With Wario: Master of Disguise, Nintendo has once again put one of its mascot characters in a game that emphasizes the use of the touch screen on the Nintendo DS. This time around, Wario takes center stage in a puzzle game that at first glance looks like a traditional side-scrolling platformer. However, the game isn't like any of the Wario Land games because jumping and pouncing take a back seat to figuring out the proper mix of abilities to get past the puzzling obstacles. These obstacles are so plentiful that levels often require 30 minutes to one hour to finish. This change in style is one reason fans aren't as likely to embrace Wario: Master of Disguise as strongly as Kirby: Canvas Curse. Another reason is that the touch screen doesn't enable you to do anything that couldn't just as easily have been accomplished by pushing a button; quite often, the touch-screen controls aren't as intuitive or accurate as pressing a button.
Wario's latest bizarre scheme to get rich quick lands him in the fictional world of a TV show centered around a thief named the Silver Zephyr who uses a magic wand to outfit himself with various disguises and superpowers. Inevitably, Wario steals the wand and becomes the self-proclaimed Purple Wind, adopting the motto "silent but deadly." That's the only fart joke in the game, but it's said frequently. After swiping the wand, Wario and the demoralized Zephyr learn about the existence of another powerful object called the wishstone, which has been broken into pieces and scattered in various tombs around the world. Both characters set out to collect the pieces, and Wario further promises to loot any treasure he finds along the way.
In each of the game's 10 episodes, your job is to get Wario through a different mazelike tomb, jimmy open any treasure chests you find, and deal with whatever creatures or bosses you encounter. Thanks to the wand, Wario can change into any of eight different disguises, which afford him unique abilities. For example, the space suit lets you shoot laser blasts, whereas the artist costume lets you conjure stone blocks out of thin air. Movement is handled with the D pad, but all other actions involve the touch screen. When you want Wario to wear a different disguise, you have to draw a particular symbol around him. To direct laser blasts, conjure blocks, or perform other actions, you have to tap or draw on the touch screen. There's some basic creature pouncing and platform jumping in every tomb, but what you'll be doing most often is alternating the use of Wario's different abilities to break obstacles, plug up gaps in the floor, and locate and activate a wide range of switches, platforms, and doorways.
Even though the game looks like any other side-scrolling platformer, it is a puzzle game in every sense of the term. The rooms, tunnels, and interconnected doors inside each tomb are laid out like mazes, while each room is an individual puzzle of its own. In a typical room, you'll use the artist costume to create blocks to reach an elevated platform, switch to the dragon costume to use its flame breath to light a torch that causes the platform to move, and then put on the genius outfit so that you can see and land on the invisible outcropping up ahead. The next room may have you smashing through walls, melting pillars of ice, and swimming underwater. On top of all that, you'll frequently come across treasure chests, which lead to minigames when you try to open them. The minigames also employ the use of the touch screen and involve tasks such as rearranging a slide puzzle, tracing a small maze, or coloring an image in a short amount of time.
Wario: Master of Disguise isn't a platformer or microgame collection like Wario's other games. While that's bound to put some people off, the game's real problem is that it stops being interesting after about an hour. Cutting down a chandelier with a laser is cool the first couple of times you do it but not the 100th time. By the third or fourth episode, you've interacted with the same objects and experienced the same set of eight minigames so frequently that the process of switching costumes and using the stylus becomes rote. Also, the game often feels tedious because there are so many puzzles and minigames in each tomb that it can take 30 minutes to an hour to complete an episode. Thankfully, the liberal placement of save markers means you can take a break if you like. The touch-screen controls probably weren't necessary and sometimes make the game more frustrating. In Kirby: Canvas Curse, drawing rainbows and capturing enemies was interesting because that stuff was possible only with the touch screen. In Wario: Master of Disguise, changing costumes and using abilities are the same sorts of things we've been doing for years in other games that use buttons for input. To complicate matters, the game has trouble interpreting the symbols you draw when you jot them too quickly or don't draw them in just the right way. It's usually not an issue, but it becomes an issue in rooms or boss battles that require you to switch disguises quickly. Transforming into the pirate captain when you wanted to transform into the space suit is not what you want to have happen when you need to fire off a quick laser blast.
Master of Disguise also has a few graphical flaws. Wario has a good variety of goofy animations, but the creatures and objects inside each tomb are plain and usually have only one stiff attack animation in addition to their basic walking animation. Backgrounds are colorful and have some nice animated details, but what you'll notice the most are the flat floors, spikes, and cookie-cutter switches that decorate the majority of rooms. One of the reasons the minigames are so tiresome is that they're all put together with a static background and with simple symbols and objects that usually don't move, apart from when you're physically dragging them across the screen. Audio fares a little better mainly because the music is sufficiently catchy and fits the theme of each environment. Sound effects are generic, although you'll hear a few recorded screams and Wario comments here and there as well. If it weren't for Wario's sprite and the amusing conversations that occur before and after each episode, you wouldn't know that Nintendo had a hand in the game at all.
It will take you about 10 to 15 hours to complete the main quest, which means the game is certainly as lengthy as any other Nintendo product. However, the bonuses and extras typical of Nintendo's games are missing. You can replay episodes to set better times and collect the treasures you missed to improve your rank and see an extended ending, but that's it for extras. Nintendo didn't even bother to include a competitive multiplayer mode, which is surprising because most Nintendo-published games have that feature.
When you weigh all the pros and cons, Wario: Master of Disguise is a passable puzzler that might tickle your fancy if you've felt deeply passionate about spatial puzzlers, such as The Lost Vikings or Exit, in the past. However, keep in mind that the game recycles the same puzzle situations and minigames frequently, and the touch-screen controls don't do much to elevate the experience. For those reasons and the overall lack of polish, most people will probably be better off avoiding Wario: Master of Disguise.