Wario is one of the strangest ideas Nintendo has ever created. He’s not quite a “main” Mario character, as he almost never appears in the core titles like Galaxy or the New franchise, but he’s popular enough to warrant a ton of best selling games, and garner some of the most creative talent Nintendo has to offer.
Fast forward to today, where everyone is clamoring for another WarioWare entry to take advantage of the unique hardware mechanics the Wii U has to offer. Except, we aren’t quite getting that game, as Game & Wario is not actually a proper WarioWare title. Instead, we’re getting a minigame collection with 12 [mostly] solo games and four strictly multiplayer games.
And that’s completely okay with me.
Obviously, a minigame collection is only as strong as its offerings. A few entries offer up a pretty neat way to spend an afternoon, such as Arrow, Bowling, Design, and Kung Fu. Arrow is your typical “stop characters from reaching the bottom of your screen” fare, as you flick arrows from a vertical oriented Wii U GamePad to the screen and fend off invaders. It’s not particularly innovative or engaging, but it gets the job done.
Design on the other hand is something I wish I saw more of on the DS or 3DS, as it tasks players with drawing lines, angles, and shapes of varying lengths and sizes, grading them on accuracy and quality. As an added bonus it has multiplayer, and it’s honestly a great way to learn how to judge geometric shapes while offering up a bit of fun as well. Kung Fu is something that could have been a lot more fun, but instead relegates itself to a minigame of mild enjoyment, as it takes a page from the Jumping Flash series and features vertical platforming on the Wii U GamePad. While it’s fun for a time, it could have used a bit more personality to really shine.
But as you start to unlock more games, you’ll really get to the meat of Game & Wario. My standout favorites are Taxi, Shutter, and Gamer — and I’m not joking when I say I would easily pay $10 for standalone versions of each of these games, as they’re just that good. Taxi is basically a mixture of Sega’s Crazy Taxi and a first-person-shooter, as you race to pick up cab fares while shooting down UFOs who are abducting them. The TV functions as a top-down view of the entire area, while the GamePad is a first-person view of both your driving activities and your bazooka reticle. Like the Metroid game in NintendoLand, it features boss fights, and is one of the more complex games in the package.
Shutter is another great addition, tasking you with taking pictures of specific characters or creatures, using the Wii U GamePad as an actual “camera” to take pictures of the action on the TV. Shutter mixes things up as levels go on, forcing you to quickly snap photos while on a moving train, or during a live stage performance. You’ll have to use very minor hints and a basic picture of the mark to figure out your target, and it offers up some great split-second moments of laughs and yells as you attempt to get that perfect shot or locate hidden items and characters.
But out of everything in the package, Gamer stands out as my favorite. In this minigame, the young 9-Volt stays up past his bedtime with his portable gaming system on a mission to defeat his Mom’s high score. You’ll play actual WarioWare games on the GamePad (which functions as his game system), but with a twist — from time to time, 9-Volt’s Mom will come check on him, forcing you to hold the two trigger buttons to act like he’s asleep.
To make things even more interesting, his Mom can come in the bedroom door, look in his outside window, or even come out of the TV, Ringu style. The tense horror music helps make a particular mild situation even more tense, as you balance 9-Volt’s sleep meter by not going to sleep too often with actually beating the game. Looking back and forth between your actual TV and a GamePad was never so much fun in any Wii U game before it.
Each game is only built for a minor amount of replay value, usually in the form of three to five different stages of increasing difficulty, as well as the ability to earn extra tokens for the “Cluck-A-Pop” machine — an extra that lets you earn little tidbits like hints, real life recipes, and new levels/secrets. There are a few games that fall flat and feel like an utter waste of space (Ski, Ashley), but for the rest of the lot, I really wanted more levels and more variation, as I wouldn’t stop playing them if there was more to play.
Multiplayer isn’t available for every game, and it operates in a fairly weird manner — the only controller that’s ever utilized in any game is the sole GamePad. No Wiimotes, no Wii U Controller Pro — nothing — just the one GamePad, passed around at certain intervals. At first glance due to this puzzling limitation, the four multiplayer offerings seem pretty bare-bones — but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for two in particular. Disco is basically a head-to-head rhythm game tasking players to battle each other to tapping notes to a beat, and Sketch is essentially interactive Pictionary — pretty basic stuff, but it works.
The other two games on the other hand are absolute gold, and one of them in particular (Fruit) makes use of the Wii U GamePad in an incredibly unique manner. Specifically, Fruit tasks one player with hiding their secret Fruit Thief identity on the GamePad, while players watch the TV and attempt to identify them. The game is asynchronous, which means that although technically the viewers are “playing” the game, they don’t have any actual tactile control until the round is over, when they each get their own unique guess to identify the thief. It’s extremely stressful for both the thief and the viewers, as you attempt to not only blend in with the NPC crowds, but look over every minor detail on the screen.
“Islands” is another one of my personal favorites, which is kind of like a bean bag toss meets Wario universe type of setup, and has players throwing creatures onto certain targets for points, with many twists and turns along the way. It’s not a particularly competitive game with tons of Mario Party-esque changes happening on constant basis, but the physics are surprisingly well done, and it’s a ton of fun to boot.
When it comes down to it, $40 is a great price for Game & Wario, and I’d easily pay $10 each for a number of standalone digital releases in the package. To be clear, you should not go into this expecting anything more than a mini-game collection nor should you expect a WarioWare game. At the end of the day, barring a few standout games, Game & Wario feels like a tech-demo for concepts that will be fully adapted on the Wii U at a later date — but it’s an absolutely stellar tech-demo, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This review is based on a physical copy of the Wii U game Game & Wario.