I remember when I got my Game Boy Advance. I was so excited to play Rayman on the car-rides, become a vampire-hunter in Circle of the Moon, grind in Breath of Fire, and soon acquire the newest installment in the Wario Land-series! This title, however, is one I clearly remember having some fun with, but I always considered trading it in to get some other games. An odd form of nostalgia for this title, but one I am eager to revisit.
A beginner’s treasure hunt
Wario is off to an ancient Pyramid to become richer ones again. At this point, I wonder how rich this greedy bastard needs to be, as he must be wealthier than Scrooge McDuck by now! Regardless, he takes his car, finds the pyramid, follows a black cat, and becomes trapped inside. Not caring about if he will make out alive or not, Wario sets out to find all the treasures in this tomb to become stinking rich.
After the first tutorial stage teaching you the controls and an easy boss-fight, you soon discover that there are 4 worlds to choose from, each containing 4 levels and a boss-fight. The stages are constructed to be semi-linear platforming-stages with clear goals, but also encourage exploration to find treasures, coins, and rupees. Thankfully, Wario has all of his moves available, making it easy to choose which world to start with. Charge-attack, throwing objects, jumping, crawling, and swimming are back, but his ground pound can now be stronger the longer he falls, and he has a new headbutt-move that needs a running start and packs a strong punch.
Wario is no longer invincible, however. He now has a life bar, with hearts representing the number of times you can take damage. Under the hearts is a bar that slowly fills up each time you collect a red orb from a fallen enemy and will refill one of the hearts you have lost when it is filled up. However, the game never got so hard that I even paid attention to my health. The reason for that is something that I will come back to later.
The essential items that you must collect in each stage are 4 pieces of a square to open the boss-door and a bird-key for entering the next level. These are all made so they are easy to find if you look just a little bit around. However, there are a bunch of hidden treasures in every stage, where you will often have to pay attention to oddly shaped walls or surfaces for example. This made the game have a good balance with exploration in somewhat linear stages, as I always felt I was directed the right way, but also had the means to explore should I desire so. After you acquire what you wished to get, you will have to jump on a toad at the end of the stage to get back home. Each toad will set a timer and you will have to run back to the beginning and jump into the re-appeared portal you started out from. However, when these timers are set, the stages will activate and deactivate certain blocks, giving you a different path you can follow to make backtracking enjoyable and fast-paced.
The stages themselves have certain themes to them as well, making them quite different from each other. One might set you in a factory with conveyor belts and steam-hammers to slam you into a pancake so you can fly, while another might have you swing from vine to vine and swim your way to safety. This gives each stage its own feel and personality, which is very impressive. However, not all stages have great designs to them, with some being easier than others or having concepts that felt uninteresting, such as the one where you had to jump under a block to get a specific number to appear. Most stages are fun to play through, but there are certainly some that could need some more development.
One of the biggest problems these stages contain is simply the lack of difficulty. They don’t have much challenge to them, and while all have a form of creativity to them, they never get expanded upon except for the one level they are used for. It seems like by giving each of the stages their own concept, they could not get to experiment more with the unique themes.
Another element that hurts the stages, is the return of condition-effects Wario can get from interacting with environments or enemies. Certain ones will grant him conditions, such as bats turning Wario into one himself, or fire making him run while eventually starting to burn up. These are well used for puzzles in the stages themselves, but if you are not a veteran, the game does a poor job explaining which enemy is dangerous and which aren’t. Maybe a more linear design would have been appropriate, as they could have developed, taught, and fleshed out more of the concepts the game offers. The only part that stays consistently good are the puzzle-rooms hidden in each stage. They are clever tests of your skills and thinking, with my favorite being one I had to solve by making earthquakes. They always reward you with a shiny diamond that is worth quite a lot, so you will feel a sense of achievement.
So, with so many hidden treasures, what can you do with all of them? Well, the only thing you can use them for are 3 mini-games to acquire frog medals from. All the mini-games require only one button, so each should be simple enough to understand. First, there is Wario Hop, where he balances on a wheel and you have to make him jump over obstacles. This is the most time consuming one, as while it does get more challenging, you get one medal every 15 hops, and should you hit an obstacle, it is game over. The second game, Wario’s Roulette, fairs a bit better. You have to remember a face that is presented to you and choose the correct eyes, nose, and mouth to make the face you just saw. You get one coin after 3 correct faces you made and if you make one mistake, it is game over.
This is decent enough, but the best one and the one you will likely come back to is Wario’s Homerun Derby. In this take on baseball, you will take control of the batter and will have to hit the ball at the right moment for a homerun. For 3 home runs, you will get a medal and you only lose after 3 strikes. It is fast-paced, enjoyable, and the game where it is easiest to score coins. However, the coins can only be used for one weapon against a boss, to make them start out easier. To make matters worse, you won’t need these weapons.
While the bosses are fun to fight against, they aren’t challenging. Some fights are a bit creative, such as one floating teddy-bear I had to poke holes in with his dropped spikes, and a clock that turned into a bird. Without any threat, however, they become very forgettable and it is sad that there aren’t more fights that could be entertaining. There is a timer that you will have to beat, which will also affect how many treasure chests you will get in the end, but I never felt it stressing me.
It is great to see how creative Wario Land 4 has gotten in its level-designs, but it is such a shame that they could not expand on the better ideas they had. With so many fun concepts, it could have been better to streamline the progression, so the ideas could have gotten progressively more creative, and stages become more intriguing and balanced. Because of this, the game might feel much shorter than it really is, making it somewhat forgettable. However, what is here is certainly enjoyable, just underwhelming.
Gameplay Score: 6/10
Acid-trip for kids
This might be my favorite-looking Wario Land-game so far, as it has bizarre areas you travel to and each with their own theme. There is a haunted hotel, rainforest, freezer, and my personal favorite: a pinball-level. Each has a clear style, with all being colorful and imaginative, like a weird fever-dream. They do reuse certain backgrounds at times, but it is not a major issue, especially when the multilayer backgrounds create a good atmosphere. There is also a bit of mode-7 and wavy animations, creating the illusion of dreams or something out of a modern art piece, which is very appealing. The enemies are also well used and each area has creatures that fit well in their environments. All have good animations to them with some being quite odd in design. The bosses as well have excellent details and creative designs to them, such as the mentioned cuckoo clock. Our playable character Wario has also gotten a good upgrade, with the different conditions and even his normal walk-cycle being greatly animated.
The music, on the other hand, is a surreal mix that meets just about any genre you can think of. Funky jazz intro with lyrics, rock in the factory, and some that are more like unsettling noise than music, all are fun yet weird. Unfortunately, they are not all rhythmic enough to become memorable or subtle enough to become atmospheric. Since they don’t hit a good aspect for either approach, most become easily forgettable, despite not being bad. However, while I can’t hear what they are singing at times, I can quote any line Wario gives and they are still enjoyable to this day.
Presentation Score: 8/10
What am I really supposed to do with all the treasures?
In each stage, there is a secret CD that can be found that is cleverly hidden. However, while it is fun to search out for these, what you get from finding them are just odd mixes of sounds. Bizarre and fitting the game, but they come of as unrewarding. The plentiful coins you can find throughout the game are also worthless as they can only be used for minigames, so going out for finding more of them feels unneeded. Some might say the reward lies in the journey, but while that is true to a certain extent, no payoff makes this quite disinteresting. At least it keeps the score for what you got in a stage if you care about that sort of thing.
There are multiple endings again, depending on how many treasures you got from defeating the bosses, but they are too easy to acquire. It will be quite impressive if you got anything less than a good or even the best ending. What is left is a superhard-mode if you beat the game on hard. This changes up where the treasures are hidden, which is a good idea. However, it also adds plenty more enemies on the screen and it is a lazy way to make it “harder”, as they are just there to become annoyances. Some decent ideas, but no real value to them.
Presentation score: 4.5/10
With a strange protagonist in even more obscure worlds, Wario Land 4 is certainly a surreal treasure hunt, with stages that are creative and unique. It is just unfortunate that the treasures are worthless when the bosses are too easy, and the stages lack any challenge because the concepts each stage has, does not get to evolve. All in all: it is a creative platformer that unfortunately feels like it just started to get good. A good option for newcomers, and those that value creativity even if it falls short.