It might be odd to start a series-review on this one, but that is because I am going to look at the entire Wario platforming series. You see, the first Wario-game was actually Super Mario Land 3, and it felt incomplete to ignore the previous games, despite Wario not being the main-protagonist until the third game and only the villain in the second one. This is also a quite interesting entry since fans seem to be a bit split on it. When it was known that Shigeru Miyamoto had no involvement with this entry, it is understandable to raise an eyebrow at it. But Satoru Okada and Gunpei Yokoi were not a bad choice for developing this title since both helped to create the system Super Mario Land was made for. So knowing its limitations, how far could they go?
Traditional Mario is always good fun
I am not really sure what happened, but it seems like Mario has ditched Peach in favor of saving Daisy this time. In any case, Daisy is the princess of the land known as Sarasaland, which has areas that borrow heavily from our world, such as the pyramids of Egypt and the Easter Island heads. Having been kidnapped by the evil alien Tatanga and his crew, who else to save a princess but Mario? Technically Link would have been a good choice, but we have the platforming-genre to tackle, so Mario seems more fitting.
Mario goes back to the more linear-style of his first and second entry on the NES, where you will go from left to right through every level until the last boss appears. Mario can run, jump, and die if he touches an enemy or a projectile without a power-up to protect him. The power-ups will be the traditional mushroom that will make Mario grow big, giving him the ability to duck and destroy certain blocks by jumping underneath them. The next powerup takes the form of a flower, but it is not the well known fire-flower. Instead, you will be able to shoot a super-ball, which can harm enemies, collect coins, and bounces off walls. It is a neat item, but not always useful due to areas where walls are hard to come by, and Mario will always shoot near his feet where the ball will bounce up at an angle. You can’t even have more than one super-ball on the screen. At least it is a good against airborne enemies and in caves you can do quite amazing things with it. Other items range from hearts that will give you an extra life, coins that can be collected for an extra life if you get 100 of them, and invincibility for a short time.
The game is broken up into 4 worlds, with each of them having 3 stages. The stages are well designed, starting out easy and giving you time to get to know how the game works. After the first couple of worlds, the last ones will be more of a challenge with more creative designs, such as rolling on boulders, jumping on moving platforms and even have small corridors for smaller Mario to get through and find some hidden goodies. While it does not go too far with its creativity, it does enough to keep it engaging and fun. The enemies as well contribute to this by having different behaviors and patterns. Even the familiar turtles will explode this time when you jump on them. At the end of most stages, you will find two doors: one at the bottom which is easiest to get through, and one at the top of the screen that will test your platforming skills. Getting to the top-one will get you to a bonus-stage, where you have a chance to either win a certain amount of lives or a flower.
At the end of each world, however, you will be presented with a bossfight. Like with Bowser in Super Mario Bros., you can either attack the bosses with your super-ball or get behind them and touch a pole to make them lose the battle instantly, except for the last two boss fights. These are, for the most part, a bore, but at least quick. The last couple of fights at the end break this trend and are fun and challenging fights. Breaking up the platforming nicely throughout this game, are two stages which are horizontal shooters. Besides enemies to shoot at in these segments, there are obstacles to traverse through or even to shoot at to make a path, which makes it more than just an average schmup. The flower is not present here, as your vehicles already have projectiles. I did dread a bit when I could not hold down the button and make Mario shoot constantly, but at the same time you can’t shoot more than three shots at a time and I suppose it was to make these segments a bit more challenging. It is still quite fun, but I got tired of hammering buttons after a while.
There is no save-feature in this game since this is a pretty short ride. With only 12 stages in total, it took about 40 minutes for me to get through this game and it can possibly be shorter. It certainly was challenging towards the end, but most players will likely get through this on their first try if they are at all familiar with the genre. You also have 1 continue, so even if you would make a lot of mistakes, the game is generous enough to give you another go. This is, however, its biggest flaw, since you will be quickly done with this instalment before you know it. However, while it lasts, it is good fun with variety in level-design and secrets such as going down pipes. It is what you would expect from a traditional Mario-title, but not much more.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Sounds better than it looks
It is an early Gameboy game, and it definitely shows. The backgrounds are more often bland than anything with repetitive layouts and not much creativity. Sometimes it can even be a plain white background, which is literally an eyesore. The foregrounds are much better, giving more interesting platforms and a sense that you are visiting different countries, with enemies representing them well. The variety of creatures is nice, but the imagination range from Easter Island heads charging you to generic spiders, which makes it uneven. Even Mario has looked better than he does here.
That being said, the soundtrack is fantastic. With lovely tunes by Hirokazu Tanaka, we get a good soundtrack that does make great use of the chiptunes the Gameboy is known for. Despite being a short game, it also has a good amount of melodies, ranging from the chinese inspired ones to the calmer air-rides. The sound effects are also quite good, with nice explosions and picking up coins is always satisfying due to its chime.
Presentation Score: 6/10
It might not be one of the better Mario-games, but it is a solid adventure that should be an amusing time for anybody. Its biggest letdown is its length as well as its visuals, but it is a decent entry-level and good for car rides, as it was made for. If you have a couple of euros to spend and see it, it is a decent choice, despite Mario having better games under his belt.