Trying to distil the concept of Made in Wario into a few sentences, and to write them down on paper, proves a challenging endeavour. The game is conceptually unique, and doesn’t fit comfortably into any pre-defined genre of videogaming. Let us try though, to capture this essence in a few words. “Defeat characters by completing random minigames, from a selection of more than 200. Each minigames lasts five seconds or less”. Normally, games that are composed of smaller games from different genres, more often than not, fail to enthral in any great measure. The second sentence is even more troubling - “Each minigames lasts five seconds or less? ” On paper, it sounds like an accident waiting to happen. But, games are not played on paper. Sometimes, sometimes things just work - the whole may be very much greater than the sum of its parts, and that is very much the case with Made in Wario.
After a brief, bizarre intro, the game begins - and the first tentative moments of play are thoroughly bewildering. Absolutely no attempt is made to explain to the player the controls of each minigame, nor how to succeed. The pace is absolutely unrelenting too - whether or not the player loses one of his four lives, it zips along to the next 5 second challenge with no respite. This does not feel as cruel as it sounds. Before each minigame starts, there is a one second or so pause, during which the objective can be worked out from the visual cues. The task may be to drive a car whilst avoiding traffic, or to tap the A button several times in order to jump over a skipping rope. Even those that are less obvious can be worked out by the second or third play, and this never frustrates. So then, sophisticated and deep? Certainly not. But it is exhilarating, intense, addictive, and crucially, great fun to play.
Graphically, too, the pace is unyielding, with the style and form changing rapidly from game to game. At times they are beautiful, well drawn and vibrant, whilst at other times barren, black and white visuals that hark back to “game and watch” fill the screen. This amalgamation of approaches contributes to an overall visual style that is both unique and striking. The audio blends effortlessly with this stylistics - basic, bleeping melodies share the stage with more sophisticated orchestrated tracks.
Each level is constructed of between ten and twenty minigames, most of which are specific to that level, culminating with a “boss” fight. Perhaps the term “boss” is misleading here - although each stage has a unique character that is defeated by completing the minigames, these battles are just slightly longer than the standard challenges. Thirty seconds has never felt so long. Each stage has a tangible and unique style, complemented well by the characters, which are, unsurprisingly, wonderfully imaginative and full of personality. Curiously, the eponymous Wario is one of the least appealing of a hilarious bunch. This point perhaps cannot be understated - it is this very diversity and sense of humour that is the defining factor and one of the key strengths of Made in Wario. From the visuals, spot effects, characters, storyline, and of course the minigames themselves, everything has a truly bizarre, off the wall feel, without the loss of any cogency or consistency to the whole experience.
Quite unbelievably, half way through the review and still practically nothing has been mentioned about how the game actually plays. In terms of style and presentation, Made in Wario is quite exceptional. This is not a triumph of style over substance; the gameplay is equally excellent, but is almost an affront to traditional conventions. Usually the minigames are tests of timing or basic control - press a button at the right time, move something somewhere, that’s as complicated as it gets. Playing it is so enjoyable because of the way in which everything is integrated together, and the sheer unpredictability of it all. One minute you may be pressing A to release an airbag in order to protect a crash test dummy, the next tapping the button furiously to suck up snot dripping from someone’s nose. There are also a couple of minigames involving trivia questions, which are of course in Japanese, and as such rely purely on luck for those who do not speak the language. Thankfully is the only time where the Japanese impedes enjoyment of the game for importers. Invariably, the minigames that are the most pleasing are those that use characters or levels from Nintendo’s rich heritage. There are brief excerpts of levels from F-Zero, Zelda, Super Mario, as well as snapshots from literally hundreds of lesser known titles.
It feels unfair to criticise Made in Wario for the simplicity of the actual content, in view of everything that has been said so far, but nevertheless this may be an issue for some. Due to its very nature, things are over very quickly. There is a wealth of unlockables, including minigames from the main game that can be played over and over without the constraints of a five-second timer, increasing to near ridiculous speeds, in order to beat hi-scores. Other minigames can be unlocked for two-player modes, and there are also full games locked away - including a tweaked, but delightful version of Dr Mario. These treats provide a welcome, yet still limited diversion from the main game itself, where even the least skilled of gamers will be able to see the end sequence within a couple of days. The draw of the game is such however, that Made in Wario will feel equally delightful if played through again in the future, if only for precious seconds.
Made in Wario is a breath of fresh air in an industry when games are becoming increasingly more complex and demanding. Whilst the gameplay is undeniably simple, it is thoroughly engaging, due to the pace and variety, and of course the marvellous, outlandish presentation. It is also quite unlike anything else before it, and for this reason it is an utterly essential purchase.
Text by Christian Kemp