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Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Wario Land II

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Some games are only appreciated years after their release. Wario Land II is one of those games.

When Wario Land II came out, there was a lot of anger directed at it, and reviews were tepid. Why? In Wario Land II, Wario can't die. He can't drown, get impaled by spikes or fall down bottomless pits. The levels had no time limits. If he gets hit by an enemy, he just falls backwards a bit and loses some coins. There were no powerups or special moves that Wario would gain as the game went along either.

For a platformer, this was high heresy. Where would the challenge come from? I mean, if you have no death, doesn’t that mean that you don’t have to be careful? You could just barge into wherever you want and just bum-rush your way through the game artlessly without really playing it well, just stumbling from level to level like a drunken partygoer? With no powerups, what would keep people playing? How could anyone enjoy a game like this?

What we didn’t realize at the time is that Nintendo was completely rethinking platform games, and they realized that they could make a different kind of platform game that wasn’t like Mario. Mario games are all about precision, forward momentum and consistent movement. If you're standing around in a Mario game, you're playing it wrong.

In Wario Land II, the dynamic is a little different. Wario has to slow things down, examine his surroundings and continue forward. The challenge doesn't necessarily come with avoiding enemies and obstacles, but rather the exploration and secret nooks and crannies hidden throughout the game. Sure, you could power through artlessly and get to one of the endings, but you would literally miss half of the game.

Some of the methods of getting to the secret levels are downright devious, too. I won’t spoil anything, but one in particular has an inventiveness that is unequaled in any other Game Boy game and, frankly, a lot of console games too. It’s so headslappingly clever and obvious at the same time that you’ll wonder how you didn’t think of it.

Wario has also been loaded up with special moves, and there are also enemy attacks that will give Wario temporary abilities. Therefore, a lack of powerup mushrooms, or garlic, or whatever you would like to scatter throughout the game doesn’t really hurt Wario Land II. Some enemies will change Wario into a zombie, flatten him, or make him fat among other things. Using those special abilities, you can access different parts of the level, and it's a really interesting way to rethink powerups.

The only area of Wario Land II that needs improvement are the bosses. The bosses are unique and interesting, but when you lose a battle you get thrown backwards in the level a bit and have to make your way back to the boss. Some of the bosses are incredibly challenging, so you might find yourself trudging through the same area repeatedly just to get back to the same stupid boss fight where you’ll get beaten again and have to go through the same area again.

Aside from that, Wario Land II heralded a new generation of platformer that completely broke the rules of what platformers were “supposed” to be. We didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but we sure do now.

Final Rating: A-