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Virtual Spotlight: Wario Land 3

Proving once again that innovation is the most sincere form of flatulence.

By Jeremy Parish. Published 7 months ago

Something fantastic happened today, at least for those of us who jumped in and adopted the 3DS early, back when it was overpriced and undersupported: At long last, we now have access to the complete Wario Land library on 3DS.

With the addition of Wario Land 3 to the system (joining the first two games on Virtual Console and the Ambassador-exclusive Wario Land 4), the 3DS is now the most Wario-heavy platform in existence. Especially if you factor in the DS games, though why anyone would subject themselves to Master of Disguise when you have access to Wario Land II and 3 on the cheap is beyond me.

The Wario Land games remain some of Nintendo's most grossly underappreciated gems, top-tier creations for platforms few serious gamers paid attention to in an era when the rush to 3D graphics made classic platformers deeply unpopular. But now that retro-style visuals and quirky, Metroid-like game design is all the rage among indie designers, it's time for true fans of the medium to step back and gain a better appreciation for just how great the Wario games were -- and, in fact, are. Ignore the limitations imposed by its Game Boy Color origins, because Wario Land III is a master class in genius game design.

For Wario, "In Harm's Way" isn't just the name of a B-movie; it's a way of life.

First, you need to understand that Wario Land 3, like its predecessors, was created in the shadow of the Mario series by what appears to be a group of designers who grumpily resented that franchise's golden-child status. Wario began as a grotesque mockery of Mario, and once he became the star of his own games, those adventures took on a similar personality. If Mario established the rules of platform games, Wario broke them at every opportunity.

Wario Land 3 also shows definite signs of its creators' own heritage as well; some of the staff involved in this weird little adventure had previously worked on the Metroid series. While Nintendo let that particular franchise lay fallow for nearly a decade, the Wario games offered those designers their own outlet for creating exploration-based platformers until they were finally allowed to make Metroid Fusion. (One assumes their only outlet in these dark days of no Metroid or Wario amounts to frustrated wailing in their private hours, or perhaps orchestrating campaigns to lower the customer ratings of the Mario games on Amazon Japan.)

An expansive world map charts your progress and mocks you with the baubles you haven't yet collected.

Combine that classic free-roaming, backtrack-friendly design with the odd rules of the Wario series and you end up with a huge, ambitious, and decidedly unconventional adventure. As in Wario Land II, the hero is indestructible here: He has no health meter nor stock of lives. You can't die. You can't lose.

But indestructible does not mean the same thing as invincible, and Wario's vulnerabilities serve as the central play mechanic. Like Wile E. Coyote, Wario can be bent, spindled, and mutilated; he can be crushed, burned, flattened, and even zombified. And when afflicted with such disadvantageous circumstances, Wario lives up to his comical villain heritage and makes the best of things anyway.

Wario's treasures aren't just trophies. They also let him do that whole "Metroidvania" thing.

Flatten Wario and he'll skitter into narrow spaces. Burn him and he'll break through flammable blocks as he dashes in a blazing panic. Transform him into a zombie and he'll... uh... be a zombie. Each and every status Wario can suffer offers both advantages and downsides, and every level is constructed in a way that challenges you to mess the guy up in the proper way and make further progress without stumbling across a cure for his conditions too soon.

Along the way, Wario acquires more permanent upgrades to go along with these temporary afflictions, growing ever more capable as an explorer and fighter, which of course allows him to revisit conquered territory and uncover alternate routes and treasures. Wario Land 3 came out in the midst of the 32- and 64-bit obsession with collect-a-thon platformers, and your goal here is not surprisingly to acquire 100% of the various baubles hidden throughout the world. But the way you go about it is far more interesting than "jump and run everywhere and keep tilting the camera to make sure you found the doodads lazily scattered about."

If Wario Land 3 has a flaw, it's that it may be a little too ambitious for its own good. The levels can sprawl, and some of the puzzles can be maddeningly complex, which can leave you feeling stuck in a rut at times. Still, it's a minor complaint, and if Wario Land 3 lacks the less-cluttered design of its predecessor and sequel, it excels in exploring this franchise's twisted subversion of the standard 2D platformer to its utmost limit.

There are some damn fine indie games cut from this retro-exploration-platformer-adventure cloth these days, but Wario Land III's brilliance holds up a decade and a half later to stand toe-to-toe with the best of them.

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The best community comments so far 6 comments

  • Baleoce 7 months ago

    I remember playing SML2: 6 golden coins back when I was really little, and thinking that the end boss was really cool, and that it was a great idea to have this yin and yang type nemesis to Mario. Then I played SML3: Wario Land, and there was pretty much no looking back. It had its own distinct style and feel to it. It made it even more appealing to me than handheld Mario, partially because I just thought they were better designed as games, but also because there was something intruiging about this new "protagonist". The level design and stellar soundtracks helped a lot too. I'm still convinced that they should be making more of these Wario Land styled games for 3DS.

  • MattG 7 months ago

    I absolutely love Wario Land 3 and would love to see another game in the series like it. I just played it on the GBC last year or else I'd buy the VC version right now, but since it's still fresh in my mind, I'll hang back a bit before I replay. Such a wonderful game though. Wario has so much personality.

  • Godots17thCup 7 months ago

    I've long been a big Wario fan, so it saddens me that he's no longer a regular part of Nintendo's portable efforts and seems to have been largely pushed aside in favor of even more Mario.

    Every time I saw his giant, goofy mug on the front of a GB/GBC/GBA box, I knew that inside was not only a confident and polished game design, but also something that was both creative and often outstandingly weird.

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