Developer: Feel Good
Release Date: September 22, 2008
Who would have thought that we'd be seeing a pseudo-2D revival on home consoles this late in the game? Sure, there's been a fair share of 2D properties revived on both of the major portable platforms, but consoles have long been the territory of the 3D realm, but with games like Mega Man 9 and now, Wario Land: Shake It! getting a tremendous push, it's definitely an interesting time to be a gamer.
Obviously, the biggest initial appeal of Wario Land: Shake It! comes from the graphical presentation. Large, extremely well-animated sprites dominate the screen, with some interesting background visuals to boot, and there's a variety of over-the-top and larger-than-life bosses to go along with these stages. Wario has never looked so good, to be sure, and it shows that a lot of effort was put into this 2D platformer, and it's definitely a step up from his GBA titles in terms of presentation and overall appearance.
How does Shake It! stack up in the platforming world today? It's certainly good, but not as good as you might wish. If you've never played a Wario Land title before, then you might be expecting something akin to the other Mario platformers out there, but Wario definitely has his own style when it comes to bopping enemies and jumping gaps. For one, he's a bit slower but makes up for it with his size, allowing him to speed-dash with a button press, which can tear down most obstacles and knock enemies into orbit. He can also jump on and pick up enemies, and he can either shake them senseless to drop a health item, or hold down a throw button and tilt the Wiimote to aim where he's tossing.
Along with these moves, Wario can pound the ground with his fist by lifting the Wiimote up and swinging down, and he can also stomp the ground with his butt, allowing him to break through obstacles below. The environment can also give Wario a few more moves. For instance, there are enemies that will catch on fire as long as they don't hit the water, and if Wario runs into this fire, he'll start running in one direction at full speed, and as he runs without hitting a wall or a pool, the fire will spread until he's fully engulfed. This allows you to tear down certain fire barriers in various levels. There are also different objects, such as thin poles that Wario can swing around to give himself a jump boost, or small devices that Wario can climb into, like a makeshift unicycle or even a small rocket ship. Tilting the Wiimote controls most of the movement for these devices, and it all works really well.
All of Wario's basic controls, such as movement and jumping, are done with the d-pad and the face buttons on the Wiimote. There's no need for a Nunchuk accessory in this game; just tilt the Wiimote sideways and treat it like an old-school NES pad. It definitely fits the bill, and the controls are always spot-on and precise, exactly how a platformer should be.
So where do my complaints lie? Well, while Wario is definitely a solid platformer, it's a far cry from the best 2D work that Nintendo has put out. When you prop the game up next to classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Yoshi's Island, it doesn't really stand a chance, but even against previous Wario Land titles, it doesn't quite feel as interesting or engaging as it once was. It's easy to be blinded by the brilliance of 2D sprites at 480p on a large TV, but once you get past the glamour, the core product isn't everything that it could have been.
For instance, the level design feels uneven, with some absolutely fun stages mixed with quite a few bad spots, in particular a couple of stages that have you navigating a submarine as the screen auto-scrolls. The submarine feels really sluggish, and it's hard to get a handle on the controls here, as you're meant to speed forward or backward with the d-pad, but also to tilt the angle of the sub by moving the Wiimote, all the while firing projectiles with one of the numbered buttons to take on the waves of enemies you come across. It's not particularly hard, but it's also not fun at all, and these stages really hindered the experience for me. There are a few other stages that just didn't do much for me either, but I'll admit that they are few and far between. The rest of the group was definitely decent, but hardly memorable.
The boss fights, on the other hand, were pretty great. They're either big and fill the screen, or they use some inventive use of the control system to take them down, particularly the third stage boss. As far as gameplay goes, outside of maybe the first one, I found these encounters to be the highlight of the game.
As you begin Wario Land: Shake It!, you're introduced to a small tutorial level to get you accustomed to the controls. The actual "Shake It" part comes from the various bags of money that Wario will encounter, which requires you to vigorously shake the controller once you pick them up, ejecting tons of coins for Wario to collect. This cash comes into play as you buy maps from a pirate store, which in turn unlocks stages. Along with maps, you can purchase extra heart containers, healing objects, and a few other surprise items. Because you need cash to buy the maps for the stages, you might find yourself grinding a little bit early on, especially if you're not a completionist, so you won't typically gain enough money just by speeding through a stage. It's also not the way the game is meant to be played.
Each stage has three different treasures that Wario can locate, along with a variety of side-quests to complete, such as earning a certain number of coins, locating elusive golden enemies, or running back to the entrance (after locating the little creatures you're trying to save) within a certain amount of time. Sure, you can run from point A to B and back again, but you're hardly getting the intended experience from the game. The stages are designed for exploration, and that's how you'll get the best experience out of Wario Land. If that doesn't sound like something you enjoy, then the title probably isn't for you.
There is a story to Wario Land: Shake It!, and it's not exactly great, but it works for getting Wario involved and getting the game started. The idea is that there is a world where a treasure exists that's basically a bottomless bag of gold coins, and this treasure has been stolen. Along with that, the creatures that inhabit the world have been imprisoned, except that one escapes and makes his way to Wario, pleading for help. Of course, Wario isn't looking to do this for free, but when he hears about this bottomless bag of cash, he's pretty much ready to go. It's cute and fun, and it definitely fits the Nintendo mold, so for the most part, it works.
I really enjoyed Wario Land: Shake It!, but I can't say I was blown away by it. If you go into the game with your expectations in check and a willingness to explore the levels instead of just running through them, then you'll get a lot out of the experience. The controls are spot-on, and it's a great testament as to why 2D sprites are still a valid form of video-gaming fun today. I suggest picking it up for Wii owners; I don't think you'll be disappointed at all.
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