Review: Wario Land: Shake It! (Nintendo Wii)

I don't think you're ready for this jelly...
Wario Land: Shake It!
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Good-Feel
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Sept. 22, 2008


Have you heard the news? Nintendo isn’t making games anymore. At least not real games for studly hardcore gamers like you and me. If you don’t believe me just go into any forum or comment section and ask; there’ll be plenty of fanboys willing to tell you all about it (usually in all caps to express their utter disgust).

Which is why this game is so baffling. It appears to be an old school as it gets 2D platformer, the kind of thing you never see these days outside of downloadable remakes of NES games, but of course that can’t be seeing as Nintendo is out of the game making business. My theory is this must all be a dream, so this review might be cut short once the naked supermodels show up.

1) Story

The most surprising thing about Wario Land’s story is that it actually, you know, exists. Nintendo platformers and narrative are generally like oil and water. This one actually has a semi-involved plot involving worlds contained within magical globes, sexy double-crossing pirates and big bottomless sacks. Even more unexpected the story is told partly through well-animated cutscenes done by Production I.G., the studio behind well known anime series such as Ghost in the Shell and Evangelion. You’re unlikely to be moved to tears by Wario’s latest snot-picking storyline, but it’s definitely better than average for this type of game.

Story/Modes Rating: Decent

2) Graphics

This is one gorgeous game. “But wait, ” you demand “how could this be? Where the polygons? Where’s the all important 3rd D?”

Wario Land is completely old school in style and technique; the backgrounds and characters are all hand drawn and the overall aesthetic is pure 16-bit, but Good-Feel has used the greater technical abilities of the Wii to deliver something that looks better than any 16-bit game could. The painted backgrounds and beautiful, rich and varied, but Wario and the enemies are the real standouts. All the characters were hand drawn by Production I.G. and their movement is amazingly fluid, rivaling most recent hand drawn Disney movies in terms quality of animation and personality. The Wario of Wario Land: Shake It! is a gelatinous ball of greedy flab; watching him bounce, slam, wriggle and jiggle through the world is hugely entertaining in and of itself.

The only criticism I could level at the game’s visuals is that there is apparently no true widescreen mode included. Personally I didn’t care since I was playing it on a standard def TV, but you fancy pants hi-def TV owners will have to put up with borders on the sides of the screen. But hey, it’s not the frame that matters it’s the picture inside.

Graphics Rating: Amazing

Wario to the Wrescue!

3) Sound

Shake it serves up a good old school catchy soundtrack that will leave you humming. It may sound a bit simple and archaic at first, but that could be said about a lot of aspects of this game. The tracks get better as the game progresses and by the end you’ll be charmed. There’s not really any spoken dialogue outside of Wario’s typical “wah-hahs!” and so on, but that’s okay; Wario’s acting abilities peaked with “I’ma Wario, I’ma gonna win!” on Mario Kart 64 anyways.

Sound Rating: Great

4) Control and Gameplay

Traditional is again the name of the game here. Wario Land keeps it straightforward, no complex RPG elements or overly trying puzzle solving to get in the way here. You simply jump, dash and bash your way through the stage collecting coins and solving simple flip-the-switch style puzzles as you search for a little bugger named Merfle. Once you find him and free him from his cage the game throws a little twist at you as you then have to the escape the stage within a time limit. When escaping the stage Wario is powered up, allowing him to lay waste to anything in his path and it’s a lot of fun to rampage through the stage you just painstakingly platformed through. It’s also important to collect coins as they can be used to purchase new maps or more health for Wario, so exploration is encouraged.

The “Shake It!” in the title obviously alludes to the Wii’s motion controls, which are implemented in an understated, yet sensible way. The game is played with the Wiimote on its side NES style and a small handful of motions are used throughout the game in different situations. Shaking it up and down is used to shake the crap out of enemies and any other number of objects in the game, and tilting it back and forth racing game style allows you to set your trajectory when you throw something, control precarious mine carts and pilot a submarine. The makers of the game wisely don’t try and come up with different motions for every minor ability; they instead found motions that worked and came up with different applications for them.

Wario Land doesn’t bring a huge number of new ideas to the table, but what’s here is polished to a glossy shine. It reminds me of New Super Mario Bros. in that way, but I would say this game actually has more personality.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Incredible

5) Replayability

It only took me around 7 hours to “beat” the game. Not that impressive, that’s only the beginning. There are numerous hidden stages in the game, with over a 3rd of the stages not being required to get to the final boss. The game also has Xbox-esque achievements, with a list of sometimes quite challenging tasks for every stage in the game. People looking to finish everything this game has to offer will probably be playing in the 15 – 20, rather than 7-hour range.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

6) Balance

Like all recent Nintendo platformers the challenge in Wario Land: Shake It! is multi-tiered. Simply getting to and beating the final boss is something nearly anyone can accomplish without much trouble. Finding and unlocking all the secret stages is for more dedicated players, although casual players could still do it with perseverance. Collecting all the treasure and polishing off all the achievements is a challenge only for the hardcore though. There’s a level of challenge in here for everyone.

Balance Rating: Incredible

Wait 'till you see it in motion.

7) Originality

It’s funny; in a way Wario Land: Shake It! is so old school it’s almost new again. There are a lot of people out there who have never actually played a game like this on a home console. Most of Gamefan’s curmudgeonly old readers may find it a little overly familiar though.

Originality Rating: Below Average

8) Addictiveness

This game is quite addictive considering it’s genre. I can usually only play platformers for so long; the frustration and level of concentration needed tends to burn me out after about an hour. Not this game; I had to force myself to put it down because I didn’t want to finish it too quickly (nothing worse the premature completion).

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9) Appeal Factor

Well, it’s got the Nintendo name on the box and it stars a popular character from the Mario universe. On the other hand based on the comments I’ve seen around the Interwebs people seem to be a little weirded out by the old school presentation, as well as by the arguably somewhat high 50-dollar price tag. That said, I think the game will sell as well as a purely 2D home console game can in the year 2008 (the fact that Nintendo’s online ad for the game has been a major viral success won’t hurt either).

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

10) Miscellaneous

It’s nice to see the videogame industry starting to realize there’s still some value in the genres they threw under the bus with the move to 2D to 3D. I don’t think that every game should be stuck in the past, but it’s clear there’s till some life in these genres, particularly with newer hardware powering them.

Miscellaneous Rating: Incredible

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Amazing
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Incredible
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Incredible

Final Score: Very Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary

It doesn’t break much new ground, but Wario Land: Shake It! is a highly polished adventure bursting with charm (and fart jokes). As much as some corners of the Internet like to complain about Nintendo abandoning the core gamer, if this game ends up flopping I’d have to say it’s the other way around. This sweet slice of traditional gaming is one I’d recommend to anyone, core and casual alike.

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