Wario Land doesn't shake any conventions, but it's still a fun, beautiful platformer.
- Lots of replay value
- Gorgeous background art and animation
- Challenging puzzles.
- Gimmicky controls
- Short Story mode.
It seems that not all Wii developers are too busy working on the next big breakthrough in virtual pilates or sleep-training minigames to throw the side-scroller fan base a bone. Japan-based Good-Feel, for example, have been toiling away on the latest Wario game, Wario Land: Shake It (or Wario Land: The Shake Dimension in Australia). Unfortunately, despite much of its charm and familiarity, the game is an anachronism. It harkens back to the joyous, bygone era of difficult 2D platform scroller games and then cops out by pandering to the waggle generation by letting everyone win.
The plot here is wafer-thin and serves only to keep the action moving. Playing as antihero Wario you receive a stolen globe from Captain Maple Syrup that contains the entire Shake universe. An inhabitant of the Shake universe, a Merfle, pops out to inform you that its queen has been captured. King Shake is behind the dastardly deed and has also made off with the legendary Bottomless Coin Sack granting him unlimited riches. Wario is hardly a philanthropist, but the lure of lucre is enough to get him on the case.
Wario Land: Shake It is played by holding the Wii Remote horizontally. You use the D pad with buttons 1 or 2 to jump and perform dash/attack moves. One of the biggest boons of this configuration is that it's simple to pick up and play. It also controls like the platformers you've experienced before, though it incorporates some motion controls that unfortunately mean there's no Classic or GameCube controller here. Shaking the Wii Remote performs various functions, depending on where you are and what you're doing. Shaking in proximity to enemies or interactive environmental objects, such as stalactites or precariously placed heavy blocks, allows you to perform an earthquake-style move, which shakes items loose, raises platforms, and stuns foes. Once you've picked up an item you'll see an arrow indicating the intended trajectory of your throw. Adjusting your aim is done by tilting the controller, so the bias is either on the left- or right-hand side. It's not unlike the mechanics in Yoshi's Island, but instead of firing eggs you'll be using the bodies of stunned Goomba-like enemies. The majority of the levels are played on foot, but you'll also take control of a unibucket (an oversized unicycle with a bucket on top for riding in) and Wario's own Subwarine. These end up being some of the more frustrating levels to navigate and come off feeling like cheap control gimmicks that have been thrown in simply to reiterate that everything is being controlled by one magical white wand--albeit badly.
Once inside the Shake universe, you'll find the tried-and-true multiworld formula consisting of five zones, each with five levels. Each zone has a boss battle, which requires a specific ability of the game's gesture-driven control scheme to defeat it and continue. Examples include swinging on poles by shaking the controller or tilting the Wii Remote to drive a giant unicycle with a boxing glove attached. Though you'll need the rewards from killing all five of the bosses to fight King Shake, success does not guarantee your passage between zones. Instead, you'll need to revisit Captain Syrup at her pirate ship and purchase the next map to play it. Once you've completed them, any level from any zone can be repeated at will if you find yourself a bit low on cash. Captain Syrup's store also carries potions for extra credits and heart-vessel upgrades, giving you an additional point of life. These also scale in cost, and you may find yourself grinding gold on easy levels to simply unlock all abilities after you've ponied up for maps.
In addition to the primary goal of finding and freeing the imprisoned Merfle in each level by picking up its cages then shaking the Wii Remote, you'll also have the option to search for three to five hidden treasures, ranging from a Mahjong piece to a six-week-old curry. Most times, at least one treasure prize--hidden inside huge red and gold chests--is visible as you traverse the level from left to right or bottom to top. But the others can, at times, be quite difficult to find and require you to interact with items in a particular order, use enemies as makeshift launchpads, or choose alternative routes on the way home. It is here that the real appeal of Wario Land: Shake It lies. While you're free to roam and explore levels at your leisure until you liberate your little pixie buddy, once you've opened that trap, you'll need to make some tough decisions. Do you go back out the way you came in? Do you take your chances on what may be a faster route to the exit, or the one you think might have a great big diamond or sack of coins to collect? Levels are well designed, and despite the fact that there only a handful of them in total, they are all suitably varied. Each level also has between three and five achievements, which you can opt to complete if you choose and which serve as a bonus for people who demand more challenge. These include collecting a set amount in coins, finishing the level under a certain time, avoiding touching any of the level's water, or not killing enemies. We ripped through the single-player story in about five hours using a combination of exploration and speed runs, but the achievements and secret levels should more than double your playtime. Also, given the fact that the game lacks multiplayer support, the most value here really is for completionists and lateral thinkers.
The art here is a particular high point, although the game curiously forgoes the choice to support widescreen gameplay. The gorgeous 2D backdrops are hand-drawn and produced in a watercolour palette with bold lines. They're also so subtle that you'd be forgiven for missing them when you're focused on the action. These are in stark contrast to the game's vibrant opening and closing animations, which have been created in an anime style by Japanese studio Production I.G. and look great.
Wario Land: Shake Dimension is a fun action romp (dare we say with an occasional puzzle?) with a decided nod to the past glory of the genre. However, its short, easy-to-finish story mode and occasionally lackluster control system hamper what is an otherwise solid platformer.