This Portable Delight Has Aged As Well As Fine Wine
"Ha ha, I'm-a-Wario-and-I'm-a-gonna-ween!" Sadly, that phrase was my first experience with Mario's evil twin. Ever since Mario Kart 64, I chose this portly plumber who's incapable of color coordination, as my secondary racer. Whenever Bowser was unavailable, I'd cruise the streets in Wario's pimped out ride.
There's more to this chubby character than his oversized nose and his go-kart prowess, however. Unbeknownst to most, Wario is also a skilled platformer. He may not have the fame or agility of his plucky enemy, but Wario's ability to shape-shift easily rivals Mario's ability to reach new heights.
Luckily, Nintendo realized Wario's oft-ignored potential, so they threw him in a portable platformer for a green-tinted system. This innovative platformer that involved shape-shifting gameplay was clearly well-received, because Nintendo soon produced a follow-up for the Game Boy Color.
This sequel, Wario Land II, somehow fell into my lap over a decade ago, but sadly, I never touched it. I briefly owned a Game Boy Color, but I traded it for some console games during the late '90s. Even though I lacked this colorful 8-bit portable, I still had the option of playing it a few years later with the Game Boy Advance, but instead, I let my dust-filled closet eat away at the tiny cartridge.
Well, as I was preparing to move about a month ago, I came across some of my old Game Boy games. One of these was Wario Land II. I'd recently heard positive comments about the Wario Land games on Retronauts and other 1UP blogs, so I decided to see for myself how well they'd aged.
As I inserted my Wario Land II cart, I ignored how it awkwardly jutted out of the rear end of my Game Boy Advance SP. Instead, I focused on the bandits pilfering Wario's goodies. I was surprised that mere thieves had the gumption to steal from a fiend such as Wario, but they managed to make off with the goodies safely. And so, the adventure commenced.
What I immediately noticed was how different Wario's gameplay was from Mario titles. Instead of hopping and bopping, Wario would scour levels for treasure. Unlike his good-natured enemy, Wario couldn't die, so his game was easier in a way. Instead of having to deal with bottomless pits, Wario had to solve brain-teasers.
None of the game's puzzles are as difficult as those found in Braid, but they're still fun to solve. As I mentioned earlier, Wario can change forms, but I never described the process. When Wario is touched by an enemy or environmental obstacle, he often transforms. Let's say that Wario needs to break a concrete floor. Wario could try waddling over the ground, or he could eat a piece of cake that an enemy tossed and enlarge his midsection instantaneously. If he chose the second option, Wario would then be able to break the rock-solid barrier and move on.
Wario Land II includes many other similar puzzles that allow him to swim, burn objects, and squeeze his way through narrow tunnels. Most of these are solved through common sense, while others take a little more brain power.
While solving the game's puzzles, players will also want to focus on gathering as many coins as possible. They'll need these for Wario Land II's many mini-games that bestow players with valuable awards. In each level, players will find a mini-game door that'll award them with a treasure, and they'll come across another mini-game at the level's exit that will reveal a map. To solve these mini-games, players will need the hundreds of coins that are strewn about Wario Land II's levels.
Passing these mini-games is important if players want to experience all that Wario Land II has to offer. You can simply breeze through the game in a linear path as I did, or if you unlock most treasures, you can access the game's branching paths. These new paths give you access to dozens of other levels, and they're the only way to see Wario Land II's true ending. As a result of these bonuses, completists will get several additional hours of enjoyment out of Wario Land II.
Wario Land II is a must-play Game Boy Color game, not because of its crisp visuals, but because of its excellent puzzle-solving gameplay. Being able to morph into different forms always keeps things fresh, and there are a seemingly endless amount of secrets to unlock. The bosses are nothing special, and the music is tinny (this is Game Boy after all), but those minor issues do little to tarnish Wario's excellent gameplay. If you're tired of being a good guy, and want to live in the shoes of a villain, give Wario's puzzle-packed game a shot. It's one of the best early portable games you'll find.
· Wario's ability to morph into a variety of forms
· It's impossible to die
· Constantly changing puzzles provide excellent gameplay variety
· Large character models look quite impressive for GBC
· Features dozens of secret levels
· Tinny music
· Mundane boss fights
· If you make a minor mistake on a boss, you have to go back a ways. The mini-games lack originality