For the longest time, this was the Wario-title I feared the most. When Wario: Master of Disguise came out, I heard nothing positive about it, and in a sea where critiques would give no matter what a positive review to a Nintendo-game, this had me worried. Even worse, the company behind this entry, Suzak, filed for bankruptcy a couple of years later after making more titles that were not exactly stellar. Maybe there is a reason for why Master of Disguise does not bear Land in its title. Let us hope, however, that there are some gems in this supposedly trash of a game.
Like a long fart-joke
I would usually not even bother with a story so simple as this one, but Master of Disguise goes out of its way to provide one. With a bunch of dialogues and plot-pieces to give a reason for travelling through each location, it is hard to ignore it unless you press start to skip these segments. Though you should just do that as the story is not just uninteresting, it is annoying. We begin the tale with Wario seeing a master thief called Silver Zephyr on TV, who apparently can transform himself thanks to a magical wand he has.
Wishing for his glory and the treasures he seeks, Wario invents a Telmet which is a device that can make him travel through his TV. He then appears right in front of Silver Zephyr and steals his wand, which acknowledges his new master and decides to give him a supervillain costume. Wario names himself the Purple Wind and after hearing about a treasure called the wishing stone, he sets out to claim it in the name of his greed.
If you are already tired and uninterested, it is understandable. The biggest problem Master of Disguise has, is that it goes for being weird without anything truly surreal or appropriate to Wario’s personality. They acknowledge that he is gross and lazy, but in no way is he an inventor for example, and the worlds has enemies thrown in with little added creatively to make them fit or memorable. The rest of the cast is forgettable and rather stereotypical, with the Silver Zephyr only being memorable thanks to him appearing as the main antagonist at the beginning. This all should have made for at least a forgettable story, but it drags on with unnecessary dialogue, conversations from the wand that states the obvious, and fart-jokes that I would be impressed if even an immature child would find humorous. That is saying a lot when they tried to write this for children to give them something entertaining, but early Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network this ain’t. It is even below Illumination.
Story Score: 1/10
The problem with costumes on treasure hunts
From the TV-screen, you will be able to select between ten episodes, each unlocked when the previous one is cleared. These episodes are structured as 2D non-linear stages, with paths being blocked by environmental elements or items which will require situational skills to get through, and an end goal that will provide a bossfight. When you enter each stage, a map of the area will be displayed at the top screen, and show where you have been and if you find a map throughout the stage, the entire area will be shown, which is a nice touch.
However, that is about the only thing Master of Disguise does well when it comes to the metroid-concept. Wario is controlled by using the D-pad for moving, with up for jump and down for crawling, so no crawl-jump anymore. The face-buttons on the right is also used for movement, which makes every other action except for pausing the game, being handled by the touchscreen. Yes, this is an interesting control-scheme, but severely flawed.
First off, Wario has his different costumes for using specific abilities and changes between them by drawing different shapes over his head. His thief-costume is done by writing a check-mark, which is fine enough, but if you want to change into Spark-Wario for example by drawing a lightning-bolt, the game does a terrible job at recognising it. This goes for all the costumes, from making a canvas to a magnifying-glass, which is time consuming and tedious. As for the costumes, they range from decent ideas to abstract messes. The better ones are Thief-Wario which makes Wario jump the highest, run fast and gives you the ability to break things with a good shoulder-dash, and Cosmic-Wario who can shoot lasers and get an upgrade that will ricochet the shots off walls.
Sadly, that is about it as all other costumes are for situational uses and drags the game down. Dragon-Wario can breathe flames to destroy specific blocks and fall through platforms, while Genius-Wario can see hidden or invisible elements and later gets the ability to break context sensitive blocks. I had some hope for Spark-Wario, but he is used for only lighting up areas, shock a couple of wires to ignite them and later gets a spark-shot that never hits any target. These are all only used for specific areas and always changed out as they do not convey any interesting gameplay-aspects or general help for platforming, only situational use. However, the worst offender are the last two costumes. Arty-Wario cannot move at all and can make blocks that must be jumped on before they disappear and Captain-Wario can swim on top of water by sliding with the stylus and can later turn into a submarine which actually uses the D-pad.
At least Arty-Wario can help by making doors to take you to the last savespot you used, but this whole idea with disguises is a constant pace breaker when the minimal element means a constant change of the entire moveset. Why not combine them to one character to make the game fast-paced like a traditional metroidvania? I can understand that they wanted to use the touchscreen, but it does not always recognise what you want to do thanks to these obscure drawings you will have to do to even put on a costume or perform specific actions. When going through platforms or swimming needs an exclusive costume, you might want to reconsider the entire concept.
The problems do not end here either. Every single enemy acts the same, are slow, and has no worthwhile variations for attacks, meaning you can basically jump on everyone or tackle them with minimum effort. This would have been tolerable if they tried to make the world designed around Wario’s new moveset and give the game a more relaxing pace, but the game takes a triple 180 and back with the design of the stages themselves.
Some are incredibly simple and can be straightforward with obvious blocks that simply need the right costumes or just shoot the targets, but then you have parts that almost requires glitching the game. One prime example, is were I had to make blocks as Arty-Wario on the edge of a screen nearby a tower of blocks I could not break at the moment. Then, I prayed Thief-Wario would not bump his head on a ceiling above him, as I leapt towards the blocks I made, crawled under a curved hole right over the unbreakable blocks, and then moved on. It honestly felt like cheating, but the game demands this random logic on such uneven occasions that it is obvious how inexperienced the developers were. The enemies never put up a good fight due to Wario’s lack of using diverse moveset in quick fashion, yet the level-design is all over the place.
Though what would a Wario-game be without treasures? Throughout this mess of non-linear stages, there are plenty of chests to find. The red ones containing treasures, purple containing items for progression, and green chests holds costumes or minor upgrades to them. The purple chests are a chore thanks to often demanding backtracking, which is why these stages can go on for about half an hour to almost the 60-minutes mark. Though the treasures you can acquire from these chests and fallen enemies are supposed to upgrade your outfits upwards to level three, I never felt a difference as it did not boost anything, not even my defence or attacks.
Even then, just opening the chests is not as simple as approaching it. To open one, you must play one of eight minigames ranging between a 3X3 slide-puzzle, colouring objects in the right manner, guide falling items to their respective drop zones, squash incoming cockroaches, trace your stylus through a maze, trace an object while avoiding lasers, connect the dots and a ladder-game were Wario is guided by each line he first comes in contact with. These are at best decent adaptations of traditional minigames, but when you have to tackle them for each chest and they often reuse the exact same pattern in the same minigame, it becomes a chore to play through these. Should you fail one, the chest will spit out easily avoidable bombs and then you can try again.
Though at the very least the bosses show some decent ideas. Most are either slow with predictable patterns with the bottom of the screen telling you which costumes to use, or requires multitasking where you must be accurate and fast with your stylus, which is not an easy task, as stated above. Though I can recall two out of ten boss fights that used the costumes variably and never had me draw shapes that were hard to master, which made the fights fun puzzle-based ones.
However these bossfights and the map on the top screen means next to nothing when every stage is dull, confusing, and uninteresting. The idea of costumes does not work well thanks to it being a constant pace breaker for the most minor things and the tiresome minigames makes every chest unlocked unsatisfying. This is simply a drag of a metroidvania. I even hate that I must see my score for acquired chests and the time it took to get through this game as it was a constant reminder that I spent time on this garbage.
Gameplay Score: 1.5/10
Did not spend much money on this
This is a cheap-looking game. First of, the 3D-cutscenes have few frames of animations if it can even be called that and rather stretches out bodies to simulate breathing. It all looks plastic thanks to the poor lighting and Wario’s living room which will be the basic hub, is dull. The general game uses 2D-sprites and an art style that is colourful, but no area is creative. The first stage is a ship that is just an ordinary cruise with normal people, the ruins have the same constructions on walls everywhere and forgettable plant monsters, and the lava is unappealing thanks to it being a bare-boned red water-level that makes the Virtual Boy look masterful. Then it just goes bizarre for the sake of it, with a haunted castle inhabiting flexing dolphins. This unfocused theming is constant in this game with the exception of one level. The pyramid is well-designed, has interesting backgrounds, and even some neat enemies like bat-bombs.
Though only this stage is serviceable and I wonder why the rest is such a mess with no clear tone. With no enemies being interesting, at least the bosses can be creative, with even the first being the hat of your opponent, or another being inside of a snow-monster, which is creative. The music is strange as well as no theme is memorable. The intro-tunes and menu uses xylophones with a lot of upbeat and light instruments, then it goes very traditional with seesaw in the mystical water-area, and steel-drums on the ship. This is not at all a bad idea as the instruments fits the stages, but every track loops and are repetitive, with tunes not varying much in tones, making them forgettable. It all serves as generic with no idea of how to make anything spiced up or interesting.
Presentation Score: 2.5/10
Your praises means nothing to me!
The score you get at the end of each episode will be added together and eventually give you titles to represent your achievements. These are meaningless as they do not add any sense of accomplishment and there is no way it makes the awful stages better. The treasures you can find are bizarre in a way to make them seem humorous, but they go overboard with this just for the sake of being abstract, but not clever. A “Mighty Trucker Panda” is just portrayed by a panda with dumbbells and no other description, which shows they pulled their ideas from their asses. You do unlock special episodes after beating the game once, but these are no better and as they are just as tiresome as the rest of this adventure. Though it seems like they at least tried with these stages to make them fairly challenging, that is not saying much as they are just as awful as the main-game.
Extra Score: 1.5/10
What a sad excuse for a game. I am surprised this even got above average scores when it came out, as it does not serve any reason for existing and the team clearly had no idea what to do with Wario. If you need your metroidvania-fix on this dual-system, there are plenty of others to choose from. Aliens: Infestation, Mega Man ZX, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions + Web of Shadows, the Castlevania-games, Soul of Darkness, Cave Story, anything. Just avoid this trash.