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Wario: Master of Disguise

First impressions can be a terrible thing. Wario: Master of Disguise (MOD) is the latest DS game to use a popular Nintendo character that we all know and love. We’ve all had our fix of Wario Ware, but some solid, good-old platforming action is what we’ve been yearning for. I’ll bring it to you right now: MOD is NOT a sequel to the hit Wario Land games in any way or form; if you are expecting it to be just that, you will leave here empty-handed. But that’s not to say that MOD isn’t worth your time. It’s a different kind of platformer, slow-paced and of the type that requires a degree of logical thought in order to solve the many puzzle-like situations our fat thief will find himself in. It contrasts to what we’d expect from him given past productions, but with a patient attitude and openness to new ideas, you will find something special in this gem of a Wario.

It’s a Wario game, so you should know by now that any story would revolve around his insatiable greed and penchant of all things shiny and glittery. This time his silly scheming lands him in a television program featuring an odd magician by the name of Cannoli. Basically Wario steals this guy’s magical wand and then goes off on a quest to locate the shattered pieces of an ancient wishstone. The story about Purple Wind versus Silver Zephyr is irrelevant, but the wand provides the basis of how this game works.

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Wario will traverse the usual platforming levels: a volcanic mountain-top, some ancient ruins, a power plant etc. etc. Each level is structured like a mini-castle of sorts, and if you are familiar with the 2D Metroid and modern Castlevania games, MOD essentially takes a leaf out of their books. Your goal is the boss room and to get there you usually have to seek out a couple of keys, in order to open up new pathways and progress further in. Scattered throughout are a bounty of red-coloured chests that contain some useless pieces of treasure (with seemingly random dollar-values). However the green chests contain items essential to your quest (eg. the keys) while the purple ones safely house some rather mystical precious stones that are totally worth seeking out.

Each level is structured like a mini-castle of sortsThese special stones will give Wario’s wand (named Goodstyle – the names Nintendo come up with these days…) the ability to change Wario’s appearance. The default costume sees him outfitted as a thief with Wario’s patented tackle ability available from the outset. Other costumes include Genius, which allows Wario to see through illusions and view secret passages; Dragon, which gives him the ability to barf out fire and drop through platforms due to weight issues; and Astronaut, which lets him fire laser beams. There are 8 costumes all up and each one has their own unique purpose. You gain the majority early on in the game so there are plenty of opportunities to mess around with them, whether it be to batter down some tough enemies or to negotiate through some more tricky scenarios.

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As you gain mastery of each ‘job’ (through finding more special gems) you’ll have even more abilities at your disposal. For example, you will eventually be able to attack as a Genius, and even draw up some life-replenishing hearts as Arty Wario. A lot of creativity is shown here. There are only two negative aspects I see with this system, one of which is the awkward controls (more on this later), and the other being how each costume/mastery gem is a compulsory find, in order to move on past certain junctures. This makes what looks to be an exploration-based game (in the style of a mini-Metroid) more linear than it should have been. If you accidentally miss one of these important gems, you’ll know soon enough.

There are only 10 episodes in MOD, but by platformer standards each level is rather long; after the introductory stage, it will take about an hour to complete each one! However, this is where the slow-pace creeps in. You don’t just simply barge your way through everything in sight, instead you will have to sit down and think carefully as to how you will get to the other side of the screen; one of the perks of having Metroid-like elements. MOD is more a thinking man’s platformer game. Save points are spread out well, but if you ever need to put your game on indefinite hold, a handy suspend feature is available as always. This is still a good game to take with you on the go. And you won’t have to worry much about where you were heading for before lest you forget; the room of interest is always highlighted on your handy map.

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MOD is more a thinking man’s platformer game.So far, so good. Even better are the boss showdowns, which are some of the most imaginative and funky battles to grace a Nintendo cover. After Mario’s ho-hum d-pad based effort, we’ve seen Peach’s emotions run wild with touch-based interaction, and Yoshi’s inventive dual-screen antics. Now it’s Wario’s turn and this ugly plumber’s-evil-twin dishes out some fun battles which integrate a good dose of stylus-drawing with a lot of humour. Some of them are actually quite challenging, but this is often caused by human-error in the rush to draw up the correct costume, rather than the villains actually laying it all out on you. My favourite has to be the Barfatronic Lavachomper which wins the prize for foulest defeat by way of fecal matter!

Now every game has its issues, and Wario’s is no exception. The most popular complaint any gamer would have on initial impressions is that the d-pad & stylus control combo is unwieldy and unnecessary. Granted it does take some time to adjust, and there will always be times when you will draw up the wrong thing with the ‘wand’, but I don’t really see how it could have been as seamless as it is without the stylus. As long as you aim for Wario’s head when beginning your scribble and get the general pattern correct, all should go well. You can even draw mega-big and still get it right. It’s really not too hard.

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[T]he boss showdowns… (are) some of the most imaginative and funky battles to grace a Nintendo cover.One thing which got to me though were all the (red) chests which contained a lot of useless treasure (Ab Annihilator!?). Every time you open one up, it’s funny to see Wario shake his booty, but then the repetitive mini-games load up. There are only eight different ones and they are all far too simple to enjoy playing them as frequently as they occur. One has you tapping out some cockroaches, another has you painting up a picture, and there is a pre-school join-the-dots activity in there too. Each mini-game has barely any variations on a theme (less than Wario’s micro-games) and soon you will probably avoid all these red chests altogether; at the end of each stage your total earnings are calculated to count towards ranks of thieving, which doesn’t mean much, so why bother? Maybe if the mini-games were good, but even Mario’s DS efforts tops Wario here, and he wasn’t even trying.

Visually speaking, Wario is a very average anti-hero. Graphics are sharp with a nice rendered look, but the GBA Wario Land games were much more animated than a lot of the drab stuff seen here. Apart from Wario’s cackling laughter, there isn’t any noteworthy voice-work, and the music doesn’t really suit Wario’s style, but it’s not too bad. Presentation-wise you can tell that MOD was not developed directly by the big N. It comes across as a budget title, a first-generation title, a tech-demo, call it what you will. But as I said, appearances can be deceiving; this is still a fine product with fresh ideas.

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Although one could classify Wario: Master of Disguise as a platformer, I’d say it has more in common with a puzzle-genre game. Apart from the boss encounters, there isn’t a lot of action here. MOD is really a spin-off into new territory for a Nintendo character, something that should happen more often these days; I’ve had it with one-too-many average repeat attempts at another jumping/sporting/partying-style game to last me a lifetime. Suzak has done a commendable job in NOT treading the beaten path, and while it isn’t as clean and shiny as it could’ve been had Nintendo developed it themselves, with their big budget and big brains and all, MOD is a nice slow ride to take with you if something strange, but refreshing is what you are seeking.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2007.

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