Genre : Action
Release Date: June 24, 2003
Buy 'WARIO WORLD': GameCube
Now, granted, I had to play it more than you did. I went through that game three times in a row for a strategy guide, and by the end, I was throwing Mario into lava just to see him writhe. I'll admit that I've yet to see a 3D platformer that I really, truly liked, but Sunshine combined lousy level design with a camera that was almost certainly controlled by Mario's enemies. Most of the bonus stages would've been difficult if you'd been able to see what you were doing, but when you were jumping blind, it became almost impossible. The entire American gaming press went collectively insane with joy over this game; I did not. I still don't get it. It's not like realistic water is all that impressive anymore.
So when I saw Wario World at E3, I was going in with a pretty fair amount of cynicism. I didn't know then that Treasure had done the development—Treasure being the development house behind titles like Ikaruga, Stretch Panic, Dynamite Headdy, Bangai-O!, Super Castlevania IV, and Radiant Silvergun; Treasure games have provided me with equal measures of insane fun and head-scratching moments of utter disbelief—so I figured it'd be another run over the same ground that Sunshine had covered.
When Wario World opens, Wario's notorious greed has paid off. He's built a massive castle, where he can store his wealth and the many treasures he's stolen. One of those treasures, unfortunately for Wario, is the Evil Black Jewel, a malevolent gemstone that possesses mysterious powers. From its treasure chest deep below Wario's castle, it reaches out and changes his coins and treasures into a wide variety of monsters. Before Wario realizes it, his money's been taken away and his precious goods have been stolen, hidden within the bizarre realms that his castle has become. As Wario, your job is to pummel, crush, and destroy everything that stands in your way, so you can reclaim your home and your wealth.
Wario's basic moveset is less that of a platforming hero and more suited to that of a beat-'em-up. Most opponents can be stunned with a few punches, a rushing elbow, or a Ground Pound to an unprotected area, whereupon you can pick them up with the B button and deliver the coup de grace with a well-aimed throw, a giant swing, or a piledriver. In a sort of blend between Super Mario Bros. 2 and pro wrestling, the bulk of Wario's offense involves slamming one opponent into another at a high rate of speed. While he could've stood to have a couple more moves, this still makes combat in Wario World a fast-paced, vicious, satisfying affair from the first level onwards. Had a bad day at work? Bulldoze through a mob of monsters, go back and deck anyone you missed, pick up their limp bodies, and slam them into anyone else that's still on their feet, all of which are delivered with boneshaking sound effects and seamless animation. It beats the hell out of just jumping on their heads, I'll tell you that much for free.
Much like Sunshine, Wario World features a series of levels joined by a central hub. As you beat each level, you'll unlock another one in succession, which leads to a boss fight within each realm. It's extremely straightforward, compared to Sunshine or even Mario 64. While you won't be called upon to do much serious platforming within a level proper, each level has eight bonus stages hidden somewhere within it, and you'll need the Red Diamonds contained in those bonus stages to reach the level's boss. Those stages take the form of simple platform-based puzzles, to Sunshine-style gauntlets of sheer platforming skill.
The levels aren't particularly groundbreaking, but they're polished and solid. Wario World has the best difficulty scaling of any game in this console generation, period. The first stages could be passed by a small child, and there are occasional gimmes right up until the fifth area or so, but by the time you're in the seventh level, you'll start getting hit with bonus stages and challenges that will force you to draw upon whatever reserves of skill you possess. The eighth stage of the game, the innocuously-named Pecan Sands, features platforming action that is both punishingly hard, where a single mistake will send Wario plummeting off the stage to try again, and adequately fair, for that single mistake will always obviously have been your fault.
Granted, Wario World does tend to feel like it's easy. Its continue system is outright broken; you need to pay a couple of hundred coins to continue. However, you can score a few thousand coins without even trying very hard, and certain bonus stages could theoretically allow you to go beyond even that. (For example, there's a platformer stage in the eighth level where simply throwing a lever will cause a couple of hundred coins to appear. Throw the lever, grab the coins, and jump off the level. Wario will reappear at the level's start, with the coins he grabbed, ready to do it all all over again. Repeat 'til filthy stinking Daffy Duck "I'm rich, I'm rich, I'm comfortably well-off!" wealthy.) Also, when you continue, you do so right at the moment Wario died. You can literally buy your way through any boss fight in the game. Now, granted, you don't have to take advantage of these feature, unless you are a scrub, but it's there, and it's so broken that it almost seems like a glitch.
Wario World also does away with the very concept of "lives." Fall off a platform into a bottomless pit, and Wario just lands back at the stage's beginning. The only "punishment" involved is if the stage is made up of multiple parts that you now have to do all over again. While the frustration factor of the harder platform stages is somewhat mitigated by the fact that failure doesn't really cost you anything (except a few irreplaceable minutes of your life), it still feels cheap somehow.
A 3D platformer, for my money, tends to live and die by its camera, and Wario World's camera succeeds in that respect. In the main run of a stage, you'll find yourself in a side-scrolling brawler with deviations along every axis, and the camera's only failing is that it doesn't pull far enough to the left or right at any given time. The platform stages' camera is set up so you can rotate the perspective almost at will, and this is combined with elegantly precise level design. I spent a lot of time falling to my demise—or, rather, back to the beginning of the sublevel—in Wario World, and I can honestly say that it wasn't because of the camera. It was because I suck.
The unfortunate downside of all this is that Wario World has the replay value of an appendectomy. You can unlock minigames from Wario Ware by collecting all eight treasures in the game's eight levels, but once Wario World is over, it's over. There aren't any secrets or a "second quest."
While it's there, though, Wario World is the one 3D platformer I would actually dare to say I like, partially because it's not really a "pure" platformer. It's a brawler with occasional platforming action. Still, Treasure has done itself proud with this title, and Wario himself can lift his head up high. At least in my book, he's got at least one game that's better than Mario's.