Original Release: May 13, 1994
Original Platform: Game Boy
Virtual Console Release: February 16, 2012
I must confess going into this review that this game holds a very special place in my heart. Back when I was but a wee lad who had successfully whined enough at his mother to buy him the original Game Boy (what a glorious brick of a machine it was), this was the first game I got for it.
Whilst I imagine virtually everyone who has ever played a video game has, at some point, played something starring Mario in his constant attempts to prevent Princess Peach from being kidnapped, playing as Wario is a decidedly different kettle of fish. As a kid I remember actually feeling quite naughty playing this game, as virtuous attempts to save the damsel in distress are chucked out the window in favour of pure, unadulterated greed. It appeals to me even more now as an adult as I would gladly run around an island beating up anthropomorphic ducks if it meant earning a fortune and buying my own castle. Couple that with the fact that this game, in my opinion, started one of the best platforming franchises in gaming and you have a winner on your hands!
Poor Wario. After a valiant struggle against Mario at the end of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (itself a very good game, and the reason for the ‘Super Mario Land’ title tacked on at the end of this game) Wario was ejected from the castle he stole from his nemesis and now has nowhere to live.
Like any good bad guy, however, you just can’t keep his rotund figure down for long, and Wario has an ingenious plan to get back at Mario: BUY AN EVEN BIGGER CASTLE! But he’s not going to earn the funds to do that by getting a regular 9 to 5 and resorting to efficient financial planning, oh no. Instead, Wario decides to steal an enormous statue of Princess Peach from Captain Syrup and the Brown Sugar Pirates, currently residing on Kitchen Island. Along the way he will also beat up anything he comes into contact with and steal any treasure that happens to be left lying around the island (now that, my friends, is an example of poor financial planning). Not being the most friendly chap out there he doesn’t have any friends to call on for help, but he does make the most out of some smashing hats, and that’ll get him quite far in his adventure.
Wario Land has its roots in the Game Boy Mario games, as well as the larger body of Mario games on the systems of the time, and takes its cues from them, so none of the initial controls should be very difficult to master. Kitchen Island acts as the overworld which is then divided into seven worlds with multiple stages each. Each world comes with its obligatory boss who needs to be defeated before you can move on to the next world. Before that you will need to collect at least 10 coins in most of the stages in order to progress to the next one (you gotta spend money to make money, after all). It is vitally important to collect as much loot as you can in each stage, however, as the end of each stage presents you with mini games that you can play to increase your total coin stash. The more cash you have amassed at the end of the game will ultimately decide what kind of new lodging Wario gets to buy himself – after several play throughs I’ve never managed to get him anything bigger than a habitable tree trunk, but here’s hoping you can do better by him that I could.
So far as controlling Wario goes it’s all fairly simple. He walks, creeps, crawls and jumps like Mario does. The primary difference is that, unlike Mario, Wario jumping on a foe won’t kill them, but rather stun them. Most enemies can be stunned and then picked up and thrown and other enemies, making for a decidedly more brutish romp through the Mushroom Kingdom than Mario could ever hope to give you. The only flaw in Wario’s design is that he doesn’t so much jump as he floats. No man as corpulent as he is should be allowed to defy the laws of gravity in such a wanton manner. It’s by no means game breaking, and once you have gotten used to it it’s easy enough to judge where he’s going to land, but in a game that is otherwise masterfully crafted it does stand out like a bit of a sore thumb.
While Mario has his array of mushrooms, flowers, and feathers to aid him in his transformations, Wario has his aforementioned collection of stylish hats. These different hats, donned by finding different pots hidden throughout the game’s stages, allow for 3 different transformations: Bull Wario (who can shoulder charge and take out objects and enemies with greater ease), Dragon Wario (who can spit fire out of the hat’s nostrils) and Jet Wario (who can fly for short distances – although it should be noted that the author of this review in no way endorses flight that would put your neck under that much strain). Being hit by an enemy will transform him into Mini Wario, who isn’t nearly as useless as Mini Mario, and can trot into otherwise hard to reach places.
How this game makes you feel ultimately depends on how dude-broish you are in your day-to-day gaming jaunts. If, like myself, there isn’t a strand of it in you you’ll probably revel in getting to be the would-be villain out for nothing but self-gain and fabulous-hat-wearing. If you like to smash beer cans against your head and chest bump because you managed to get through a stage, then you’re going to find this a bit trickier, but only because it’s difficult to hold a handheld gaming device AND smash a can against your head at the same time. Go for chest bumping, it’ll be easier.
Whatever your preference, this is a finely crafted game that goes above and beyond what you would expect from both a platformer and a Game Boy game. If you have some spare change floating around in your pocket I strongly suggest downloading this little guy and giving him a go. You haven’t lived until you’ve proudly walked through an enemy-infested beach billowing fire from your head.
My Final Rating: 8 / 10