This was a really odd turn, wasn’t it? I wonder who said “you know that evil Mario-ish character that appeared in that puzzle-game and in one of the Mario Land games? He should be the star in the third one!”. Nevertheless, after Wario got kicked out of Mario’s castle, he decided to raise enough coins to create his own palace. Since getting a decent job like his brother is too hard, he instead travels to Kitchen Island, where the Sugar Brown pirates have hidden many treasures, and sets out to steal them. I must say, while the story is not a focus, I am already excited to see what the game has to offer when the plot is this silly.
Just like its previous installment, Wario Land is a platformer with an overworld map where you select stages and tackle them one after the other. What differentiates this from the last game, however, is the much more linear progression instead of choosing your stage freely. This is a much more preferred move, as they do get more and more challenging. Each area contains creative changes to the platforming that gets to shine and evolve slightly with each stage, such as railroads-stages, segments where you climb up falling sand, and even the water-stages are much more fun thanks to making them more interesting with currency-obstacles in a chase-segment. Having the option to choose a stage is, however, not without a reason. Despite the more linear approach, each stage can be revisited to get more coins or find hidden treasures, which will play a more important role in the Extra-segment.
Coins return, but have other functions instead of giving you extra lives for collecting one hundred of them. This time, they are used for opening doors to finish the stages, pay to use a checkpoint, gamble at the end of stages for hearts or more money, or even being used as throwable weapons. Having such a broad use for the coins is very welcome, especially since they are plentiful in this game. However, don’t think you can throw them all away, since they also will affect the ending you will get, which we will get back to later. You also will have to use 10 coins each time you throw them, so don’t be wasteful.
Lives can be acquired by killing enemies or collecting hearts where both actions will fill a heart-counter. If you get 100 on the counter, it will give you an extra life. The extra lives, however, are easy to come by, so it is highly unlikely you will ever see the Game Over screen. You even get more hearts if you pick up the same power-up you already have or more if you kill enemies after picking up the temporary invincibility power-up. Despite this, Wario Land was never a bore like its predecessor, thanks to more creative level-designs and more constant use of concepts that will challenge you. You do also lose all of your coins if you lose a life, so it has a decent punishment.
Our protagonist Wario has similar abilities to Mario, with jumping and death being present if you are not affected by a power-up. Wario has many more moves than our red plumber, with a high jump, the ability to throw enemies he stuns, and even more when he has a power-up. Wario will always grow to normal-size after beating a level unless he has other power-ups, so let’s start with that one.
When normal-sized he has the ability to charge, which can both be an attack and a means to make longer jumps, and crawl. The other power-ups are the bull-cap, which will make him do twice the damage, be able to ground pounds, and stick to ceilings with his horns. The Dragon cap will make him shoot fire that can bypass obstacles and shoot arrows underwater, which is very helpful as you can’t charge underwater. In fact, you lose the charge when you have this power-up, but it is not a big loss thanks to the strength of the projectile. Last is the Jet-cap, which makes him faster, jumps higher, and can charge in air or ground with long jet-charges, making him fly for a bit. He can also glide to safety with this power-up.
The way it sounds, Wario has a lot of movesets thanks to these caps. They do not just help with dealing with enemies, but can also be used to discover hidden secrets, such as treasures for the extra-segments, or simply more goodies to help you on the journey. You can usually find the power-ups you need for them in the same level, so backtracking is limited. Ending each world you visit, are bossfights. These are a major highlight, giving a good and different fight each time. While some can be easy to take out with the right power-up, they are still fun challenges. One might be a wrestling-match, another has a weakness that requires platforming, and so on.
After clocking 3 hours and 15 minutes into this game, I was smiling all the way through. The only real negative is that the stages could be a tad similar to each other, thanks to some concept being reused with slight alterations. It also could have used more creativity with the power-ups, as it was well used, but not as often as it could have been. However, I had a blast, with Wario being fun to control, stages being creative, fun exploration, entertaining bosses, and smart design choices all the way through. It is definitely easy, but enjoyment should not simply come from just how challenging a game is.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Wario looks and sounds, oddly enough, good
I love the character-designs, with new and more bizarre creatures filling up the enemy-variation and Wario being especially well-designed. Everything has an over-the-top cartoon-style and it fits the world very well. The worlds are a bit repetitive in their layouts, but are usually pleasantly made, despite not always being as creative as the enemies. On a more technical level, there can be a lot of flickering when there are many characters on the screen, but this was rare.
Similar to Mario Land 2, there is one music-piece that is remixed throughout the game, with some other compositions. Here, however, they use the chip-tune for the GameBoy much better, giving it a more memorable and enjoyable soundtrack, with more variation. It might not be grand, but it is silly and made with a tone that fits Wario’s greedy smile.
Presentation Score: 7.5/10
Only one way to buy happiness
There are plenty of treasures, coins, and some secret areas to discover throughout Wario’s treasure hunting. The levels are fun to explore and never feel too obscure to where you are supposed to go, giving you subtle hints on where they might be without spelling it out too much. Getting money and treasures also has a special reward. Since you must literally buy your happy ending, there are 6 different endings depending on how much you acquired throughout the game. With 40 treasures to collect and money being required in general, not to mention the secret levels, there is a good amount of replay-value. Especially since this is an enjoyable entry from start to finish.
Extra Score: 8/10
The shift in protagonist was definitely a good one. Wario Land brings a lot of creative changes and is a solid title that still holds up today, with good level-design taking advantage of Wario’s moveset, fun power-ups, intriguing use of coins and secrets to make you come back for more. It is a good starting point for our greedy anti-Mario, and it is easy to see why he eventually would get his own series.