Can the human mind imagine a finer sight than a minted Wario dancing to Layla?


Wario Land: The Shake Dimension (2008)

What was it Ray Liotta said to sum up Robert De Niro’s character in GoodFellas? “Jimmy was the kind of guy who rooted for the bad guys in the movies.” It’s a beautiful testament, and often it rings true. You may not have always wanted Voldie to get one over Harry Potter and his gormless posse per se, but didn’t you just want one of his followers to give Ginny Weasley a slap at times? We simply don’t want squeaky clean goodies in our mind-rotting works of fiction; we want conflicted types whose character flaws assure us that it’s actually perfectly okay for us to be fat, lazy, stupid and unreliable ourselves.

That’s why there’s nobody out there who could ever really be a fan of Mario. Yes, we’ll lap up any games with his slappable mug on the cover, or at least about 80% of them (around 700 games by my reckoning). But there’s nobody out there who can ever really love the character, because he’s just too good. A jovial voice, a penchant for pasta, excellent jumping skills and his ability to shut squawking children up for a while, they’re all valiant traits. But they’re still not enough to mask the fact that he’s a bigger personality vacuum than John Cena.

That ain’t the case with the wonderful Wario, though. Greedy, vain, lazy, a cheat, he boasts just about every single possible negative trait that a character could have without being Hitler. You name it, Wazza embodies it. That’s why, as a standalone character, he’s far better than that punk Mario any day of the week, and that’s why he deserves his own series of games. The platformers, anyway. WarioWare, we may leave for another day.

So Wario crashes onto the Wii in his own wonderful style, and I was made aware of his arrival by way of a wonderful YouTube trailer where the onscreen action actually began destroying elements of the website itself – check out the old capture that someone took of it. I don’t know how they did it.

But I must confess, even the title of Wario Land: The Shake Dimension alone was enough to deter me from playing this one for weeks, even months on end. And I don’t think I can be hanged for that. “Why do all the latest 2D Mario platformers have to have soulless, plasticky 3D graphics,” I’d cry, “what happened to a good hand-drawn sprite look?! I’d love to see that again!”

And still I would take one highly-hypocritical look at this game’s box-art and see it incredibly advertising the use of waggle as if I, the gamer, should actually be grateful about having the opportunity to use it. Feeling smug that my point had been proven and that I’d yet again expertly judged a game’s merits without ever having even played it, I would heroically and self-righteously cast the game aside once more.

But I did end up playing it, and I did shake the Wii Remote at times quite literally like I was owed money, and it didn’t seem too bad to me. It’s a 2D platformer of course, with you as the inimitable Wario. Wario certainly ain’t as manoeuvrable as his step-brother or cousin or evil twin or whatever on earth he is to Mario, but he’s got terrific strength – he can barge through enemies with his shoulder, push them about and throw them. Or he can unleash an earthquake punch to shake the cobwebs off the saccharine enemies and cause changes in the game’s environment. Bully!

The goal is to track down some bugger who’s been making devious use of a moneybag that can be shaken to produce an infinite amount of coins. Wow! Wario, being a man like myself and being entirely motivated only by bank and the chance of making some bank, jumps at the opportunity. The Shake Dimension is most like its wondrous GBA predecessor Wario Land 4 for two main reasons: one, Wario is vulnerable once again. That’s right, previous games in the Wario Land series made Wario fully invincible – and it actually worked.

Secondly, each level is roughly divided into two parts, with you burping and farting your way to the far end of each level, coming across an object that starts a timer and then sees you scrambling to make it back out again before the sand runs fully down the hourglass and your goose is cooked. One area where this game also changes from its forerunners, it unfortunately has to be said, is that Wario’s famous transformations that help him get through the puzzling environments have almost entirely been stripped away, which is a true shame.

This game, like other Wario games and in particular Wario Land 4 again, copped some flak for being a little too short – not enough bang for your buck. That’s what the reviewers said, but I honestly don’t see it at all. Yes, if you wanted to charge through to the end on twin-turbo power and just see the credits rolling as quickly as possible, then you could probably sort Wario and Captain Syrup’s cash-flow problems out within the evening.

But blazing through the levels just to get to the goal has never been the point of Wario platforming games. They’ve historically offered something different from the Mario platformers alright, and it’s something that doesn’t always get appreciated. So here goes: The Shake Dimension is a meaty enough adventure, even for those who deem themselves far too much of a jabroni to get 100%, as I predictably had done. But each stage has three treasures to track down and several tricky missions to complete which necessitate visiting every nook and cranny as well. It’s a game that encourages heavy exploration and logical thinking, which is always a pleasure to play. It’s not the type of game to speedrun, but you can’t let that put you off. Why buy a game only to try to complete it and put it to one side as swiftly as possible? It’s absurd, and even Wario would laugh at you for it.

We already dismissed the Styrofoam graphics of the New Super Bah-Bah Bros series earlier, not that they need much dismissing. The designers for The Shake Dimension plumped for hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds from the very beginning, for which they should be applauded and showered with hugs, teddies and praise. And if you’re the type of mouth-breather to be impressed by 3D graphics no matter how bland, and who’d scoff at sprites in this day and age, then eat this: Wario alone is animated beautifully by a whopping 2,000 sprites, and that’s before getting on to enemies, large bosses and the fact that every single level in the game is of a different locale, with different backgrounds and themes.

Typically, to call a game short is to basically call it rushed. Developers couldn’t be bothered, get it out the door, see ya, that sort of thing. But when you’ve got an expansive platformer that rewards exploration and boasts in excess of 30 unique levels with their own looks and music tracks, what can you say? You could spend a half-hour on each of the levels as well, or closer to an hour if you’re a bit dim like me.

It should be said that sometimes, in your endeavour to snag treasure or find a hidden area, you’ve got to perform a complex series of actions (sometimes even running and jumping simultaneously) perfectly and in one take, or else you’ll have to kill yourself off or spend a few minutes getting back to that spot to repeat the effort. Still, even if you’re not well equipped to take on every one of this game’s missions (and I have to admit that I’m certainly not), you can have just as much fun playing through the levels, finding the three hidden treasures per level if you can muster it, while making as much bank as possible – and that’ll still keep you quite occupied.

That’s what Wario’s always been about, really – a fine platforming alternative to that hated do-gooder Mario. It’s an ugly nipple in the mouth to see WarioWare being the trademark series for Wario these days, so much so that his fetching yellow-and-purple dungarees are relegated to the status of alternate costumes in the Smash Bros games, behind the default Ware outfit. Don’t get me wrong, WarioWare is a fantastic concept, but you can understand why they took a riskable character and bolted them onto the front of the first WarioWare game in case it was an absolute embarrassment. But why they did they have to take Wario away…?

Well, I have no real clue how this one did in terms of sales. All I know is that it’s a crying shame that The Shake Dimension is doomed to co-exist in a world where floatily jumping through the exact same themed worlds over and over again is de rigueur when it comes to the top brass of platforming games. Mario’s face fits, and it gets the sales, whereas Wario’s will never draw the plaudits. It’s a tragic thing, but that’s why the heroes will never lose. I guess that’s why the bad guys need to be rooted for.

17 October 2014

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