Wii U early adopters are in a curious position right now. We’ve had to wait a while for solid content on the console and while there certainly is good stuff coming, it seems we’ll have to wait a few months more before it gets here. There isn’t a whole lot to sustain us, first party or otherwise, during the summer months, before September rolls around and the big games shown off at E3 like Wonderful 101 and Rayman Legends are released. Pikmin 3 will also be a big deal at the beginning of August, but what about right now?
New Super Luigi U just had its digital release, but really the only other new Nintendo game for about a month is Game & Wario. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with it over the past couple weeks and while I’ve had a lot of fun, it feels like I’ve been snacking on appetizers rather than digging into the main course.
That said, Game & Wario is probably the most robust title in the WarioWare series so far. The game is divided into three main sections: single player, which consists of 16 primary unlockable minigames; multiplayer, which has 4 minigames unlocked from the start; and Collection, which keeps track of all the party favors and miscellaneous extras you collect throughout the game.
By playing new games and levels in single player you are awarded tokens, which you can spend at a capsule toy machine chicken that lays capsule eggs—yes, the signature bizarre WarioWare humor is in full form in Game & Wario. The capsules contain any number of small goodies, some of them microgames and odd gimmicks that use the Wii U GamePad, but mostly they are hint cards for the main minigames or bios on the game’s various characters.
The 16 minigames themselves are the main event, and each one has a demonstrative and quirky use for the GamePad controls, clearly showing off the innovative ways to use the new controller. That said, I found the quality and depth between the games to be a little more hit-and-miss than NintendoLand, the Wii U’s pack-in game, which does an overall better job of exemplifying what the GamePad is capable of. NintendoLand’s various minigames are generally more engaging and conducive to party multiplayer than Game & Wario’s, but then again the WarioWare series has never been about impressive visuals or particularly deep play—it’s about all the weird ideas Intelligent Systems comes up with during their down-time between Fire Emblem or Paper Mario games.
The minigames have pretty simple names that belie their odd and random nature. The first game, Arrow, is a lot like the ninja star dojo from Nintendoland, where you hold the GamePad vertically and swipe the screen to fire projectiles. This time, however, Wario is being assaulted by tiny mice dressed as him, trying to steal his strawberries. To defeat them, you fire arrows shaped like Wario’s nose at the mice, and various traps like mines. The game gets pretty difficult by the second level, but sadly it’s because playing is rather uncomfortable.
Nintendo still doesn’t seem to realize that balancing and aiming a heavy controller in one hand and swiping the touch screen with the other causes wrist cramps after about one minute. You also have to be rather precise with your swipes to draw back an arrow, which makes it difficult to draw and fire quickly. I never felt that the game was inherently too difficult, just that the controls were awkward and counter-intuitive, which kept me from enjoying Arrow much.
One of the more interesting minigames was Kung Fu. You play as a young student appropriately named Grasshopper, tasked by his sensei to reach the end of a course by hopping there in great leaps. Grasshopper gets pretty hungry along the way though, indicated as an energy timer at the top of the screen, so as you try to reach the goal you must land on dumplings scattered around the course to keep Grasshopper’s hunger pangs at bay. The controls were pretty simple in this one and I really liked the art style—the Japanese watercolor design reminded me a lot of Okami.
Conversely, I wasn’t too thrilled with the Ski game. In this one you guide another of WarioWare’s goofy characters down a twisting ski path using the GamePad, trying to reach the goal within a time limit, while the action is shot from various dramatic angles on your TV. This is probably one of the least technically impressive minigames of the bunch, and while there is a secondary mode where you try to collect more skiers in a conga line without falling off the slopes, I still don’t see myself coming back to this one too often. It’s like something I could get for free on my Android phone so I was hoping for a little more depth.
The Gamer minigame was my favorite of the main 16. In Gamer you’re a little kid named Ninevolt, playing WarioWare on a Game Boy in bed when he’s supposed to be sleeping. You watch the GamePad screen to play the microgames, but you also have to keep an eye on your TV, because Ninevolt’s mom keeps sneaking up in a variety of surprisingly terrifying ways, and if she catches you Ninevolt is grounded and you lose the game. It’s a very creative use of the GamePad-TV dichotomy and I wish more of the minigames were this innovative.
The remaining minigames are a pretty mixed bag. The Wario Pirate Dance game tries to emulate games like Just Dance, but moving the GamePad around in time to Wario’s dance moves while trying to block and subsequently shake off suction cup darts is more frustrating than fun, mostly because it just feels ridiculous and the GamePad is too clunky for a dance game. The two games you unlock after beating the first 14 are also kind of a letdown.
The bowling game has you (again) swiping vertically on the GamePad, rolling a bowling ball down a lane and tilting the pad to add spin and direction. The idea is to judge the ball’s trajectory and knock down various arrangements of WarioWare character bowling pins, but like in the earlier minigames, holding the GamePad vertically and swiping gets uncomfortable quickly. The bowling game also doesn’t support multiplayer, so I don’t see it replacing Wii Bowling anytime soon. You’re better off digging out your old Wii Sports disc and taking advantage of Wii U’s backwards compatibility.
The final minigame, Bird, is pretty anticlimactic. You move a little bird back and forth across a flat playing field, snagging hovering fruits that fall from the sky with the bird’s tongue. If you miss the fruits they knock a chunk out of the playing field, reducing your movement space. I remember playing a game like this on the Atari 2600, so making something so simple and derivative as the last unlocked minigame in the collection is rather disappointing.
Conversely, the 4 multiplayer minigames are really where Game & Wario shines, and shows that simple concepts used creatively can go a long way. The first, Sketch, is basically a simplified version of Pictionary. The player with the GamePad is assigned a word by the game, and tasked with sketching it out as quickly as possible. The rest of the players take turns guessing what the sketch is. The GamePad is passed around during the game, and the player who created the highest number of successful sketches wins when the points are tallied at the end of the game.
The Disco minigame is basically competitive head-to-head Guitar Hero. Both players hold each end of the GamePad and take turns tapping out a series of beats that the opposite player must match with touch-screen taps. The tempo gets faster with each round, making it difficult to both send and successfully match notes. While this was fun for a few rounds it’s the shallowest of the multiplayer minigames.
The appropriately titled Fruit minigame is the most complex of the multiplayer set, but still only uses the GamePad. One player plays as a thief, while up to four others play as agents trying to catch the first player. Player 1 moves an inconspicuously disguised citizen around a crowded public place stealing fruit as stealthily as possible. Once player 1 has enough fruit, the agents try to pick the thief out from a lineup, based on their observations from when player 1 was thieving. The levels get more complex, with some taking place in darkness, making it more difficult to identify player 1. I had a lot of fun with this minigame and it really shows how creative you can get using just the GamePad and taking turns with it.
The final minigame, Islands, tasks up to 5 players with launching tiny LEGO-like creatures called Fronks onto a giant moving dartboard. Once again the GamePad is passed around as each player shoots their Fronks onto the target, not only trying to land as many in high score zones as possible, but also trying to knock the competing players’ Fronks off the board. There’s a lot of chaos in this game and it can get pretty heated with 5 people playing, so I see this minigame as being the party mainstay for Game & Wario.
As for production values, Game & Wario is all over the place but overall slightly disappointing. Some of the minigames—and even a couple of the unlockable extra distractions—have very quirky art designs, but a lot of the rest are decidedly flat and uninspiring. I really enjoyed the art direction and general goofiness, particularly the odd focus on noses as a central design theme, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a game using mostly flat, sparsely animated sprites while running in HD on pretty impressive hardware. It sort of seems like a waste of horsepower. There’s also an almost complete lack of voice acting; Nintendo seems loathe to include simple voiceovers for nearly any of their games, using text bubbles and subtitles instead. In a title like Game & Wario, where most of the dialogue is restricted to small cutscenes, tutorials and introductions, it seems like a pretty simple and cheap thing to include some rudimentary voice acting.
In that regard, and overall, I feel like Game & Wario would’ve been a much better fit on the 3DS. Nearly all of its concepts and ideas, including the ones in multiplayer, would’ve worked just as well on the dual-screen handheld console, and the quirky, proof-of-concept nature of the WarioWare series just doesn’t justify a full console release most of the time. I had fun with Game & Wario and I’m sure most anyone would, but I think it’s much better suited to a $30 price point instead of the $40 one it currently has. If you’re playing it in single player only then it’s probably even less attractive at $40. Game & Wario is at its best in multiplayer with a bunch of friends passing the GamePad back and forth, but unfortunately it doesn’t match the depth, quality and longevity of NintendoLand. The WarioWare series just works better on a portable.