Wario isn’t a complicated man, and making a decent Wario game isn’t really a complicated business. In fact, we’d boil it down to one very simple rule: capture his bulbous incompetence without succumbing to it. Give us clumsy, piggy-eyed foibles, but do it with class and intelligence. Obscuro developers Good Feel (they’ve got just three DS English-training games under their rather saggy belts) have certainly bagged some sturdy foundations for their stab at ol’ fatso.
The first Wario Land since the GBA’s wonderful Wario Land 4 (remember, Wario’s spinning GameCube platformer was a Wario World), Shake It! (or Shake Dimension in the UK) continues the puzzle-platformer skew. Where Mario hops, skips and jumps through his princess-liberation routine, Wario stoops, falls and suffers horrific bodily mutilation in his quest for gold. Pain ends Mario but it strengthens Wario, stings ballooning him into floaty Wario and zombies offering him the handy invincibility of the undead. Or at least they used to. Good Feel have pruned back the ‘hurt him to empower him’ angle. Instead we get Wario as brought to you by the Wii remote – another mascot enlisted to promote waggle tech. Shake the remote and he unleashes a ground pound, touch a stunned critter and a shake rattles the little fella. As a brutish, bullying skill it’s worthy of Wario, but he’s almost a little too controllable. Trying to tame a whirlwind of agony in earlier Lands was often half the fun.
And someone at Good Feel has clearly revisited Yoshi’s Island – Wario’s object-hurling trick is borrowed directly from the dino, bum-egg aiming reticule and all. He has more control over his lobs than the lizard: a remote tilt sets the trajectory with a judder of rumble as each angle clicks by, offering pleasant feedback. If only the move weren’t so half-heartedly implemented – an obvious switch puzzle here and a boss encounter there and it’s largely forgotten. The point we’re trying to make is that the ballsy madness of those earlier Wario Lands has been reined in by motion controls. Gesturing is beautifully realised, sure, but none of the skills it grants are as off-the-wall as the morphing states of past games. Considering that it was these multiple Wario forms that gave those titles their puzzling smarts, how does Shake It! intend to tease the old thought muscle?
As in earlier Lands, stages are divided into two distinct phases: a careful trek through the level, snaffling treasure as you go, and a frantic against-the-clock dash to safety as Wario triggers an alarm. It’s the gambolling gold-grabbing that interests us most – a few subtleties aside, the second part is little more than a reaction test as Wario sprints back to the entrance portal. Platforming in Shake Dimension lays down two gauntlets. The first, more of a soft, knitted gauntlet replica, is a basic test of dexterity. You know the deal: vine-swinging, spike-avoiding, lava-dodging. Oh so traditional. Oh so 2D. The second gauntlet, and one much more akin to the hefty metal digit protectors of yore, asks you to understand how Wario moves and reacts to the world around him, applying that knowledge to conquer seemingly impossible chunks of level design.