I was going to review this game. Then, for some reason, I didn't. My local Blockbuster didn't get it on release day. When asked, they said they'd get it tomorrow. Tomorrow is too late, because here's a review today, and it covers the way I am pretty much sure I'd feel about the game. Which is nice.
I didn't play this game more than a little bit at E3 -- enough to determine that it didn't suck. Which I think this review states pretty well. Let's remember Electronic Gaming Monthly's old rule -- a game that gets a 5.0 is "average"; this game clearly gets more than a 5.0, which means it doesn't, as they say, "Suck."
What I liked about what little Wario World I played was the groove of it, even if it wasn't enough. It felt like a fisticuff-endowed Mario title, filled with plenty of Wario ugliness. And that was going to be a big point of my review which was never written:
Wario is god-damned ugly.
If the yellow hat and purple trousers don't do it for you, the zigzagging mustache might. And if the zigzagging mustache don't do it for you, the nasty-shaped red nose should.
Wario is not meant to be pretty. Mario, at best, is an acquired-taste kind of "cute." Wario is not cute under any circumstances. He was created as a twisted, hideous, messed-up semi-surprise arch-nemesis for Mario in Super Mario Land 2, much as his brother Waluigi -- a clever Japanese pun and an un-clever character design -- was created both to mock Luigi and keep Wario company. If not inspired, Wario is at least polished in his ugliness. As I believe the great Gaming Intelligence Agency's Drew Cosner once said of the greater Wesley Willis, "Either you do one thing well, or you do it horribly, and be an absolute schizophrenic about it." This . . . kind of applies to Wario. He is not the people's hero -- he's the asshole character your asshole friend always picks when you play Mario Party 2 or Mario Kart 64.
I used to know a kid who liked the Detroit Tigers. The kid had a shitty personality. His personality was so shitty that to think of him today makes me think of Wario. His personality was so shitty that to think of him then made me hate the Detroit Tigers.
This guy, and Wario: they are, compared to Mario or Sonic, quite simply put, dirty. Sloppy. Yet, at the same time, Treasure's clean implementation of the yellow-and-purple-clothed eyesore is so smooth it almost reminds me of solid, compact Genesis games, and makes the GameCube Wario World a totally different ugly animal from the grungy, gritty, dirty, too-nasty-for-Japan Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee for Xbox.
What I like about Treasure games, at the end of the day, is their cleanness. Even the titles are clean:
Gunstar Heroes. No one ever disagreed with the words "Gun" or "Star" or "Heroes." That's clean.
Guardian Heroes uses two words that exist in many, many other places. That's cleaner.
Silhouette Mirage -- same thing.
Radiant Silvergun has another "Gun"-inclusive hybrid word in it, and that's cool by me.
Bangai-Oh -- whatever it means, it sounds good. Same goes for Ikaruga.
Often, the character designs reflect this cleanness of title. The Gunstar Heroes of Gunstar Heroes are red, blue, yellow, and green. Simple character designs for a simple story, in a shooter based around a simple concept. The intimacy of the character design inspires you to step closer to your enemies, grab them, and throw them. It inspires you to jump head-first into Bravoo-Man, your first real miniboss, landing a wicked hands-on body-slam. It's thanks to the game design that we get a crunchy-cereal feeling out of the controller in our hands as we tear through that robot of brick; it's thanks to the character design and the overall cleanness of the game that we're inspired to do so in the first place.
God bless Treasure for making a game starring Wario look clean; damn them for not making me feel inspired the way I do with Gradius V, which therefore won "Treasure Game of the E3 2003." I blame this, mostly, on Wario's being ugly, and lonely.
Virtual Boy Wario Land was a Mario-ish adventure that got by not on its cleanness or charm -- it got by on its difficulty, its urgency, its my god keep playing until you get to the end. That it gave me headaches and robbed me of two-thirds of the physical color spectrum was a con; that it made me not mind this so much is a pro. (I took my Excedrin like a man.) That I got all the treasure during my first run-through would be a bad thing if the rest of the game wasn't so damned memorable.
It wasn't by Treasure.
It had good box art, however.
How Nintendo managed to manipulate Wario on the box art for Virtual Boy Wario Land in such a way as to make the whole project appealing even on an aesthetic level is something of a mystery. Years later, after spying Wario World's fuzzy, blown-up, lazily Photoshopped DVD case on my Gamestop rack, I believe the older game's appeal has something to do with the treasure map out of which Wario is bursting on the box. It has something to do with the positions of the monsters -- including a saw-nosed fish. It is the arrangement of the ugliness that makes it -- if at all -- attractive.
Nintendo's Mario and Wario, for Super Famicom, was a kind of clever Gyromite riff. On the box, Mario stands with a shiny bucket on his head, being led around by a fairy -- the player character. Wario, big and fat and ugly as ever, looks fatter and uglier next to a shiny bucket and a worried fairy.
This is an example of Wario usefully characterized.
One of the GameBoy Wario Land games is blessed with a concept: Wario can't die. Being hit by certain enemies alters his state so that he can reach areas he couldn't previously reach, or kill enemies he couldn't previously kill. Killing enemies, then, is done not because the player fears death -- it is because the player fears being changed into something not advantageous to him.
This is an example of Wario's bad-guy toughness implemented into a brilliant design concept.
The Wario of Wario World's box art is an ugly cartoon man surrounded by shiny computer-animated gold coins. With no characters of similar cartoon integrity to bounce off of, Wario is the worst kind of fat, ugly man -- he is a fat, ugly, and lonely man.
Is this Nintendo's idea of a mature game? Make the pastel-colored hero fat and ugly instead of chubby and cute? No, no -- Nintendo is above that kind of lowbrow Oddworldliness. Wario's lonesomeness is a fluke, and a bad kind of fluke, at that.
Wario is made even lonelier by the absence of any big, burly, rolled-up-sleeves kind of game-design risk. To be sure, Treasure games, in their cleanness, are all about polishing the confines of genres, and encrusting with one singular, well-set gameplay jewel: take Ikaruga -- Treasure's idea of a "simple top-down shooter" -- blessed with the deep brilliance of the polarity-system, which allows psychotic players to beat the game without firing a single shot. Take Gunstar Heroes -- a seemingly typical run-and-shoot -- with its gentle insistence that you get up close, and hug your enemies.
Take Gradius V, with its bite-sized Vic Viper Starship, and aimable options that can be re-grabbed following a death. Sure -- we've seen options in Gradius before; we've seen revival (respawning immediately after death rather than skipping back to the beginning of a level or segment) in a shooter before; we've just never seen option revival. This is the kind of combination and revision Treasure always has been good at doing.
It's just not the kind of thing Wario's good at bringing.
Nintendo's WarioWare for GameBoy Advance sees Wario as the MC for a twirling, twirling, twirling tirade of sickening, eclectic funness. (Put that on the box, IGN!) This is Wario used in the same manner as the equally ugly Queen of England: a figurehead. The game itself has little to do with Wario; putting him there on the box makes me like Wario as much as we like the Queen of England when we drop a ten-pound note for the latest issue of Edge.
Watching what happens when a more-than-respectable developer fixes itself to the task of building an entire game around the ugly lump is interesting, if not entirely pretty.
"Brilliant concepts," these days, in videogames, are tough to come by. The way I see it, there are two bookends. Grand Theft Auto displays its brilliance in allowing the player to do everything. Ikaruga's brilliance is that it allows the player to do close to nothing. Wario Ware, the middle ground; a game that sees videogames as videogames, it is brilliant in that it forces the player to constantly reinvent himself.
Wario World is not brilliant for any reason. It is simply what it is.
And . . . what is it?
It can't be called a moneymaking strategy -- Wario's too bloaty a character to make much money.
It can't be called an artistic risk, because it doesn't strike out in any bold territory. It neither excites nor inspires. It is lonely.
At least it the rendering of the ugly man looks smooth -- maybe even "nice." Unlike the differently ugly Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, Wario World makes use of cleanly-traced ugliness, which makes it maybe-palatable to Japanese design sensibilities. Inversely, in America, where, most of the time, UGLY = TEH COOL, the game is promoted with the most hideous of box art.
Something about the fact that the GameStop.com page cites "Nintendo" as the developer makes me feel some kind of sick duty to play this game. In this day of entertainment news programs informing viewers which movies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer are actually directed by Michael Bay, I feel this swelling desire, this . . . frothing demand, to let someone know that developer names like "Treasure" are important knowledge for casual gamers. This, combined with the experience of having read Shepard's review, inspires me to play through Wario World once, as a Treasure fan; I figure I can complete it in three hours. So many people have been relating to me their "d00d that game's S0 short" stories; I figure I'll see what I can do about relating similar stories of my own to some other people.
Until then, I think I'll play some more Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for Saturn. I appreciate pretty character designs running around an elegant gothic atmosphere.
And as far as antiheroes go, Alucard could so kick Wario's ass.
--tim rogers will give you five to one on mario vs. richter