Firstly, some context for my review of Game and Wario, the ninth installment of the WarioWare series.
The franchise dates back to the 2003 release, WarioWare: Mega Microgames, which features its star as a throwaway Nintendo villain, down on his luck and looking for a way to make it big. Watching television one day, he notices a news report on the latest game by a beloved video game developer, Pyoro, and decides that this is to be his get-rich-quick scheme. So he forms a video game company and assembles a team to create a new line of games he modestly calls WarioWare.
These games are a collection of five-to-ten second mini-games which are extremely fun to play. But what I also enjoy about WarioWare games is their not-so-subtle subtext: a large, soulless corporation (Microsoft?) bullying its way into an industry made popular by its competitor (Nintendo?), looking to make a quick buck by shoveling out tons of games at a blistering pace (Xbox?).
Perhaps I'm reading too much into the series, but when I play WarioWare games, they do really come across as a critique of the ADD-ification (surely, that's a word) of gamer culture, and a snarky, meta-before-everything-was-meta dissertation on Nintendo's competitors. The series seems ahead of its time, predicting the rise of quick-bite mobile games or Twitter.
Or am I nuts and is WarioWare just a bunch of mini-games designed to give a second-tier Nintendo character something to do? Anyway, let's get to the review.
In the franchise's first Wii U outing, Game and Wario tries to go for deeper, or at least lengthier experiences across its 12 single-player and four multiplayer minigames. There is no central experience tying everything together. Instead, there's a choice of single or multiple player options, and a list of games, most of them with increasing levels of difficulty. The game also features the standard leaderboards and unlockables you would expect from the series.
Because a game like Game and Wario is only as good as its parts, in the spirit of the original WarioWare: Mega Microgames, I present you micro-reviews of all 16 mini-games… 3, 2, 1...
Arrow - Shoot arrows at weird little robot Warios. Feels like the original tech demo that led to Takamaru's Ninja Castle and the larger Game and Wario. One of the better games.
Shutter - You have a camera and you need to find four characters. Creative use of the GamePad, but really slows down the flow of the game. Feels like it takes forever. Reminds me of Pokemon Snap.
Patchwork - An interesting puzzle game where you have to fit different patches into sections of a board. Lots of levels and difficulties in this one, but it's not necessarily a fun time. Too bad.
Pirates - Protect yourself from arrows from Wario's different pirate ships. More creative use of the GamePad but it's ultimately a boring game.
Kung Fu - Use the GamePad to move your character around, making sure he lands on the ground. I liked this one because you could use the main TV to scope out hidden scrolls, and plot your course.
Ski - Pretty much the F-Zero mini-game in Nintendo Land, but in reverse. Again, a little too "on-the-nose" for me, even with the later levels offering slightly more challenge. Still, it's disco disco, hey hey!
Design - One of my favorites, although it gets repetitive. Follow Crygor's instructions to draw lines and circles of varying sizes. It's more difficult than it sounds. Includes a two-player option, an all-too-rare occurrence for a game like this.
Ashley - I want to like this game, as it's a Wario take on the side-scrolling shooter genre, but it's way too slow and not a huge challenge.
Gamer - My favorite game of them all, in which the player takes the role of a gamer who's playing, wait for it, Mega Microgames. Gamer is a reminder of WarioWare's past highs, and the clever inclusion of a demonic mom that you have to dodge is something that I wish I'd seen more of.
Taxi - This one is fun as you use the GamePad for a first-person perspective to drive around some farm land while picking up some passengers and dropping them off. A shooting element also mixes it up. All in all, one of the better games.
Bowling - Why is this not a multi-player game? This isn't your typical Wii bowling, but does offer a nice challenge that increases as you go through higher levels. Solid concept and execution, I just wish it had the option to include more players.
Bird - This is the famous Pyoro (or Bird and Beans) game that's a mainstay of the WarioWare series. Pyoro always brings the goods, and this version looks beautiful. A very nice challenge that will have you playing again and again.
Sketch (multiplayer-only) - My favorite multiplayer-only game, this is basically a high-tech Pictionary. You draw, others guess, and the players award points based on an honor system. The slideshow at the end had us rolling with failed attempts at showcasing any artistry.
Islands (multiplayer-only) - A fairly standard catapult game reminiscent of Arrow, this is also pretty fantastic. Nice surprises like tilting stages and chances to sabotage your opponents make this a keeper.
Disco (multiplayer-only) - Yeah, this one isn't good. Something about the rhythm was consistently off, and as such couldn't make for a fun time.
Fruit (multiplayer-only) - This one is a good game where the person with the GamePad plays a thief, trying to steal apples from under the noses of the other players. A keen eye is required for this one and, although it gets a bit monotonous, it's worth a few plays.
There are a few nice bonuses that give Game and Wario a bit more longevity. We only scratched the surface of Miiverse Sketch since it just came out, but it's a good sign that Nintendo realized one of the better mini-games to feature in a larger way.
The Cluck-A-Pop egg machine is awesome, and harkens back to previous installments of WarioWare where the bonuses were as cool as the actual games. Even if they're throwaway experiences, items like Sad Dog will offer some of the most memorable moments of Game and Wario. Still, the game's lack of additional multiplayer modes and very limited non-TV GamePad support are just obvious missteps, and it makes the overall Game and Wario package feel somewhat rushed.
Game and Wario offers a solid, non-threatening experience, but is less risky and fulfilling than previous WarioWare games. It has definite glimmers of gaming genius (Bird, Sketch, and Gamer come to mind), and some of the artistry featured in the game is gorgeous, but the series has seen better days.
More broadly, Game and Wario reminds me of Nintendo's past greatness with the series while offering us a small warning that it is becoming the type of company it was critiquing back in 2003. Game and Wario is by no means a bad game, but it does feel like Wario's trying to make a quick buck with this one. Thankfully, it's good enough, but that may have more to do with the current Wii U software drought than the game itself.
The shadow of WarioWare looms long over Game and Wario, and unfortunately this spin-off -- I can't in good conscience call it a sequel -- doesn't begin to match up to its predecessor's mad sense of invention. On one hand, points to Nintendo for not simply churning out a game that was "WarioWare, but with a Wii U Game Pad!" -- that would have violated the spirit of the entire series. On the other hand, if you're going to do something different, it's best to strive to do something better, too.
I get what they were going for here; thematically, Nintendo is calling back to its influential Game and Watch series with the title, typography, and minigame design. Unlike WarioWare, which consisted of three-second single-button vignettes, Game and Wario is a garlic-and-farts-themed take on the simple but somewhat more substantial amusements of those old LCD handhelds. It's all very self-referential and sometimes even clever, but the novelty seems too thin to prop up an entire package. When the original WarioWare debuted a decade ago, it felt legitimately revolutionary. But these days, minigame collections have become a dime a dozen, and with only around 20 events on offer here, Game and Wario feels entirely too insubstantial for its own good.
That being said, some of the games are fun... though the most enjoyable ones, perhaps not coincidentally, are generally the ones I played more than a year ago in pre-launch Wii U demos. Nintendo clearly put its best foot forward promoting this title. But an equal number of them drag on, something that very rarely happened in WarioWare. On the few occasions you were thrust into a more long-form event in those games (like the shooter microgame that Ashley seems loosely based on), they came off as the culmination of a long and grueling struggle and offered a moment of respite from the game's otherwise breakneck pace. Here, they just make you want to not select that event anymore.
As John says, the most addictive minigames here are the ones that reprise existing content. Game and Wario is an amusing diversion, sure, but I can't quite bring myself to care. Give me a real WarioWare or Wario Land title any day. We're already up to two first-party minigame collections for Wii U, and of the pair I'd much rather Game and Wario had been the free pack-in and have paid separately for Nintendo Land. It offered much more interesting minigames, was more fun to play with other people, and did a better job of paying tribute to Nintendo's history. That's three strikes, which seems especially unfortunate considering the WarioWare series got its start with that bonus baseball microgame in Wario Land 4....