WarioWare: Mega MicroReview$ (Part 1: History and Introduction)

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (WW from here on), developed by Nintendo R&D1, was released in 2003 and instantly became one of my all-time favorite games. It’s a weird game. Weird mechanics, weird visuals, weird sound. When it came out I loved it for being different. On one tiny cart, you got more variety than some consoles entire catalogues. WW was in constant rotation on my GBA, lived in the bottom slot of my first DS, and now has taken up permanent residence in my GBA Micro. I tend to revisit this game every few years, but this time I wanted to take a closer look at it. To gain some insight to its development I’m going to start by looking at some relevant games from R&D1.

intro screen

History

warioland
Wario first appears in “Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins” as the villain. This game was followed up with “Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3”. These games are both typical platformers, just prominently featuring Wario. Where the series gets interesting is “Wario Land II“. This is another platformer, but this time Wario is invincible. Touching certain objects will cause Wario to transform, for example touching a bubble causes Wario to become trapped in the bubble, but can now float. Instead of being an action platformer, the game becomes more about puzzle solving by using these different conditions that can affect Wario. Wario Land 3 and 4 have similar gameplay as well (sounds from Wario Land 4 were used in WW). To me this demonstrates that R&D1 liked to use Wario for more experimental games, as evidenced by Wario games becoming more different from the Mario games they spun off of as time went on.

The next game I want to talk about wasn’t solely developed by R&D1, the Gameboy Camera. R&D1 collaborated with Jupiter to develop the software for the GB camera. While it was probably more so remembered for being a cheap/small digital camera in the 90s, the thing I remember most about it was a very strange sense of humor. Various examples, like the mysterious faces when you select “run”, the menu itself, and the dancing Mario mascot loading screen are all very weird. Most importantly were the minigames. These games would use a photo you had set (usually of someone’s face) for things like, bosses, or the head of the player character. This might not seem to have much to do with WW, but it does lead us to our next game.

Mario Artist: Polygon Studio was a Japanese only Nintendo64DD game developed by R&D1. In this game, you could make your own polygon models, and then use them for various minigames, like the GB Camera. Most notably is the “Sound Bomber” mode, where your model appears in a series of quick-fire “micro-games”. These games are introduced with 1 word instructions and must be beaten in a matter of seconds. This gameplay is almost identical to WW, and is clearly the direct inspiration for the series. There are only 8 micro-games in “Sound Bomber”, but many of them re-appear in WW.

WarioWare Game play

wario makin games
The story of WarioWare is that Wario wants to make lots of money by making video games. But he is too lazy to make them on his own so he calls his friends to help him out and they start a company to develop Microgames.

Microgames (MG) are short, simple games that start with a one or two-word instruction, then it’s up to you to quickly beat the game. They are broken into groups based on which character created them, and are based around some sort of theme (sports, strange, sci-fi, etc.) After choosing a character and watching the intro, you play through a series of micro games.

9 volt

Before and after each MG there will be a quick intermission screen that displays your current MG count, as well as a life total. Just playing through a MG adds to the counter, but failing one will cause you to lose a life. If you lose all your lives you will be forced to start over. At certain points during a session the speed of the games will be increased, making each game faster. Each MG also has 3 difficulty levels, which is increased by making progress during the session.

loading a boss

After reaching a certain count of MG you will encounter the boss game. These games differentiate themselves by being slightly more complex, and lacking a hard timer. If it’s your first time playing through that character’s games, beating the boss game will end the session and either unlock a new character, or work towards the unlock of the next tier.

The initial playthrough of each character’s set of levels constitutes a kind of story mode. When selected, they have an intro and after beating the boss it will show an ending screen. When playing through again the session does not end after beating the boss, but it does award an additional life. You can play these until you either lose all lives or quit. If you want to see the ending again there is an option in the menu.

Games seen during normal “games” mode will appear in Grid mode. This is a collection of every microgame that can be individually selected. You will probably have to replay a character’s level a couple of times to unlock all their games in grid mode. Here you play only 1 game, and it will cycle through each of its difficulties, and then increase in speed. Games here also have a goal number listed in the text crawl along the bottom of the screen. Achieving these goals places a flower in the top right corner. Getting the flower on every micro game will unlock WW’s most difficult secret.

game select screen

There are many other secrets as well. Each of these usually unlocks a minigame (not a microgame). Some of these are extended versions of microgames (skating board, paper plane) others are nearly full original games (Pyoro). My favorite of these is Dr. Wario, which is basically Dr. Mario. There are also some weird 2 player games that are played with each player holding 1 side of the Gameboy and using the shoulder buttons. To be honest I’ve never really played these, but they are a very interesting addition.

Microgames

And now to take a closer look at each microgame individually. For each of these I will play through the character’s stage until all microgames are unlocked in grid mode. Then I will play each microgame in grid mode until the flower is unlocked. There are over 200 microgames, so I’m only covering the initial Wario Introduction minigames, with posts for other characters in the future.

Please note: Microgames are much more fun to play when mixed together in random modes. Playing them in grid mode makes them lose a lot of their appeal so these reviews become in a little harsher in that regard.

Stage 1: Introduction (Wario)
This stage opens at WarioWare Inc. The boss man himself, Wario, has a brief work out, taunts the player (“Think you can beat my games?”), then trampolines into his stereo. Between each microgame you will see this stereo screen, which is a reference to Polygon Studio. This screen also serves as the generic transition screen for grid mode.

01. crazy

Microgame 1: Crazy Cars
Instructions: Dodge! or Dodge?
*Appears in Polygon Studio as JUMP
In this game Wario must dodge cars driving straight towards him. The only input is A to jump. There are 3 types of cars, potato (tall), hotdog (long), and shark (also long). I really do not think there is a difference between the hotdog and the shark. This sounds incredibly simple and it is. You can pretty much jump as soon as the car appears and clear it. The trick to this game is that the car does not always drive straight at you. Sometimes they will stop for a second and hit you as your coming down. Sometimes the cars will jump at you, hitting you at the top of your jump. These variants are incredibly hard to dodge, to be honest while playing for this review I was never able to avoid getting hit by stoppers or jumpers. Fortunately, the game occasionally throws you a bone with cars that occasionally turn around, or are so tiny they do not hurt Wario on collision. These free wins will be indicated with the “Dodge?” instruction. I was only able to get the flower by getting lucky with free wins and few trick stages. While frustrating to play, the amount variety they could pull from such a simple mechanism is impressive.

02. whirled

Microgame 2: Wario Whirled
Instructions: Stop Me!
*Appears in Polygon Studio as ROULETTE
Wario is spinning on a pie slice, there is a strange contraption off to the side with an arrow. Pressing A will cause the arrow to stick out, and if it contacts the pie slice stopping Wario in place. Difficulty in this game comes from the pie slice decreasing in size, along with speed ups. The large pie slice is pretty easy to stop at all speed levels, but the 2 smaller ones can be difficult. A very simple game, not much to say.

03. saving

Microgame 3: Saving Face
Instructions: Catch!
2 disembodied hands float against a black screen. The higher one holds a stick. The lower one wears a yellow fingerless glove, implied to be Wario’s. You goal is to press A and catch the falling stick. Difficulty comes from the stick changing lengths, variety from timing on the stick drop, as well as fall speed. One of my least favorite games, boring patience based gameplay along with uninteresting visuals. The only thing I like is how if you try to catch it too soon the stick bounces off your hand. There is an audio queue when the top hand drops the stick. I wondered if that was more useful to this game than the visuals, and tried this game with my eyes closed. Don’t do this, I missed it every time.

04. diamond

Microgame 4: Diamond Dig
Instructions: Aim!
*Appears in Polygon Studio as Block. In that game, it was a Tetris parody, complete with a knockoff jingle.
Wario is falling, use the arrow buttons to guide him to the diamond. Variation in this game comes from the position of the hole with the diamond. Difficulty is increased through placing a small block over the hole, then a larger one. This is a pretty easy game, even on high speeds it’s doable. The Wario sprite in this one is very cute as well.

What’s interesting in this one is the change from PS to WW. In PS, it relied on your knowledge of Tetris to understand the gameplay. This was achieved through looking kind of like Tetris, but mostly through music. In WW, it has been changed to a more generic Wario theme. This newer version also utilizes an additional cue: a shiny diamond in the hole to help guide your eye towards it. I wonder if it was changed more so for clarity than to sidestep the Tetris reference.

05. Balls

Microgame 5: Dodge Balls
Instructions: Flee!
Control a small car with the directional buttons and dodge giant soccer balls. The balls spin around your car briefly before careening off away from the car, bouncing off walls. The direction they start moving it provides variation, the number of balls brings difficulty (2,3, and 4). The trick is that the safest place is the center of the screen. Minimizing your movement is the key to success. Hell, half the time not moving at all will get you a win. It’s an OK minigame, I find the animation of the balls unsettling. I feel like this game is referencing something I am not familiar with.

06. reppellion

Microgame 6: Repellion
Instructions: Attack!
*Appears in Polygon Studio as Shoot.
A miniature version of space invaders. Enemy ships move across the top, move left and right with the d-pad and A to fire. The trick is that you have limited ammo, just enough shots for the enemies on screen. Difficulty increases with number of enemy ships, and variation comes from starting position of those ships. In the world of microgames this one is relatively complex, requiring you to move and shoot. I really like the limited ammo, emphasizing precision. The shots and the ships are all large so it isn’t too difficult. So far one of my favorite microgames.

07. Wear

Microgame 7: Wario Wear
Instructions: Dress!
I’ve never payed attention to the names until writing this, I got a laugh out of this one. Clothes are falling from the sky, move your paper doll Wario left and right to catch the clothes. On the easy level the shirt falls straight. On medium, you need to catch his shoes and pants, which fall in a zig-zag pattern. Finally, you catch his jacket and hat in a zig-zag pattern, but the jacket is visible first, but the hat falls faster. This is an incredibly easy microgame, but extremely cute with some fun details. First is when you change his direction the paper doll switches sides. The other is the continuity between difficulties; starting in boxers in easy, to fully dressed after beating hard.

08. Hectic

Microgame 8: Hectic Highway
Instructions: Dodge!
*Appears in Polygon Studio as Race.
Wario is speeding down the highway, use left and right to dodge other vehicles. Variation comes from position of other vehicles, difficulty comes from the size of Wario’s vehicle. On easy he has a motorcycle, about half of a lane. On medium, he drives a sports car, approximately 3/4s of the lane. On hard he drives a monster truck that takes up the entire lane. It feels like when the speed increases more cars show up, ramping up the difficultly dramatically. Again, the key is minimizing movement, sometimes your starting lane will be totally clear and you can just ride it out. There also seems to be a pattern where obstacle cars very rarely appear consecutively in the same lane. Pass a car in the front then ride that lane till the end. I like the detail on him riding different cars and the minimalist look, but highspeed difficulty makes this a frustrating game.

09. Maze

Microgame 9: The Maze that Pays
Instructions: Collect!
Wario is in a maze and collects coins, use the d-pad to guide him. Obvious Pac-man parody*. Difficulty comes from number of coins, variation from position of coins. On low speeds this game is trivial, Wario moves super-fast and it’s easy to get all the coins. But on higher speeds his speed makes it hard to hit corners. The real difficulty in additional coins are the additional turns it takes to grab them.  Despite some difficulty issues at high speeds I really like this game, mostly because I like Pac-man.

*I think this really adds to my argument about Diamond Dig. This game shows they aren’t afraid to make fun of non-nintendo games.

10. wario bros

Microgame 10: Super Wario Bros
Instructions: Stomp!
Wario bounces around and needs to stomp some goombas. You control his lateral movement with the d-pad but he jumps up and down automatically. Difficulty comes from the number of goombas (1,2, & 3) and variation comes from position of goombas. You will get exactly 4 bounces, so on hard difficulty you can only miss 1 bounce. This microgame’s presentation is notably janky. Wario’s sprite is super blocky, is in an awkward pose and has no animation. Later he is drawn in the Mario bros style more accurately. The goombas are much rounder, more like turds than mushrooms, and have a weirdly detailed death animation. But the best part is the dog bark remix of Super Mario theme.

11. I spy

Microgame 11: I Spy
Instructions: Spotlight!
You control a spotlight with the d-pad and try to keep it on a tiny Wario when time runs out. As difficulty goes up spotlight size goes down, variety lies in Warios movements. How difficult this microgame is depends on how Wario decides to move. Even with the smallest spotlight and fastest speed if he just meanders along a normal path it isn’t hard. But if he were to try and fake you out its possible to lose with that massive spotlight. I really like the look and feel of this minigame, especially the little speech bubble after he gives up.

12. Mug Shot

Microgame 12: Mug Shot
Instructions: Grab!
A mug will come sliding across the bar, press A when it’s in front of Wario to grab it. Variety comes from the direction of the mug and the speed. As far as I can tell the only thing difficulty changes is that on hard mode you will occasionally get faked out with a short stopped 2nd mug. What makes that scenario challenging is that it has a similar audio cue to the real mug, but it really isn’t that hard. The Wario sprite in this game is large and expressive, making it stand out from the smaller sprites in other microgames. During a normal character microgame session this game is a visually interesting break. But playing this in grid mode is a slog because it’s so simple with little variation. The name implies that it’s a mug of coffee, but Wario looks like a beer drinker to me so to me it’s a stein.

B1. Sparring

Boss game 1: Sparring Wario
Instructions: Spar!
Push A to punch the weight, it moves away then towards Wario, punch it when its close. After he punches it enough to swing it all the way around he will kick the weight off the chain. As difficulty rises more punches are needed to swing the chain all the way around. There is no variation in this game. I hate this game, it’s boring and dull looking.

After beating the boss game, Wario leaves the stereo miniaturized. A potato car and shark car also exit the stereo and chase down mini-Wario. Eventually he makes his way back to the stereo and emerges full size. After this he encourages you to check out Jimmy’s games, which will appear in the next edition of Mega MicroReview$.

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