Nintendo gets a bad rap (from normal people, not losers like me). They practically invented the platform game, brought video games back after the crash of the early 80’s, showed us how a 3D platformer should look, perfected the action RPG, pioneered handheld gaming and released a headset game system after even Sega pulled the plug on their Virtual (or should I say Virtua) Reality system (although not doing what Sega does is generally good business practice). Well add another accomplishment to Nintendo’s long list, because Wario Ware Inc is incredibly different.
Most games made up of minigames are crappy, but if the games are good enough then the game as a whole can be excellent, like Pirates! (everything), Mr. Bones (Saturn) or Donald Duck (C64). Understanding this, Nintendo and Intelligent Designs had the genius idea to stuff 200 or so microgames into one cart. Wario Ware Inc originally came out for the GBA but unfortunately I never picked it up. Fortunately, the game was ported to the Game Cube and I played it at a friend’s house. The four player mode was tremendously fun so I set out to find my very own copy.
It turns out the single player game is also excellent. But what the hell is a microgame? These are games that last for a few seconds each. Wario Ware throws them at you one after another and you must quickly figure out what each game wants you to do and then do it correctly. Gameplay is strange in that it is both nearly nonexistent and also hugely fun. The games usually require you to push the A button quickly, or tap a series of directions quickly, or move a man across a screen quickly, or put something into something else quickly, or tap the button at the exact right moment… quickly. It sounds like it should put the player to sleep but it works beautifully because of the speed the games demand and the overall charming style and design.
I’ve already mentioned the speed and don’t think I can expand on it other than reinforcing that it is fast (as speed tends to be). But the graphics and design are bizarre in a completely wonderful way. It’s clearly a GBA port; nothing is 3D and the graphics fall short of even a PlayStation game, but what is there is very well done. Some of my favorite microgames consist of sniffing snot back into a woman’s nose, shaking a dog’s paw, escaping from a giant glass, catching a zucchini aimed at your head (swung by a samurai) and then the classic getting the finger in the nose game (the nose theme is repeated in other Wario Ware games and is mildly disturbing). Even the more normal microgames tend to be slightly off by the art design alone and each game is unique looking. I’m very impressed that they came up with so many ways to show us their so many games.
This game had to be a blast to design. I can picture them at a conference table throwing out any wild idea they get and the lead designers adding almost all of them to the final list of games. I wonder if they made a spread sheet to keep track of how many of each type of game they had.
Lead: “No, no, we already have enough ‘tap A to win’ games when you add the apple crushing one, the hair cutting one and the clay building one. We need more ‘putting this into that’ games.”
Peon: “What if we put a game into a Game Boy?”
Lead: “I like it, keep going.”
Peon: “A drop into an eye?”
Peon: “A finger into a nose?”
Lead: “I officially step down. You are the new lead designer and husband to my wife. Please treat her well.”
My favorite of the games are based off of old Nintendo games and products. I’m ashamed to say I don’t recognize every homage. There’s some sort of Robotronesque game, one where you shoot down missiles, and one where you are in the wild west participating in a duel. I do know where some of the microgames came from, at least; one has you controlling Link, and one has you killing Metroid’s Mother Brain. There’s even a freaking Rob Robot game (if you’re too young to know what that is, that makes two of us). After every 20 microgames is a boss battle, which is around the length of a minigame (micro and minigames are now a unit of measurement. Just remember who used them first). The boss stage of the Nintendo based series of games is an RPG parody that almost makes me wish it were a whole game.
A lot of these microgames leave you wishing they were longer because the premises are so ingenious. Luckily there are a whole lot of them and to make the game more replayable there are three versions of each of the microgames that vary in difficulty. Replayability is also bolstered by the fact that you do not see every game in a single playthrough. Playing through the standard game a second time will likely lead you to find games you’ve never seen.
Wario Ware reminds me of a relationship in that there are two distinct phases of play. Meeting someone new is very exciting because you do not know many things about them but this is ultimately short lived. The exhilarating, passionate stage evolves into a less pulse racing but more stable stage of appreciation and understanding. Tackling Wario Ware’s games for the first time is stressful in a fun way. Like in a relationship, you will hunger for the early days of passion before you had seen all of the other persons levels, but you will take solace in the strength of the bond you now share and focus your energy on perfecting the individual games, beating old records and the multiplayer modes. What?
The multiplayer component to this game is very enjoyable, partly because there are many modes. Dance Fever randomly assigns microgames to players and they must successfully beat them or else lose after three slips. It is a staple at my place, along with a mode that is sort of like hot potato, only with Wario Ware instead of potatoes, and a balloon you pump up while not playing microgames. So its not exactly the same, but it’s really a lot of fun. The more difficult modes include one that allows other players to walk and jump their characters on top of the game display while another player futilely attempts to complete mircogames successfully. One mode tells the player to do something while playing the game or some other weird command, like play with one eye closed, with one hand, or with their back to the TV. The other people then get to give the game feedback on how well the player followed the games rules. A mode that demands the players get involved so intimately was not something I expected to work, but I was wrong. Even modes that seem lame will be fun if the audience is willing to go along with it.
The music isn’t fluid due to the nature of microgameplay, but what’s there fits well enough. I love the sound effects. You can tell it’s a GBA port because the digitized voices aren’t top quality but this actually makes them more appealing, not less. I can hear many of the voices crisply in my head when I’m not playing the game (You got it!) so that must mean something (catchy and annoying are only a shade apart). The sound is designed to accelerate as the game itself speeds up and adds to the overall chaotic nature of the game rather well.
The plot is mostly indecipherable but that fits well with the overall game motif, which is “odd.” The characters are big, cutesy, cartoon sprites and most of them are also pretty strange. I am partial to doctor Cygor, myself. People turned off by games that children would like should probably stay away but if you don’t have any arbitrary rules about the kind of art you demand in games then you should find the characters to be as likable as the rest of the visual design.
The Gamecube once again proves itself to be the party system of choice. If your guests are tired of Double Dash and Monkey Ball, Wario Ware should be to their liking. Even if you don’t have any friends (you’re not alone) this game is still a very worthy purchase. A word of warning, however; A friend of mine described the game as video game training. In other words, some of the less diehard game fans may find the entire concept of 3 second games to be too bizarre. Being as fond of games as I am, it’s hard for me to see it from their side (without calling them names) but it should be noted. If Katamari Damacy put you off because it was too Japanese, Wario Ware probably will as well. If you prefer games to be big, loud, violent and scantily clad, you should probably stay away from most things I like and perhaps register as a Republican.
Wario Ware has spawned a series (Wario Ware: Twisted on the GBA and Wario Ware: Touched on the DS) and it is well deserved. I only wish this one had more games in it. I guess that’s how they hook you.
190 out of 200 Microgames