Originally a throwaway villain in a Gameboy Mario sequel, Wario has gone on to be a mustache twisting mascot for Nintendo that everyone who remembers his Mario Kart 64 battle cries will always love. As with most Nintendo characters, there’s not much of a backstory and what’s there doesn’t make much sense.
But in his transition from villain to semi-hero, Wario did develop a bit of an odd second career in the Wario Ware series. A part of every console from the GBA and Game Cube days until today, these titles are weird and surreal mini-games that require players to indulge in tasks like picking noses and swatting flies for bizzarro party games. The Wii edition of the franchise was one of the most underrated discs in that system’s lifespan, turning gimmicky motion controls into a virtue by forcing players to figure out what simple motion was necessary to complete an oddball cartoon task in a manner of seconds. It was one of the launch titles that confirmed motion gaming was the right way for the Big N to go in the 2000s and with the series now debuting on the Wii U in a slow summer release schedule, the hope was that Game & Wario would do the same for Nintendo’s grand gamepad experiment. Sadly, Game & Wario feels even more like a dry tech demo than the ridiculously entertaining Nintendo Land and doesn’t quite live up to the series’ high standards. However, for those desperate for a way to use their brand spanking new Wii U in the midst of a summer software drought, this should do just fine.
One big benefit that Game & Wario has over Nintendo Land is simplicity. While all of the Nintendo Land games were a blast to play, each required at least one run through the tutorial to understand what was going on. Game & Wario offers games that take full advantage of the gamepad that can be easily explained in two title screens. A couple come with recycled mechanics from Nintendo Land like a skiing game that uses the same gampad top-down steering screen from F-Zero (as does a Ninja jumping game…don’t ask) and there’s a Wario-based arrow shooting game that’s quite similar to the Nintendo Land ninja star mini (although, the Wario game features a nice addition where characters who weren’t shot on the TV will pop on the gamepad to be crushed with fingers…it’s pretty great). Then the gamepad/TV camera system shown off at the original Wii U E3 launch appears in a fairly amusing mini-game of its own along with a pirate/dancing game that will remind you of the glory days of 2005 when both trends were peaking. These are all fairly fun, if familiar. Fortunately Game & Wario also has some new tricks up its sleeve as well.
The best two games of the lot are easily Taxi and Gamer. Taxi puts you in charge of a (wait for it) taxi that must pick up farm animals before they are abducted by aliens (once again, don’t ask). The TV screen offers a top down view of the whole level, while the gamepad offers a POV from the cab that you’ll use to fire bazookas at the pesky UFOs. The brain split-style play might feel a little strange at first, but within a few seconds works quite well and shows how the Wii U could be used by designers to combine two separate styles of gameplay simultaneously. Gamer, on the other hand, is the real work of genius in Game And Mario. You play as a little boy in bed playing Gameboy while his mother periodically checks in to force the little tyke to get some sleep. The gamepad acts as a GBA and you’ll play through some of the classic Wario Ware mini-games from the ol’ GBA edition to the franchise. On the TV screen, you’ll see the boy in bed and have to keep track of the various ways his mother could sneak in and catch him so that you can hide the game in time. It’s a blast that adds additional pressure to an already lightning-fast title, uses two screens in an easy to understand manner, and taps into old timey gaming nostalgia that we can all relate to. If all the mini- games included on Game & Wario were as good as Gamer, this sucker would be in the running for a 100 score…but alas….
Sadly, where Game & Wario really disappoints is in the one avenue where the Wii version shined; multiplayer. There are only four multiplayer games available, most of which are fairly dreary point n’ launch based games without much replay value. The best one has the gamepad player hiding in a crowd as a thief while Wiimote clutching multiplayer buddies try to find him. It’s a great deal of fun that takes advantage of the privileged view potential of gamepad multiplayer, but it’s also ultimately just a retread of the fantastic Luigi’s Mansion haunted house mini-game from Nintendo Land. The other multiplayer games are mildly amusing duds and sadly the single player has a few of those as well. For example, there’s a tiresome puzzle piece game and a drawing game that requires players to freehand specific lengths and angles with the stylus and puts Canuck players at a severe disadvantage since the metric system is not presented as an option (shame!).
Unfortunately, Game & Wario cannot be labeled a party game classic like the Wii’s still endlessly amusing Wario Ware: Smooth Moves. Still, it does enough right to still qualify as a worthy purchase for early Wii U adopters. The game retains the cartoon aesthetic and cut scenes from Smooth Moves and they will tickle anyone with a sense of humor while pushing in game graphics father that the Wii could handle (although they are still simplistic and cartoony. This ain’t The Last Of Us people and don’t expect it to be). The games that work are a blast and as a tech demo, Game & Wario shows off the potential of gamepad gaming well. Ultimately, a tech demo is exactly what this franchise has offered for all systems and some of these mini-games just might sway some Wii U skeptics who were underwhelmed by Nintendo Land. It would be nice to say that Game & Wario is the long awaited killer app that will shift Wii U units on the scale that Nintendo needs, but sadly that’s just not the case. It’s simply an entertaining new chapter in a willfully inconsequential series. The jury is still out on whether the Wii U will be the next great Nintendo system or this generation’s GameCube (or worse: Virtual Boy!). The promise in the system is certainly there and continues to be teased. Now it’s up for Nintendo to step up and deliver something big to win over the Wii-bowling masses.