It doesn't happen terribly often these days, but you still occasionally see a game that tries its hardest to defy classification. The latest such game is Nintendo's WarioWare Inc.: Mega MicroGame$ for the Game Boy Advance. At first, it may seem like a minigame collection or some sort of party game. But the way the game tosses its huge slew of often hilarious minigames at you gives it the frenetic, unstoppable pace of a Tetris-like puzzle game, and in the end, it all comes together in a nearly magical fashion.
WarioWare has a bit of a plot to it, but like most puzzle games, it's fast and very, very loose. While lounging around on the couch one day, Wario sees a television report about an extremely popular video game. Sensing the opportunity to make a lot of cash, Wario enlists a ragtag bunch of misfits and gets into the game business. This translates into gameplay by a level with its own set of minigames being assigned to each one of Wario's pals.
The games in WarioWare are as simple--and as weird--as they can possibly get. They all revolve around one basic action of some sort. One asks you to shoot a golf ball into a hole. Another asks you to stop a sliding finger just below a waiting nostril so the nose is successfully picked. You'll have to match shapes, answer simple IQ-test-like questions, jump rope, ride a skateboard, keep a spotlight shining on an escaping Wario, and lots, lots more. The startling gems of the collection come in the form of minigames based on old Nintendo classics. Inside you'll find simplified games based on The Legend of Zelda, Wild Gunman, Duck Hunt, Hogan's Alley, Urban Champion, Metroid, Sheriff, Balloon Fight, Mario Paint, F-Zero, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Dr. Mario, and more. On their own, the games aren't the most exciting thing in the world. For example, the Metroid game simply places Samus directly in front of Mother Brain at the end of the original NES game. All you must do is hammer on the A button to fire enough missiles to destroy Mother Brain. But there's another factor involved: time.
Each game lasts about five seconds, tops. Either you hit A enough times to destroy Mother Brain and succeed, or you don't, and you fail. What's more, the game gets faster and faster as you play, much like the blocks in a Tetris game start falling more quickly as you progress. That, combined with the way the game tosses its minigames at you in a random, rapid-fire manner makes WarioWare one of the most hectic games ever released. Not only do you need to perform a variety of tasks at increasingly breakneck speeds, but the game also doesn't tell you which minigames it's going to give you. So you must recognize which game it is and then quickly execute before time runs out. You're given four lives initially, though each stage has a boss fight that rewards victory with an extra life. The first time you complete a boss stage, it opens up the next stage, but you can go back and compete for pure score and, more importantly, to see how much speed and variety you can withstand before losing your edge and failing.
The graphics in WarioWare keep up with the insane pace of the minigames. One minute you'll be looking at a crude yet effective shot of toast popping out of a toaster so you can grab it with a disembodied hand. The next you'll be looking at a fast-moving rendition of F-Zero for the Super Nintendo. In the end, it all comes down to pure style. WarioWare's graphics, whether attempting to render the fine art of nose picking or a picture of R.O.B. the Robot, look fantastic. The game's music and sound perfectly fit the action as well. The music, some of which has digitized lyrics, heightens in both speed and pitch as you proceed, doing a good job of making the game feel a little more manic. The sound effects are also pretty satisfying.
While it can be said that the game isn't quite as exciting once you've seen every minigame it has to offer, the method that it brings the games to you stays fresh, and a bevy of unlockables--including full versions of Dr. Mario (renamed Dr. Wario here) and Nintendo's classic arcade game Sheriff--keep things moving along quite nicely. In the end, the game does have a lot of that Tetris-like appeal, making it something that you can play in short bursts and return to again and again, which is one of the most admirable qualities a portable game can have. Anyone looking for an exciting change of pace will have a fantastic time with WarioWare.