the poster boy for handheld platformers? Wario’s pinched a fair amount of coin in his time but perhaps the theft he’d be most proud of is Mario’s thunder. Created as a sort of alter-ego for gaming’s greatest icon and the final boss of Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins, Wario made his playable debut in that game’s follow-up Warioland – Super Mario Land 3 and since then he has gone from strength to strength. The Warioland series is a shining example of consistency, four superbly playable handheld games each of which boasts its own strong identity and Warioland 4 for the Game Boy Advance is arguably the best of them.
After reading about the discovery of a golden pyramid full of treasure in the jungle Wario sets off in his purple Cadillac to indulge in a spot of tomb raiding. The basic gameplay is the same as it ever was. In addition to Wario’s sideways body-slam attack he has a new more powerful charge attack mapped to the R button that allows him to blast through blocks and enemies at high speed. His various context sensitive transformations, including Fat Wario, Zombie Wario and Puffy Wario also return, amusing as ever. The controls are more fluid than ever before, Wario moves through levels quickly and stringing together jumps and attacks feels smooth and exhilarating as you explore at a fast pace. The series’ gameplay has always been well-balanced and fun but it feels more refined and precise than ever in this fourth outing.
There’s a noticeable upswing in the audiovisual quality with the move to the more advanced hardware. Levels burst with colour and detail, vibrant backgrounds mixing with the imaginatively realized environmental themes that take in toxic wastes, toy lands and rainforests. Music is quirky and varied, full of slightly off-centre character while the numerous sound effects buzz with an idiosyncratic uniqueness combining well with Charles Martinet’s amusingly dastardly voice clips. Put simply it looks and sounds top-drawer, the game is presented with real confidence and the style supports the pacey gameplay.
But the reason why Warioland 4 stands out and could be seen as the best of its brothers is in the excellent level design. Levels are divided into four passages with four levels in each building to a boss showdown. To progress you must enter the level and strike out in search of Keyser, a floating ghostly bird creature with a key for a beak, and four parts of a gem stone. Keyser is needed to unlock the door leading to the next level while the gemstones from the four levels are required to open the door leading to the boss. To complete a level you must exit via the same portal you entered by however the portal disappears as soon as you enter so you must open it again by finding and hitting the Frog Switch. Doing this also activates a time bomb, meaning you will have a set amount of time to escape the level with Keyser and the gem stones.
Escape is often a simple case of retracing your steps but the best levels find ingenious ways of guiding you back to the starting point. After hitting the Frog Switch certain paths may be blocked while others open up but there are some clever concepts to keep things interesting. In one level a huge spectral pirate chases you as you try to escape and grabs hold of Keyser forcing you to pause to rob him back but the best example is in Fiery Cavern, a lava-filled gauntlet that completely freezes over upon hitting the Frog Switch. Pillars of lava that were previously lethal now form solid platforms allowing you to reach new areas. The design doesn’t give the game the same kind of slowly unfolding depth of Warioland 3 but it makes progressing through them breathless fun and any race against time carries with it a stimulating tension
The bottom line is that Warioland 4 is terrific fun and perfect for handheld play on the move. With all four passages available to you pretty much straight off you’re free to pick your own route but the difficulty level never reaches anything that long term fans or competent gamers will find troubling. With a total of eighteen levels and six bosses it’s definitely on the short, side, easily beatable in a single sitting of just a few hours. The plus side with a game this short is that it’s fun to replay again and again and chasing high scores, hidden CDs and tackling hard mode offers a little more longevity.
Design – 8
Gameplay – 8
Graphics – 9
Sound – 8
Longevity – 5
Clever and compulsive Wario’s fourth is among the finest purpose made Game Boy Advance sidescrollers. Though a little on the short side the game offers a tremendous amount of fun while it lasts and has aged well in the decade since its release. 3DS Ambassadors should not miss this cracking title.