Nintendo’s WarioWare Gold launches this week, and if we’re judging the game within a vacuum, it’s pretty good. We’ve been micro-gaming with the WarioWare series for just a hair over 15 years (a squiggly, Wario mustache hair, for sure), and Gold lands as a “best-of” compilation—one that finally brings the franchise to the 3DS, no less.
But WWG is difficult to judge within a vacuum. The game’s release date puts it in a rarified air among first-party Nintendo games: it arrives within a system’s end-of-life window. In case you haven’t noticed, the 3DS side of Nintendo has been tumbleweed city these days.
Corporate promises of continued support and new, limited-edition 3DS systems don’t obscure what’s left for the beloved handheld: a Luigi’s Mansion port and Yokai Watch sequel by year’s end, then a Mario & Luigi RPG port in 2019. Them’s slim pickins. WWG is arguably the most interesting game left in that “farewell tour” selection.
Thus, let’s fondly remember the fun WWG still offers—and the historical context it shares with other Nintendo “flatliners.”
Going for the Gold
The WarioWare franchise began when WarioWare: Mega Microgame$ launched in 2003 as a Game Boy Advance exclusive with a wild sales pitch: one cartridge would include hundreds of games… but each lasts no more than five seconds.
This quality has persisted in subsequent WarioWare games, and it applies to WWG as a series compilation, too. Each WWG mini-game starts with a one- or two-word instruction shout—”Dodge,” “Squash,” “Don’t Move,” etc.—and an expectation that you’ll figure the mini-game out before its timer expires. Fail too many mini-game challenges in a given run, and that’s game over. This inevitably happens, since each mini-game’s timer speeds up dramatically the longer you play.
WarioWare games have appeared across a few platforms over the years: two on the GBA, two on the original DS, one exclusively for the DSi, one on the Wii, and a series spin-off on the Wii U. Each release since Microgame$ has emphasized its unique hardware in one way or another, whether by exposing a console’s built-in tricks or, in the case of the GBA’s WarioWare Twisted, utilizing a gyrometer and rumble feature built into a cartridge. As a result, an encyclopedic WarioWare anthology would require a few things: a touchscreen, a gyroscope attached to a screen, an accelerometer attached to a remote, a camera, and support for user-created content.
WWG leaves a few of those options out of the running—namely, anything from the Wii’s Smooth Moves or the DSi’s Snapped. Most of WWG‘s mini-games fall under one of three umbrellas. “Mash” games use a D-pad and one button; “twist” games force players to rotate the 3DS to move things around the screen; and “touch” games are completed by tapping and dragging a stylus on the bottom touchscreen.
The game starts by asking players to beat “story” levels, which focus on one of the three main control types—meaning, you’ll face 15-25 mini-games in a row that must be controlled using only “mash,” only “twist,” and so on. These are solid enough, but WWG is at its best when you’ve beaten the main game and unlocked “challenge” mixes of various mini-games. In these challenge modes, Wario will serve any of the package’s mini-games at random, and while some of these modes offer brief hints to which control type is about to appear, harder versions do not.
Once I got to these modes, I realized how meek the default, no-surprises content felt in comparison. The challenge ramp-up is probably perfect for anybody new to Wario’s bizarre, dorky, and sometimes gross mini-games, but I’ve been down this road before. Because I don’t have all of the original games handy, I can only estimate (having beaten every WarioWare game) that roughly two-thirds of WWG‘s mini-games come from older titles. The math isn’t important, however, because the mechanics of all 300 games are absolutely familiar.
WarioWare games have never been about the individual mini-games being so precious that they deserve memorializing. Instead, these tiny blips add up to a bewildering experience—where you’re plucking nose hairs one moment, then protecting a kitty from the rain, then rotating your 3DS to avoid stomping massive feet on tiny underlings. For all of the memorization you might do, a full-game run of varied mini-games still requires some mental calisthenics, and WWG triples the required bandwidth—in its best challenge modes, at least.
Beating the campaign will unlock 80-90 percent of the mini-games, while going back into challenge modes will randomly unearth the remaining mini-games—and you’ll want to do this to unlock a treasure trove of extra stuff. WWG harkens back to the golden years of grinding to unlock a litany of hidden, bonus features, and WWG arguably has the most of these yet in this series. The most fun of these unlockables include lengthy, arcade-caliber games, particularly a new entry in WarioWare’s silly “Mewtroid” spin-off and a solid, motion-controlled clone of the indie iOS hit Desert Golfing.
Sadly, this all hinges on a basic random-unlock system, so you’re stuck unlocking a lot of garbage—including text-only crank phone calls and character-themed alarm clocks. In reviewing the game, I found that the unlocking process was slower when playing the more entertaining challenge mixes of its mini-games. I could earn coins much faster by playing the more repetitive mixes of WWG‘s mini-games. I certainly prefer this path over paid microtransactions, but a poorly managed dribble of unlocks isn’t much better.
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