Review by MaxH

"an ingenious and charming platformer, and my favourite game of all time"

It's not very often I hand out top marks to a game, in fact this is the only such instance. Wario Land is officially known as 'Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land' but it deserves better respect than a mere sequel. Because really, Wario Land isn't a sequel at all. Aside from the cameos from the princess and Mario, this game is full of all new characters, and has a format completely different to that of the Mario games.

The story is an excellent twist on the 'Save the Princess' storylines that is tacked onto all the Mario games. Wario discovers that the Princess has been kidnapped (This could also be the first time in a platformer where we see the boss only at the end and still have no idea who he is.) He also hears that Mario is after her, but decides to beat Mario to the punch and save the damsel in distress first. He figures he can sell her off for a large ransom once he gets her. He also plans to cut her ears off and send them to Mario if no payment is received. Joking, of course.

The only place we have seen Wario previously is stealing the six golden coins of Mario land (In Mario Land 2). He was much more of a pushover there than he is here. With a tap of the B button, Wario rams in a certain direction unstoppably. the point of this is to kill enemies and to smash blocks. Wario's other special power is hats. Being the rough and touch guy he is, you wouldn't expect Wario to much of a hat connoisseur but he really loves them. If you are midget Wario (You become this if you are normal Wario and get hurt once) you can get yourself back to normal by organically growing a hat out of your head by eating garlic. There are also three special hats which give Wario powers. The dragon hat will let him breath fire (But he cannot charge when this hat is on), the eagle hat lets Wario glide for a certain distance, and the viking hat provides Wario with a much stronger charge.

You must use all these hats to your advantage in the games puzzles, they aren't just there to make things easier, they are crucial to completion of the game. Certain spaces will only accommodate Midget Wario's circus-freakishly small body. Certain distances can only be got across by gliding. Certain hidden blocks can only be smashed by the viking hat, and the viking horns lets you stick to any surface above you. And last but not least (Although it is my least favourite hat) the dragon hat is useful as it is the only means of destroying underwater blocks.

The animation on Wario in the hats is excellent, as his figure changes slightly with each hat use. Wario himself is also very well animated, he walks through the whole game with a hilariously sneaky grin on his face. The world around Wario is also pretty to look at. While it's not immensely detailed, it does a terrific job in creating the atmosphere of the current location. If you are in a forest or cave the level design and textures will make you feel like you are in a forest or a cave, and it works to better effect than some 'next generation' games. Everything moves quickly too, and the animation is some of the most fluid I've seen on the original handheld. My one and only gripe is the vertical scrolling. When you reach the top or bottom of the screen, instead of following it with you, your character pauses and the screen moves up one, making a loud noise as it goes. This doesn't harm the gameplay, it's just annoying and slightly distracting.

The sound is great and even more atmospheric than the graphics. Some of the tunes are more memorable than many N64 and playstation games put together (And I mean games, not music from games). In chase levels the music is frantic and incredibly tense, in forest levels music is simple and bright and in snowy levels the music is distant and mysterious. These are all hard things to capture on a gameboy so nintendo must be given credit for such masterful use of the sound system. The sound effects are a mix of the realistic and the platformer-cliched. This makes them memorable enough without seeming out of place.

The gameplay is where this game shines. In most platformers you can walk through to the end of a level in less than a minute, stopping only a few times to quickly exterminate a foe. In Wario land however, you must use your enemies carefully rather than just kill them straight away. Wario has the special ability to stun his enemies and pick them up. this opens up lots of oppurtunities. For instance, you can see if there are higher platforms out of view by throwing an enemy up the screen and seeing if he comes back down. When an enemy is stunned you can also use him to bounce to higher ground. This is just one of many examples of how Wario Land takes simple platformer elements (In this case, standard enemies) and extends them to make a game which not only breaks the mould, but retains it's sense of fun when doing so.

Your quest to collect coins isn't simply to get extra lives like other games (In fact only collecting extra garlic, killing enemies, and collecting hearts will get you extra lives in this game), you must have coins to open up the exit to the level. you must also have 10 coins to activate the halfway save point in each level (and you WILL need to in the later levels) This is a subtle way of encouraging you to explore the levels a little more. You will also need coins for the end of the game. I won't spoil why, but let me tell you that if you don't have enough, you WILL want to come back and get more. Also in each level there is a piece of treasure (Collecting all of them is an immense satisfaction, and the reward is so great, that you want to play through all over again just to see it.) collecting the treasure is a complicated process of finding the secret room with the chest, and then uncovering the hidden key elsewhere in the level to unlock it. And of course there is always an obstacle or two that will seemingly prevent you from getting the key to the chest.

Aside from hidden rooms with coins, collecting treasure, using enemies in ways more versatile than you imagined AND the mammoth quest of rounding up ALL the treasure, there are plenty of secret levels in the game too. Levels with an alternate hidden exit will usually flash on the map screen. And it's not just hidden extra levels, there's also a HUGE hidden world as well. I have never felt such a rush of excitement in a game as I did when I uncovered this hidden world, and it's bizarre and colossal levels, it's just fantastic. The game is worth the asking price alone just for the moment you uncover the hidden world.

The game also never repeats itself. There are many different types of levels, such as levels with constant dangers, levels with things chasing you, levels which are more like mazes, and levels that are fast-paced and yet STILL retain all the secrets and brain-massaging gameplay of the game. I especially liked the mad, yet brilliant fast moving trains level. And yes, as the rules of platforming dictate, there is a mine-cart level. But this one holds nearly the most secrets out of all the levels.

With SO much exploring to do and puzzles to solve, as well as many tests of D-pad and button pushing dexterity, this game isn't going to be completely done a week after you buy it. There is so much to explore, and it's worth it just to get the best ending. The game (As any game should be, but unfortunately, few are) is bursting at the seams with secrets. And it never gets tiring, even though it lasts a long time you still wish it lasted longer, and that's got to be a good sign.

Wario land is full of a bizarre humour that shows traces of it's mario origin, except it's a lot more charming than any of the handheld mario's. Unfortunately the sequels to Wario Land didn't live up to it's high standards, but the still high quality of those games only serves as a testament to what a classic piece of gaming Wario Land was. The best platformer ever, and one you'll be fond of for as long as you live.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/10/01, Updated 07/10/01

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