Made in Wario (GBA/Nintendo)
by Gabriel Leung
06212003


Here’s a question: What makes a good game?

Allow me to present Made In Wario (MIW) for the GBA. On one hand, the game could be considered insultingly simplistic and geared towards those insect-like children that have been raised on a diet of liquid sugar and possess attention spans collectively counted in seconds. On the other hand, MIW is truly one of the most well thought-out, perfectly executed games released in recent memory.

I don’t think we’ll see a weirder, more eclectic game this year. It’s that good.

At a glance, MIW is best described as a well-designed mess. Here we have a game that meshes archaic images with modern GBA graphics, and comes off looking damn good. Here we have a game that plays like a collection of sound bites and manages to be enthralling (though I think that says more about us as people than about the game itself…).

MIW somehow manages to seem unforgivably shallow, and yet is unquestionably one of the most brilliantly designed games I have seen released in the mainstream North American market. It could be an Andy Warhol of a game, so simplistic on the surface and yet certainly the inspired product of a grand, deep vision.

MIW, if anything, presents us some of that wonderful, typically Japanese craziness that I wish we would see more of in the mainstream. It is a bombardment of chaos delivered with such delightful insanity that one cannot help but be compelled to participate.

I feel like flinging philosophical nonsense now.

But before I do that, I feel like telling a story. There’s this book of maxims and proverbs and quotes and whatnot that I used to borrow from the library while I was in high school. On the cover are three blindfolded men feeling around the legs of a giant, wooly beast. One says, “It’s a library!” another, “It’s a statue!” the third, “It has all the makings of a great and wise saying.” So I open the book one day and read a line from it. The thing says, “Cole’s Law: Thinly sliced cabbage.” Call me thick, but I didn’t get it until I asked someone what that meant, and by speaking it out, it suddenly all made sense.

All right, back to MIW and me flinging philosophical nonsense at you, dear reader. One of the key elements to the fun of MIW is not just how uniquely it presents itself or how zany it sounds in the process, but how fresh the challenges are that it throws at you. The game’s excitement comes not only from the few seconds you have to perform the task, but the fact that you are given zero instruction as to what the task entails. Sometimes, all you need to do is give the A button a single press at the right time, but there’s the rub: at the right time. You will be alternately excited and terrified by the potential for error as your mind gropes for what to do. The philosopher Bronowski once posed the question of how do we recognize; what is that crucial moment of recognition where all the fragmented, distorted colors and shapes before us are suddenly identified as something we know? It's possible that the creator of MIW had no clue about this, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t a fine tool for conveying that experience. Through its fusillade of 8-bit sprites, digitally photographed people, 16-bit particle effects, pop culture images, and accelerating music, MIW demands time and again if you can see it: sometimes you’ll recognize that ancient game it’s referencing, sometimes you’ll just have to guess. Sometimes you’ll grok it, and sometimes you won’t. It’s great.

Unfortunately, this greatest strength of MIW is also its greatest weakness. Many will find that after one or two play-throughs, the game can no longer surprise and excite them. Truly, this is one game where the first time you play it is the best. Nevertheless, MIW was designed for gaming sessions that may only last a few minutes, and in this way the mobile GBA platform suits it perfectly; if you need quick fixes on the go, this is the game to have.

In my mind, MIW is a product of divine madness and fiendish genius, a game which recounts so much gaming history with such style that I do not believe that it, as a Nintendo game, could be half as wonderful as it is had it come at any time earlier. As a handheld game, it seems ingenious, being playable for just a few minutes with satisfying results. But considering how some people simply will not accept its weirdness, and how others will not find replay satisfying enough, I suppose MIW can be summarized thusly:

It is THE must-rent game of the year.

Please, please, please do not deprive yourself of this experience.

Gabriel Leung / Brandon Sheffield