I’m just going to come out and admit it. As far as newer franchises from Nintendo go, the WarioWare spinoff series is probably my favorite one. The unique and charmingly bizarre series has, in past entries, focused on Mario’s flatulent rival and a colorful cast presenting an ongoing series of “microgames” that typically last no more than five seconds, one after another, with dozens contained within each package.
An interesting aspect of the WarioWare series is the fact that generally, each major entry in the series relies on a different control scheme as its gimmick. The original Game Boy Advance game used a traditional button and D-pad setup, while WarioWare Twisted! came with a built-in gyroscope for tilt-based gameplay. Subsequent entries also came out in the launch windows for both the Wii and DS, showcasing each system’s unique controls in numerous ways. Finally, the last release, WarioWare D.I.Y., put the tools in the hands of gamers to create their own custom microgames.
Game & Wario represents a major change in structure for the series. Instead of hundreds of brief, simple microgames, the first Wii U title in the franchise is comprised of 16 more conventionally-structured minigames. Elements like the supporting cast of characters and that familiar random vibe are intact, but how does it fare in terms of gameplay compared to past entries?
The answer may be a bit up in the air. There are some minigames in Game & Wario that provide good fun, especially a particular multiplayer component. And yet, there are others that feel starved for content, or just aren’t a lot of fun to play. This risky change in structure for the WarioWare series has resulted in a rather mixed bag, and one that may not go over well with those used to the way previous titles played.
The plot is barebones, revolving around Wario learning about the Wii U’s GamePad controller and vowing to make a fortune off of making a new game for it with his friends. A good portion of the minigames have simple intro cutscenes reminiscent of a Flash animation, providing at least a little context for what you’re doing. An interesting new twist is the fact that several of the games directly involve these characters, as opposed to the older WarioWare titles, where they were little more than window dressing.
The first of the 1-player minigames you’ll have available is Arrow, which will have you hold the GamePad sideways and fire virtual arrows with your finger by drawing back a bowstring on the screen. This is a decent diversion, but one that I couldn’t help but feel would have been a lot easier to control with a traditional Wii Remote setup. Next up is Shutter, which has you use the GamePad as a camera to take candid photos of specific targets. This is a very clever concept and starts out pretty fun, but later stages are a lot more vague with their hints and require some trial and error, diminishing enjoyment quite a bit.
One of the more substantial, longer-lasting, and enjoyable minigames is Patchwork, which chops a picture into various patch-like shapes and tasks you with reassembling it. There are dozens of puzzles to go through, and the lack of a timer or lives makes for a good, leisurely time. The Ski minigame, on the other hand, plays far too similarly to Nintendo Land’s F-Zero minigame, with players again holding the GamePad vertically and tilting it to traverse a ski path. The lack of many levels doesn’t make things easier to swallow.
Kung Fu adopts an appealing art style similar to Okami, and has players control martial arts student Young Cricket as he continually jumps across the landscape in an attempt to reach his sensei. Here, the GamePad must be held horizontally flat and tilted in whatever direction you wish to go during jumps. Again, this is a minigame that I feel would have been more enjoyable with a more conventional joystick-based control scheme. Having to tilt the screen away from you to move forward makes things a little awkward.
The Ashley minigame sees you controlling the titular young witch on her broom through a colorful, candy-strewn land, zapping floating cookies and collecting orbs for points and score multipliers like a side-scrolling spaceship shooter. Ashley’s trajectory can be steered up or down by once again tilting the GamePad, and though I hate to sound like a broken record, this once again feels unnecessary, as well as not taking full potential of the GamePad’s capabilities. The fact that it only has three brief stages doesn’t help.
Design is perhaps the shortest of the minigames in length, which is a shame, considering that it has a clever idea behind it. Players are tasked with drawing various lines and shapes on the GamePad of a certain size, length, angle, or circumference, being graded on each one afterwards. I enjoyed playing this, but the downside is that there’s only one set of objectives, and you’re finished with them in less than five minutes.
Perhaps the funniest minigame of the bunch is Gamer, which sees players taking the role of the video game-loving kid 9-Volt, who is playing handheld games when he’s supposed to be asleep. Gameplay actually consists of the series’ trademark microgames on the GamePad, but the catch is that players have to keep an eye on the TV screen as well. 9-Volt’s mother continuously peeks in to see if her son is asleep or still playing, and holding the left and right triggers causes him to hide the game and feign sleep. Get caught playing by her, and it’s game over. Undeniably funny and surprisingly challenging at points, Gamer is probably my personal highlight of the single-player minigames, and not just because it features what the series is famous for. Again, there aren’t a lot of levels for it, but it has enough novelty to make what it has replayable.
Taxi sees cat and dog cabbie duo Dribble & Spitz driving around and trying to save their customers from alien abductions. A general map is displayed on the TV screen, while the GamePad provides a first-person point of view from the cab, allowing players to drive around, shoot down UFOs with Spitz’s handy bazooka, and return customers to a specific spot for extra points. This is also one of the more fun single-player games, though some of the later level maps (of which there are, once again, only three) are a bit confusing in their layout.
Pirate is fundamentally similar to the Octopus minigame from Nintendo Land, though not quite as musically oriented. Players thrust the GamePad in one of four directions to deflect enemy projectiles, and immediately shake downward to get rid of whatever’s stuck to the screen. I found this one to be rather tricky to get the hang of, which definitely detracted from the fun experience I feel it’s capable of when you get in the proper groove.
The last two unlockable single-player games consist of Bird, which is just an HD reskin of the unlockable minigame Pyoro from the GBA original, and Bowling, which sees players tossing bowling balls at pins shaped like the cast with their fingers, and adding a curve by once again tilting the GamePad. Both are too shallow to leave much of an impression, with Bowling in particular mainly making me pine for the days of its Wii Sports equivalent.
Four more multiplayer games are included. The first of these is Fruit, which has one player controlling a thief on the GamePad screen, with the rest of the players trying to identify them by the end of each round. This game probably works a lot better with more people, as when I played it with myself as the thief and only one other person trying to guess my identity, they found themselves at a major disadvantage.
Disco is a competitive rhythm game that sees players facing at opposite ends of the GamePad and tapping on three note paths in time to the beat. Whatever notes they create through this are then fed to the other player, who must mimic them to stop their rival from getting points. This is decent fun, but again, not very substantial, and it’s doubtful you’ll play it more than once or twice.
Islands sees players throwing goofy little characters called Fronks onto various targets floating in the ocean, using a control scheme similar to Arrow. This is a decent game that, once again, is best played with as many people as possible, especially since you can cause mayhem by knocking each other’s Fronks off the edge.
Finally, the last multiplayer game, and the definite highlight of the bunch, is Sketch. Essentially a video game version of Pictionary, players take turns individually holding the GamePad, reading a word on it, and sketching it for other players to correctly guess as quickly as possible. Even with just two people, I found myself playing Sketch multiple times, and as someone who likes to draw, I definitely had a great time with it.
Indeed, there are some definite shining gems among this package of minigames. It’s just a shame that there are also a lot of other ones that are medicore and forgettable. I can’t help but feel that this would have been better if the individual games had been put up separately as downloadable titles on the Nintendo eShop, so players could cherry-pick the ones that seemed the most appealing to them. Even at the reduced price of $40, there isn’t much lasting value here for the most part.
Game & Wario isn’t a bad game, just a disappointing one. The WarioWare franchise’s first attempt at more fleshed-out minigames feels like it could have used some more time in development. The Wii U is a system desperately in need of some notable exclusives, and this is probably not going to make much of an impact. Maybe in the future, we’ll get a WarioWare game that returns to the series’ roots, while still doing unique things with the GamePad. For now, this just feels like filler.
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.