Wario Land: Shake It! Review
It looks like 2008 is going to be the year of the 2D platformer, and I assure you that isn't a typo or mistaken date. I can hardly believe it myself, but it's true. Twenty years after the genre's heyday on the NES, SNES and Genesis, the 2D run-and-jump game is back in a big way, and I couldn't be happier. Games like Braid, Commando: Steel Disaster, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Mega Man 9 and Kirby Super Star Ultra have impressed both old and new school gamers alike with their relatively simple, yet endlessly appealing gameplay, and in the face of so many disappointing 2008 sequels, it looks to be the prime time for a the task of running to the right to make a comeback.
That's where Wario Land: Shake It! for the Nintendo Wii fits into the picture. As big a Nintendo fan as I am, my Wii hasn't seen much action since I finished No More Heroes back in… what? February? So Wario, everyone's favorite Nintendo anti-hero, serves two purposes in his newest solo adventure – he single-handedly transformed my Wii from a dust magnet into an interesting system again and he plays a big part in assuring that 2008 is remembered the year of the 2D platformer. Good for him, and better for us.
Wario Land: Shake It! has a story on which to hang the gameplay, but it isn't really that important. There is something about pirates, a kidnapped princess, a rather comely female pirate/shop keeper, a bottomless bag of treasure and generic bad guy #612 at the source of the problem. All of this is introduced, explained and forgotten before you get control of Wario, but it doesn't really matter. The only knowledge you'll need going in is that Wario likes treasure and that the Wii-mote is held sideways, much like it was in Super Paper Mario, to emulate that "old-school" feel.
After a short but illuminating "how-to" level that covers everything from jumping to attacking to collecting treasure, you'll dive into the game itself. Everything you'll come across from this point is about as self-referential as Nintendo gets. The individual worlds, each of which is separated into a few stages and a boss fight, is a setup that was basically invented by Nintendo, and it makes a welcome comeback here. The main idea is that you'll need to defeat enemies, finish levels and complete special goals to earn treasure, which is then used to purchase health upgrades and additional world maps from the aforementioned… um…. let's call her "shapely" female pirate captain. You won't need to complete everything to get a shot at the final boss, but completionist gamers (like myself) will have lots to come back and complete in the quest for the 100% save file.
Wario Land: Shake It! controls like a dream, just as any good platformer should. Granted, you only really have buttons for moving, jumping and a dash, but all are as tight and responsive as they need to be. But just like all the other Wii games, there JUST HAD to be some motion controlled movements tossed in. And while the Wii-mote motion control works pretty well overall, the game would have been just fine without it. You really only shake the Wii-mote up and down with enemies and items in hand to get either power ups or treasure from them, and when tossing held enemies, you tilt the Wii-mote to plot your projectile's trajectory. Both motions usually work as they are supposed to, but neither feels totally necessary. It is a lot like when the DS was new; all the games had some touch screen or microphone use tacked on, whether it made sense or not. The Wii is still relatively new, so the people behind the games haven't quite yet come to the realization that not everything needs motion controls. In this game, it isn't bad, it isn't good – it is just a fact of life.
Old school platform fans know that each great game in the genre has a hook – Bonk had his giant melon and bad temper, Mario had everything from mushrooms to flying raccoon tails and dinosaurs, Kirby had a great appetite, even Vectorman…. Well, Vectorman was made of balls. Wario's hook this time around is two-fold, his boss fights are simply fantastic and every single one of his adventures ends with an exhilarating timed escape. Let's start with the bosses.