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The Backlog Diaries: Wario Land II
Welcome to The Backlog Diaries, a feature that takes a look at some of the games we’ve got sitting in our pile of shame. Being that we’re in the midst of the Summer doldrums, now seems like a great time to start working through our backlogs in an effort to shave off a bit of the essentials before the fall release schedule starts to explode. Today, Cassidee takes a look at Wario Land II for the Game Boy Color.
While I’m a big fan of action games, shooters, and RPGs, I’ll always be the first to admit that there’s something special about a great platformer. When the trifecta of clever level design, interesting mechanics, and tight controls is achieved, the end result is typically a satisfying game that impresses in virtually every way. Wario Land II is such a game, and it’s definitely one of the stronger games for the Game Boy Color that deserves all the praise it can get.
Originally released in 1998, Wario Land II picks up right after the events of the original, with Captain Syrup and the rest of the Black Sugar Gang ransacking Wario’s castle to steal back the treasure he once stole from them. Being the egomaniac that he is, Wario sets out to make things right again in a game that looks to upend the classic conventions of Nintendo’s classic Mario games.
Right from the start, it’s clear that this is a game developed with a different mind set that that of Nintendo’s more classic platformers. Gone are the mushrooms, the 1UPs, the timers, and the large world that Mario and Luigi are so adept at traveling. Instead, we’re treated to large, detailed sprites, smaller worlds, and a main character who is essentially invincible.
Yes, you read that right. Invincibility is quite possibly one of the most interesting and unique aspects of Wario Land II. While the idea of an invincible character might seem like a bit of a letdown and a drag on the game’s overall challenge, it’s surprising how punishing the game can be nonetheless. See, the goal of each of the levels in Wario Land II is to collect as much money (in the form of golden coins) as possible. When Wario takes damage from enemies, he is knocked back and loses a handful of coins, much like Sonic the Hedgehog loses his rings when engaging baddies. Unlike Sonic, however, Wario won’t get a game over screen if he loses everything. Instead, you’ll be unable to take part in and reap the rewards of some of the minigames scattered throughout chapters and at the end of each level.
While invincibility does admittedly take away from some of the suspense, the core gameplay itself is built around the mechanic in a way that makes enough sense to make it excusable. See, Wario Land II is not a classic platformer in the sense that you’ll be trying to beat a timer and rush to the end of a level while taking out enemies and collecting power ups. Rather, the game has a much slower pace that emphasizes exploration and experimenting in order to see everything and collect whatever you possibly can. You might not face a ton of consequences when being hit by an enemy, but you will grow frustrated if it acts to impede you from level progression. This is where Wario Land II thrives; the stress isn’t in how long it takes you to get through a level, but is instead found in trying to solve your way through different environments and combat encounters. Plus, the level objectives are often varied, making the game all the more interesting.
One of the other unique aspects of Wario Land II is the effect that different enemies might have on Wario himself. While a majority of minor enemies might simply knock Wario back and cause him to lose a fair amount of money, others will alter him in some way that actually serves to enhance the gameplay itself. One enemy squishes Wario into a comically waddling pancake not unlike something you’d see in a Looney Tunes cartoon, while another force feeds him cake to fatten him up and allow him to bowl through enemies and cracked environments. They’re not necessarily punishments, often allowing more options to the player as they move through the game’s 52 levels and try to figure out the ways to collect all of a level’s coins. Altered states (no, not those altered states) of Wario provide just the right amount of gameplay variance that keeps things fresh and encourages further exploration.
Music is lighthearted and conveys the attitude of Wario in a great way, and the overall aesthetic of the game makes great use of color and great visual design that still holds up today. Of course, I was playing this version on my 3DS, but it’d be hard for me to imagine not enjoying its look on the classic Game Boy Color handheld as well.
Being that this is the “year of Luigi,” I can’t help but feel like maybe it’s time we talked a bit more about one of the other side characters in the Mario Bros. universe as well. Compared to the other games in Nintendo’s lineup, Wario really is one of the wild cards, the odd one out who has happened to have more impressive games than flops over the years. While I never had the chance to play this one as a kid on the GBC (probably because I was too busy playing Oracle of Seasons and Pokemon Crystal, admittedly), I’m glad that 24-year-old me has been able to revisit it during the lazy days of Summer to finally clear it off of my backlog. It’s certainly an impressive platformer the likes of which I haven’t had a chance to enjoy since 2010’s release of Rayman Origins. Because of this, I’d whole-heartedly recommend Wario Land II to anyone who’s looking for something to eat up their time while waiting for the fall release schedule to kick off at the end of August.