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• Wario Land: Shake It!

developed by GoodFeel/published by Nintendo
1 player/1 DVD/Nintendo Wii/2008.09.22

One could be forgiven for getting Mario and Wario confused, but the Wario games tweak the underlying formula enough that the two play quite differently.  Although he looks (and acts) like a brutish thug, Wario faces levels laced with puzzles that would stump the Mario Bros..  Wario concerns himself with collecting treasure over saving damsels in distress, and it’s pretty surprising what he has to do to find and collect it all.  If along the way he inadvertently saves the day, that’s mere icing on the cake.

Game Play

Keeping things simple, this one is played with the Wii remote tilted sideways.  How the game uses the Wii remote’s functions may feel like a gimmick at first, but there are some good ones. For example, Wario will encounter a variety of vehicles such as submarines, cannons, and jetpacks, which need to be aimed by tilting. Likewise you can shift Wario’s weight while riding a unicycle to make it move forward and backward. With a healthy waggle Wario will pound the ground, causing the entire screen to shake, stunning all the enemies on the screen and shaking up objects and certain blocks.

Jumping on most enemies will stun them, allowing Wario to pick them up. You can shake ‘em down for some life-restoring garlic, or toss them by tilting the Wii remote to choose the angle of the throw.  Throwing stuff with precise aim is central to many puzzles. You’ll also shake coin bags to release their shiny contents. His main attack is a bodycheck, but he can also butt-stomp enemies into smithereens.

Puzzle Platforming

Every level is brimming with timing and jumping puzzles to keep treasures or coin bags just out of reach. Like Wario Land 4, each level ends with Wario having to race back to the start within a time limit. Often a handy accelerator is nearby, which causes Wario to sprint at top speed until he slams into a wall. The level designers have crafted every game screen so that Wario can just barely keep his momentum on the way back if you know exactly when to jump, duck, or turn around. Of course if you accidentally run into a wall you’ll lose your speed, and you won’t be able to find secret passages and treasure.

Treasure & Missions

There are three hidden treasures to collect and anywhere from 3 to 8 missions in each level. Like Achievements or Trophies seen in other games, missions require the player to finish a stage within a time limit, collect a certain number of coins, finish without taking damage, and so on. While some of the treasure chests are cleverly hidden, the real challenge is completing the missions because they’re designed to put your skills to the test. Thankfully missions are completely optional but to really get the most out of the game you should try to complete them, even if they often require several attempts each.

Presentation

Wario Land: Shake It! has a cartoony, hand-drawn style done by the animation studio Production I.G..  Some of the enemies are a bit drab, but generally speaking the game looks good – not as good as Muramasa: The Demon Blade or Odin Sphere, but better than many other 2D games. The music is a bit of a mixed bag, with some tunes really matching the mood of its level while others can become grating.

Replayability & Challenge

Even after collecting all the treasures and completing all the missions, you’ll only be about 70% finished after beating the final boss. That’s because the game’s most difficult levels (about 12 in all) need to be unlocked by finding hidden maps that only appear after the main game. These secret levels can be obnoxiously challenging, which is probably why they’re best left until later.  I’ve played a lot of platformers over the years and I can’t recall a game that was this unforgiving in a long time, causing me to restart levels over and over. It’s hard not to become frustrated when one small mistake costs you several minutes of intense concentration.

Conclusion

Wario Land: Shake It! may not be quite as good as Wario Land 4, but it’s a close runner-up that fans of platforming games will find surprisingly fun. While the game isn’t packed with levels (there’s about 34 in all including bosses), the optional missions give incentive to revisit them. The secret levels are mercilessly difficult, which is something of a rarity in games these days. If you’re looking for some challenging old-school 2D platforming, this is probably a better pick than most, just try not to throw the controller at your television.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Meticulous level design
  • Some interesting Wii-specific stuff
  • Great cartoony presentation
  • (Optional) challenges can be fun

CONs:

  • Shaking the Wii remote can grow tiresome
  • No voice-overs during movies
  • Sometimes confuses “frustrating” with “fun”

One Sentence Review: A solid traditional 2D platformer that will challenge even hardcore veterans.
One Word Review: Tough.

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