“You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on Wario”

Wario Land 4 (2001)

I’m sure we trust each other enough now to talk about drug use. I’m not on about drug abuse now, or drug problems. After all, I don’t have a problem with drugs – I love them. No, but isn’t it a bit rich to look down on illegal drugs when the majority of the rest of us barely go a week, or a day even, with those more “honest” drugs of caffeine and alcohol?

But then, what of the legalisation of certain drugs? It always scores you credibility points to mention in public about how you really think weed should be legalised at this stage. But then, there are some cities you take a stroll down nowadays and you can’t move for the sickly smell of the stuff, thanks to legalisation. Do you really want that?

I’ve not smoked weed since college, which probably puts me in a bit of a minority. It’s quite popular here in Dublin, not yet legalised but probably on the cusp. I wouldn’t say it’s the drug of choice here; that’s probably cocaine, and that’s only if we’re leaving aside the divil drink. Not to mention the caffeine available from the coffee shops that have cropped up every ten feet in our supposedly fair city. If ever there’s been an addictive drug that has the masses in its maws, it’s caffeine.

To be quite honest, I have a strange cognitive dissonance with weed, and I don’t even need to have smoked any for this to happen. You see, when I came to college, it was being shared with me by chaps who had, to put it bluntly, come from areas a lot nicer than mine. I always associated weed therefore with the flecks, the little skangers who would roll one and smoke down the back of the bus. It was always a scaldy’s drug, so far as I was concerned. It didn’t exactly hold much glamour for me.

They say cocaine is the glamour drug. Certainly it seems to have taken Dublin by storm. That probably puts us on a par with London in the 1980s. We’re always that little bit behind the others, see? Plenty of people say that cocaine use is rampant in Dublin, and Ireland as a whole, being busted out even during a quiet, sociable few drinks or a small house gathering. Now I’m pretty rubbish at noticing who’s on drugs and who are merely in a stupor, so who knows if that’s true.

But to cut a long story short, I’ve tried it. I even got a quick tutorial on cocaine use. Take this baggie, take your house keys, find yourself a toilet cubicle and go to town. How’s that for glamour? Anyway, that’s what I did and I felt, not much really. A bit more awake. Perhaps more enthusiastic. I didn’t come out hyper-aggressive or ready to punch the head off anyone. I don’t know, if I’m gonna take drugs, I’d want the walls to melt and faces to come out of peoples’ shoulders.

And that’s the thing about Wario Land 4 for the Game Boy Advance. I think the immediate conclusion that anyone would draw from this game is that it’s the hell of a drugs trip. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. But you know, there are wilder highs out there in the gaming world. What possible substances out there could have brought about Cho Aniki, for example?

And if you showed Parodius to someone out of their mind on shrooms, you would very probably snap their minds in half. No, I reckon Wario Land 4’s is an acid type of buzz. Not that I’ve ever dropped acid or anything, but having played Wario Land 4 extensively, I don’t need to. I would say that if there is a stylish drug out there, Wario Land 4 is it.

Even the game’s intro is up there with the greatest, slick as all hell – it’s Wario walking to his car in the very early morning, starting her up and zooming at top speed towards the mysterious, treasure-laden pyramid where the game takes place. This is all while a vocal song plays in the background, not quite Jim Morrison but still psychedelic and cool. Wario won’t die at age 27 to join that particular club, but I should note that he can actually die this time around, unlike the last two games. This generally won’t happen though, unless you try the Hard and Super Hard settings.

No, your bigger enemy this time is the clock. Don’t worry, the entire game is not timed, but when you make it to one end of the stage, you’ll activate the timer and you’ll have to h-h-h-hurry up and make it the hell back out again before time runs out, in probably the game’s most famous sequences. You’ll do this across 18 levels, not to mention defeating 6 bosses, before hopefully emerging with the game’s best ending.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of juice; certainly I’ve had a go at Mega Man games before for being lacking in level count. Well, at least all of the stages in Wario Land 4 are quite varied, and each of them has their own musical tune, with the GBA spitting out some impressive sound quality for once. Again, the heartpounding theme that plays when you need to haul Wario’s ass out of the level is probably the game’s most well-known theme, but it’s not all crazy here.

In fact, never mind wild drug trips and high-intensity action. Wario Land 4 has so much variety, and if you ask me, there really is something quite profound about this game. You’ll feel it as well, as you listen to the ultra-calming Monsoon Jungle theme and you can even hear the fingering of the chords on the guitar. I’ve given the GBA plenty of welly as well for not having great sound capabilities, but the sound engineers really did get a tune out of it for Wario Land 4.

It’s just Wario out there as well, nobody coming to spoil your solitude. Well, there’s an old professor you bully in the bonus rooms, but he doesn’t count. You see, Wario’s the kind of man you’d follow through the gates of hell, because he’s got no apprehension or hesitance. Even when the disgusting, creepy bosses are making their entrance, Wario’s just standing there, pumping iron, ready to overpower all in his path. He never once shows fear. Forget about cocaine, you just can’t buy that kind of confidence.

You’ll have to forgive me for waxing lyrical so much about Wario. See, I just don’t think he was at his best in Wario Land 3 – bit of a Robert Downey Jr. low, perhaps – so I’m delighted to see him back on form. Speaking for the game itself, it really is a beauty to replay through every so often. It’s got fabulous spritework and backgrounds, the impressive music I mentioned earlier, and the control is tight tight tight, as Tuco from Breaking Bad might say after a smack of crystal meth.

Later in the GBA’s life, Metroids Fusion and Zero Mission were developed using an adapted WL4 engine, and we know that those are some of the best-controlling games around. Once again, Wario blazes his own trail, and he doesn’t need outside stimulants or agents to do it.

I had always debated in my head which game was better, Wario Land 2 or 4. Certainly if a bong were proffered around the room and that question were asked, there’d be a resultant argument that could last 12 hours, or longer if there was adequate munchies and fuel. After thinking long and hard, I think I’d have to go with Wario Land 4 by a very slight margin. I do just wish it had more levels. Very moreish game this, you know what I mean?

13 January 2023

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