After how fantastic Wario Land 2 was, you bet I was excited for the third installment. Referred by many as the best in the series, I remember not being able to get this one until much later. In fact, it was not until I had the 3DS that I finally got to play this installment for the first time. Originally released for the Game Boy Color and being in touch with the second game’s concept (if the box-art is anything to go by) how much did Wario Land 3 improve upon its predecessor?
Backtracking, padding, and knockbacking
Wario starts out his game by crash landing his plane in the middle of nowhere. When he explores a cave nearby, he finds a strange music box that transfers our anti-hero into another world. Here, he meets a strange being who once ruled the land, but lost his powers due to an evil being sealing it in 5 music boxes. Wario is asked to help him return his power, in return for getting him back home. He is, of course, allowed to keep the treasures he finds throughout the adventure. I find it bizarre how they even cared to include a story with a world that is in danger and having events happening only for progression and nothing more. I won’t bother to comment on this more, however, as a story segment. It is entirely forgettable and serves as only a reason for Wario to explore this land, so it is not a huge bother. Believe me: the game has enough of that already.
Wario Land 3 can best be described as a Metroidvania with an overworld map, where you choose stages to venture through. Every stage contains 4 different keys to open 4 different chests, which will be the means of ending a stage. Each chest holds something to unlock in the overworld-map, making it possible to venture through to new stages or affect older ones for the means of finding more treasures. Like its predecessor, Wario Land 3 is more about exploring areas. This time, however, they are much bigger and can be, to an extent, confusing, especially when you unlock more stages or elements to venture further.
Not only this, but Wario starts out with only the ability to jump, duck, and charge-attack. He can’t even swim or destroy blocks by jumping under them. To get more abilities, he must collect them from certain treasures that he can unlock. All of this, including the keys and chests to find, feels like the game is needlessly making you backtrack and padding itself, since it is not always clear on where you should go. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to find a key, but not be able to keep it if you realize, after 15 minutes, that you can’t get to a specific chest yet, and have to exit a stage. A map could have helped a lot and while the game, at times, tries to hint on your next destination, it feels like a missed opportunity to not make the levels more coherent like a traditional Metroidvania instead of this stage to stage layout. Areas are also quite forgettable, making it easy to not remember new elements being unlocked.
Exploration is certainly one thing, but these confusing and time-consuming progression-halts could be only a minor issue if the levels were enjoyable. Unfortunately, it does not get much better. First, there is a day and night-mechanic, which will change each time you enter a stage. This affects enemy-types and makes certain areas become open or closed. It is a neat idea, but it only makes you revisit stages, further padding the game. The stages could have some fun ideas, but are rather designed to become annoyances 90% of the time. This is because of obstacles that knock Wario back or similarly-designed layouts in the levels. It is odd that they did not include clever puzzles like the last installment. Combining with how everything in a stage, except for chests and collected giant coins, resets when you leave it, you will be doing the same thing more often than you should.
Wario does not have a life-bar once again and won’t even lose coins if you are damaged. Instead, enemies are placed to knock him back or backtrack for longer parts of the stages. This is terribly annoying as this does not present any form of challenge, but rather as a means to make you backtrack if you make a minor mistake. They can even get cheap shots at you when you enter the next screen. Wario still gets an effect from certain enemies, but it is rarely used for clever puzzles. Sometimes a fire-Wario will be used for running fast over a gap and enter gates that can only be destroyed by fire, but more often than not, it is only used as an inconvenience.
What can you use the coins you find throughout the worlds for? Well, only for one minigame throughout this world, which is a side-view golf game. Here you will have to charge up Wario’s strength to shoot as far as you’d like and can scroll towards the right to make a strategy on how hard your shots should be. This has some redeemable qualities and can be a good challenge, but has random stage-layout, can easily get repetitive, and is the only minigame in the entire game. It is a terrible waste to only have golf as a minigame for unlocking progression-paths, as well as the only use for coins.
With so many poor design choices, was there anything of clear quality? A couple. I did enjoy 2 stages that gave a lot of focus on puzzles and good use of enemy-obstacles. The boss fights were quite fun, but also punished you well by resetting the fights if you got hit. Since they were short and set up a good challenge, I never found this annoying, except for the fact that I could not pause during these fights. I am also happy to see that auto-saving after each stage returns, and I like the concept of revisiting older areas for more ways to explore. However, due to the frustration of terrible backtracking, enemy-placement, bland areas, and limiting both Wario’s capabilities and the use of money, I found myself both bored and frustrated. There were definitely some strong ideas put into this installment, but execution is everything.
Gameplay Score: 3.5/10
Everything is colorful and takes full advantage of being a Game Boy Color-exclusive technically. Wario is impressively animated with his movements being smooth and bizarre, such as how he wobbles when he climbs ladders. It is also quite impressive how much can happen on the screen without it ever slowing down, and the expansive color palette is well used. I do wonder why Wario’s overalls are white though.
However, the worlds are unimaginative and can feel bland, despite them trying to show some creativity in the enemy-designs. They don’t match well with the areas for the most part, and plenty of enemies are reused for other levels, despite there only being 25 of them. This makes the enemies easily repetitive and forgettable. The minor cutscenes which showcase what effects the treasures you found have on the world are neat, and the overworld-map is presented well, so there is at least that.
Just about all of the new music-pieces are forgettable, often having minimalist tunes mixed with other compositions with grindier chip-tunes. There are some melodies reused from the previous game and they sound nice, but it is bizarre that they could not go further. They are, however, not bad and some are used for certain occasions, such as when Wario is burning up, but it might not be a bad idea to have some other options nearby.
Presentation Score: 5.5/10
Wario, you really don’t need to get richer
After the game is over, there are still a lot of treasure-chests that can be discovered, as well as the hidden music-coins. These can lead to more enjoyable treasure hunts since, by this point, you have most abilities unlocked, giving you more ways to explore. Frustration is still present, but not as much confusion. However, there is no reason to bother with going for 100%. I won’t spoil what the rewards are since a quick visit to GameFAQs can help you with that, but they seem like sick jokes.
Extra score: 3/10
I honestly don’t know if I get it. Is there something that I am missing? Was this so revolutionary for a Game Boy Color title? My guess is that this got its praise in the same way as how open world-games automatically got good reviews just because of the freedom. This title was great for many reviewers just because it had neat ideas that made the game seem expansive. But that’s where it stops. I was terribly disappointed and sad that this was not just a poor sequel, but also a poor game overall. I’d rather pick number 2 or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.