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Review: Wario: Master of Disguise

With Wario’s latest foray into gaming via WarioWare: Smooth Moves, you’d be salivating at the mouth for Wario’s next platforming adventure to take place—back to his roots of zany puzzle-platforming, right? Well, as fate would have it, about a month after Wario’s first Wii title comes another game to feature the antithesis of Nintendo’s beloved mascot, this time in the form of Wario: Master of Disguise. Now, what you may not have known is that this title was not developed by Nintendo, but by a developer called Suzak. I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’m just gonna go out and say right now that it shows.

Wario: Master of Disguise tells the tale of the Purple Wind, a thief that steals a magical wand named Goodstyle from another thief—a thief who has his own TV show. That’s because the Purple Wind is actually Wario, who has taken it upon himself to jump into this thief’s TV show and take it over, stealing not only the wand but also the leading role. Something I will say about this game off the bat is that the writing actually isn’t bad. At times, it’s even pretty good as far as comedy goes. Not many games are so funny as to make me laugh out loud on occasion, but this one did the trick.

Wario fans will recognize the basic concept of changing Wario’s forms to solve puzzles, but things are a lot different this time around. Instead of intentionally getting attacked by foes to change Wario’s form, you collect disguised as you progress, and switch between them on the fly. The manner in which you do this is by drawing different symbols around Wario—meaning you need to have your stylus ready at all times. As a result, you play the game using either the D-pad or the four face buttons on the other side of the DS, depending on your preferred hand. This controls all right—most of the time—and offers for some interesting gameplay.

You will use your different abilities to solve varying puzzles—some of which are easy, others of which will actually bend your brain a little bit. Bear in mind that this game is a special puzzle game, not an action-oriented romp. Consequently, enemies are few in number, short on variety, and unsatisfying to fight with. Killing stuff just plain sucks. And, unfortunately, it’s not the only thing that is mediocre about this game.

The level designs were all right—passable for what it sets itself out to do. However, they never impress and never give you a sense of wonder like the old Wario Land games did. Remember Wario Land 3? Remember the amazing level design, the way the levels were all linked together in unique ways? Well, forget out all that brilliance. What you’ll find here is something similar to Portrait of Ruin: separated segments of “Metroidvania” style that are bland in their design. Sure, there’s some variety in where you go, but even so, the game looks as bland as it plays. Still, to their credit, they tried, and there is some surprising variety. Once in a long while, it actually looks nice, and once in a longer while, it actually has some nifty layout design.

Where Wario shines in its gameplay is, sadly, where it also fails. The touch screen is used to switch Wario’s forms and perform interesting abilities (notably drawing blocks or hearts as an Artist, or zapping at precise spots with your Space Shooter). Aye, but here’s the rub: the switching of abilities could have easily been done with buttons. And furthermore, this would have been more convenient, as the touch screen can be imprecise, and unless you’re Van Gogh, you’ll screw up and draw something the game can’t recognize. Sometimes it works just fine, but sometimes it’s a mess—can’t say it was ever truly impressive, though.

While the game does ramp up in challenge, it never gets too hard—which is probably a good thing. But stages can be a bit too much at times. Honestly, an hour to complete one level? That’s a little ridiculous for a portable game. And why am I collecting money, anyway, when I can’t even spend it on anything? For once, I’ve questioned Wario’s greed—why the heck does he want all of this money when he never uses it for anything? At least in the Wario Land games, your money served a purpose.

Speaking of money, you get most of it from treasure—treasure you find by opening chests. And these chests have booby-traps that must be disarmed. What this causes is a slew of dull, repetitive minigames that use shoddy touch-screen mechanics and figure, “Hey, if we slap Wario’s hat, mustache, shoes, garlic, and poop all over everything, it’ll feel like Wario, right?” Uhhhh…NO. Not really so much. What it amounts to is a poor and pathetic representation of Wario as well as a sad attempt at adding gameplay by cheapening out. At least the minigames get harder later on in the game, but this is more due to their lack of precision than anything.

Graphics: 5
While some of the landscapes can look kinda good, the characters and most of the game itself feel very plastic-like. It’s as if they took Wario and everything around him, smothered it all in shellac, and slapped it together to form some 2nd-rate children’s book. While it doesn’t look bad, it certainly doesn’t look good.

Gameplay: 6
You can hear the game screaming out in agony and frustration as it tries to be original, innovative, and fun, but it winds up stammering around, coming up short. The only area of the game that was ever truly exciting and felt like some real effort had been put into it was the boss battles—or, more accurately, about 2/3 of the boss battles. There was one or two clashes which left me impressed and satisfied, but these moments can’t make up for hours of mediocrity.

The touch-screen controls can sometimes bring some coolness into the mix, but they do more harm than good. The puzzles are all right, but rarely feel truly clever, such as puzzles you might find in a Zelda game. You get sick of doing the same things over and over again.

Innovation is a wonderful thing—when it’s done well. But when it’s half-baked and shoddily tossed together without the love and care that a Nintendo franchise deserves, it’s better off to just leave the formula alone.

Sound: 7
The sound effects are, as expected, fairly “meh,” but the music actually isn’t half bad. It gets ripped apart by utterly cheesy sound effects here and there (don’t even talk to me about the hideous main menu section—“zing!”) Overall, though, the sound is actually all right, and now and again it delivers a catchy tune you’ll actually hum to yourself—until you’re done playing.

Replay Value/Challenge: 7
There’s actually a lot to be done here. It’ll take about ten hours, possibly more or less, depending on how talented you are. For a platformer, that’s pretty nice. And you can always go back after you’ve gotten everything to beat your best scores and times…if you so desire. It could potentially give you a long enjoyment if you are inclined.

Presentation: 7
The writing is usually good, though it can often become too cheesy for its own good. On the opposite end, there are actually a couple of interesting twists and surprises that caught me off guard.

On the whole, though, the writing can’t save what it clearly a mediocre 3rd-party trying to imitate Nintendo’s brilliant Wario Land franchise. And while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it’s not too effective when your imitation is poor, especially when you let of your beloved characters imitate himself and do a rough job of it.

Overall Score: 6.4

Final Word:

Wario has had a long reputation of bringing freshness and originality to portable platforming. However, if this game is any indication, he is no “Master of Disguise.” Perhaps he is a “Adequate User of Disguise.” The feeling that title gives you is the feeling this game will probably give you, too. And if you’re a Wario purist, stay away from this one. If you really like Wario, then do what you must and endure this title. It’s not awful, but considering just how utterly brilliant Wario Land 3 was on the Game Boy Color a few years back, it’s truly tragic to see that Wario has been shipped into a crate to a mediocre 3rd party to abuse his reputation. A disappointment, indeed. Wario: Master of Disguise tries very hard to be a great game, but runs out of gas and gets stuck in the land of mediocrity. Suffice it to say that it is very clear that the Wario team has been working on the WarioWare games, and while this title may flaunt itself as a Nintendo game, a true Nintendo game, it is not. It’s a shame to see great anti-heroes fall to such depths.

”The Purple Wind: silent but deadly!”
Yes, Wario. Sadly, that’s precisely what this game is, too.
And we all know you deserve better than that.

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