Even if a good portion of its alluring extra content may display frustrating edges that drag down the experience, Wario Land: Shake It can work both as a pleasant gateway into the saga for newcomers and a rewarding challenge for veterans
There are three good reasons that explain why the Nintendo Wii worked as the console that supported the revival of sidescrolling platformers, a genre that at the point of the system’s release was generally seen as being pretty much dead. Firstly, there was the Wiimote, a controller that when turned sideways, and without its main attachment, the Nunchuck, strongly recalled the accessible simplicity found in the design of the joystick of the NES, featuring a button setup that begged to be used in games of the kind.
Secondly, there was how the weakness of the console’s hardware, when compared to the strength of its competitors’, meant the system could not dream of ever rendering realistic 3-D visuals that would cause true awe, leading developers to look for alternative routes so they could produce spectacular and perfectly smooth graphics. Thirdly, there was the machine’s absurd mass appeal, which brought in a large audience that was new to gaming and was, therefore, more willing to take a shot at the straightforwardness of a 2-D title than to try to learn the relative complexity that is inherent to adventures that take place in a tridimensional scenario.
Wario Land: Shake It, like many of its sidescrolling peers that found in the Nintendo Wii a perfect home in which to excel, is clearly a product of those factors. As the fifth installment of the Wario Land franchise, it follows on the footsteps of its predecessors in the sense that it uses a small amount of buttons to unlock an impressive quantity of moves, making the flexibility of its starring character easy to tap into.
Furthermore, given 3-D visual glory was far from its reach, the game bets on a gorgeously animated graphical style that is pretty much flawless; as the quality of its hand-drawn animation oozes not only from its rich layered backgrounds, but also from the seamless smoothness with which the hero and his enemies move around the screen, boasting a fluidity worthy of the most well-produced cartoons. Finally, it warmly welcomes an incoming mass of new gamers by dialing down on the level of difficulty and structural complexity usually found in the Wario Land saga.
The game, however, is able to make such a move towards greater simplicity without compromising too much of its personality. Surely, it cannot be said the adventure presented here carries as many delightful quirks as the second and third entries of the series; nevertheless, Wario Land: Shake It still does platforming in a way that cannot be had anywhere else.
The format in which its content is presented, for instance, is absolutely traditional, as rather than resorting to the mind-blowing and challenging setups of Wario Land 2 and Wario Land III, the game takes the route of Wario Land 4 as well as pretty much all platformers in the market by separating its levels into worlds that, at their ending, hold a boss battle. Yet, what players will go through inside each of those courses remains thoroughly unique, as structural and gameplay staples of the property are employed in the construction of some pretty great stages that engage even if their overall level of difficulty is turned down.
Wario Land: Shake It begins when Captain Syrup, the anti-hero’s greatest rival save for Mario himself, finds – in one of her journeys through the seas – an ancient globe that contains an alternative universe dubbed The Shake Dimension. She notices bad events are afoot in the realm and decides to send it as a gift to Wario. Once the mail comes in and the character unwraps the odd package, he is greeted by a magical creature that hops out of the globe. As it turns out, in the dimension within, the evil Shake King has imprisoned the good Queen Merelda and all of her followers.
Faced with an urgent call for help, Wario is naturally completely uninterested in the plea; that is, of course, until the gnome-like being refers to the Bottomless Coin Sack: the artifact sought by the Shake King and the main reason behind his vicious attack. With an endless supply of gold on the line, going into the globe suddenly becomes more alluring than sitting idly on the couch, and Wario quickly jumps into The Shake Dimension to defeat the five bosses that hold the artifacts that will open the way to a final confrontation against the quest’s main villain.
As it is closer in gameplay and structure to Wario Land 4 than to that game’s two immediate predecessors, Wario Land: Shake It also does away with the protagonist’s signature transformations, which may again be a fair cause of disappointment to some. However, Wario still packs a mighty arsenal of moves, as he is able to jump, pick up stunned enemies and throw them, use a body slam to defeat foes or break fragile walls, slide down slopes as a way to destroy everything in his path, duck into tight passageways, and execute a ground pound; a set of skills that makes the adventure quite physical.
On top of those tricks, though, and making use of the Wiimote’s accelerometer, the game takes the opportunity to sprinkle a few new weapons onto that list and change a few existing elements as well. By waggling the controller, for instance, the character can either pull off a powerful ground punch that stuns all foes visible on the screen or shake enemies and sacks of coins in case he is holding those items when the action is performed. Meanwhile, aiming throws entails the tilting of the joystick, and a few stages contain gadgets – such as submarines and rockets – that also require such a command for steering.
These additions never feel tacked on, as they are well-implemented, responsive, and – more importantly – used in situations where they are intuitive; moreover, they work nicely towards giving Wario Land: Shake It a trait that was not present in its four prequels. However, especially in regards to the shaking of coin sacks, which are quite abundant, those not keen on motion controls may find the need to waggle the Wiimote in those cases a bit unnecessary and dull.
Most of the time, though, Wario Land: Shake It is not concerned with tricks of the sort; at heart, it is a platformer as classic and traditional as the saga to which it belongs can produce, and it is generally very competent at what it does, whether it concerns the design of its stages; its stunning visual presentation that is so varied the game barely reutilizes the same background in more than one course; or its action packed and decently challenging boss battles. The only point where it unequivocally falters is in its soundtrack, which is daring in how it tries to use tunes with unexpected tones and instrumentation for the scenarios where they are employed, but that is ultimately unremarkable as far as composition goes.
The levels of Wario Land: Shake It are pretty true to the standards set by the franchise from the moment of its inception. Formed by various screens that posses, each, a lot of vertical and horizontal space, they hold a width and height that beg for exploration. Perhaps as a way to accommodate a new wider audience, the title no longer features the branching paths and backtracking seen in its predecessors, as all of its stages are a linear journey that has players getting to the end, rescuing the trapped magical creature, and – like it happened in Wario Land 4 – rushing back to the entrance before time runs out.
However, their size still houses a good deal of complexity, as many are the ledges, pipes, rooms, and other places that are genuinely hard to reach, asking gamers to engage into some thick puzzle solving, meticulous exploration, and hard platforming. Smartly, though, these toughest corners are made mostly optional, because what they tend to hide are items not entirely mandatory for one to get to the ending credits. In fact, the obligatory portion of the stages of Wario Land: Shake It is mostly pretty easy, as their sharpest teeth are reserved for those who want to deal with them.
These extras come in the form of treasure chests and challenges. All levels have three of the former and between three and six of the latter. And while chests push players towards the exploration of all corners of the courses, an activity that is usually pleasant thanks to the showcases of smart design that it uncovers, challenges dare Wario to go through the stages as perfectly as possible.
As a rule of thumb, one of the missions will always involve collecting a certain amount of coins, and given that threshold will usually be pretty close to the total loot found in each level, players need to be thorough; meanwhile, a second mission will generally concern returning to the entrance of the course as quickly as humanly possible. The rest of the list is filled up with stage-specific quests, which may be not touching the water, not being damaged, activating all bomb blocks, finding a specially hidden golden enemy, not killing any foes, among others. Amusing in variety, they are united by the theme that all of them leave players with very little room for error and demand effort.
The final feature that takes advantage of the wide nature of the stages of Wario Land: Shake It is the value of coins, a rather unsurprising fact for anyone who has been through a game of the saga. More than counting towards the achieving of an optional mission, coins are essential to all players thanks to how opening a new world entails the buying of a treasure map in The Shake Dimension’s shop. And they do not come cheap.
As such, to a certain point, Wario Land: Shake It forces all of those who tackle it to be careful in the way they explore the levels it contains, which not only plays right into the hands of their expansive design, but further separates the experience encountered in the game from that offered by other platformers. If one does not put some effort into actively seeking coin sacks and intelligently hidden super-valuable diamonds, as well as collecting all floating coins that come into view, it is likely they will – at some point – not have the cash to buy the map of the next world; which makes Wario Land: Shake It as much about jumping as it is about treasure hunting.
With twenty regular levels, six excellent boss battles, and a mountain of challenging treasure chests and missions, Wario Land: Shake It has plenty of content. Those solely looking to get to the end of the story may just get about six hours of gameplay out of the title, which is not much; however, gamers seeking full completion can expect to spend between fifteen and twenty hours scouring all corners of the game and perfecting their performance in all stages.
Some of that length is due to the whopping ten secret levels that the game holds, two for each world. These especially tough courses are unlocked by finding hidden maps in some of the regular stages. As an annoying twist, though, these assets are pretty much impossible to find before the final boss is beaten, because the levels where they can be found as well as their locations in the stages, which are denoted by sparkles and that demand that Wario pound the ground for the chart to pop up, are only revealed when the game is cleared.
That complaint, however, is very minor – nearly nonexistent – when compared to Wario Land: Shake It’s greatest flaw: its tendency to deteriorate into a frustrating cycle of trial and error. And that problem arises when its extra content – chests and missions – is being pursued. In relation to the chests, anger comes to the surface due to how many of them are, thanks to their occasionally unfair placement, missable; in other words, if one fails to grab them once, the course needs to be restarted so Wario can take another shot at them. In relation to the missions, a lot of the fun is ruined due to how the tiniest of mistakes can cause goals not to be cleared. A slightly mistimed jump, a block that was not broken by a tiny miscalculation, or the accidental bumping onto an enemy can throw a ten-minute effort away.
That is especially true when Wario is running out of the levels and he gains access to boost devices that send him running away at fast speeds. Although fun, those segments are filled with tension because hitting any obstacle will cause him to completely lose momentum, and it is sometimes impossible to return to the machine to restart the run. As such, the getting of all coins and chests often requires the complete memorization of the way out of the levels, an activity that can only be pursued through a lot of frustrating and time-consuming failures that will send players back to the start.
As a consequence of that characteristic, Wario Land: Shake It puts itself in a somewhat tough position. Its quest is undeniably fun; its visuals are unquestionably beautiful; and its smart level design is true to the high quality of the saga. Still, the fact a good deal of its extra content can be the source of some frustration is disappointing because a great portion of the game’s value lies in exploring its levels looking for its treasure chests and trying to achieve perfect runs as a way to clear its challenging missions.
Therefore, while to newcomers looking for a solid platformer Wario Land: Shake It is recommended with the caveat that its quest may be a bit too short for those who simply want to go through it, to gamers going after full completion it is a great package as long as they are able to tolerate the frustrating edges that its additional corners can sometimes display. In both cases, though, there is fun and smartness to be found in yet another sidescroller that shows the Nintendo Wii was the perfect home for the reemergence of the genre.