The Nintendo Wii was probably one of the consoles with the strangest titles ever, thanks to its focus on motion controls and its limited strengths. It was always interesting to see how developers approached this system, and though we got poor titles like Sonic and the Black Knight, we also got fantastic ones such as Red Steel 2, Madworld, No More Heroes, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. I believe this is due to that all the stellar and unique games for the Wii, came from those who tried to work inside the box.
When the Wii was out, I was heavily into discovering retro games thanks to the Virtual Console and the popularity of retro revival. This led me to basically drool over the YouTube-commercial for Wario Land: Shake It, as it literally shook up the entire page. The developers of this game, Good-Feel, was previously known for only educational games like Training Words and Training Quiz, so I was curious to see what a new studio could do with the greedy Italian. Since they would later on create the fantastic Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the even better Yoshi’s Wooly World, it is safe to say that Wario Land: Shake It was an important step for the studio.
Shake it up
We start off the game finding Wario sleeping in his garage for unknown reasons, until the mailman wakes him up and gives him a package from his nemesis, Captain Syrup. It turns out to be a ginormous and ancient globe, but before Wario cracks it open, the globe spawns a telescope and a small pixie-creature known as a merfle. The merfle tells Wario that the Shake Dimension has been taken over by the Shake King and their queen, Merelda, has been kidnapped alongside all of the other merfles in this world.
Though Wario does not care about any of the poor hostages, he is immediately interested in another thing the king stole: the bottomless coin sack. Each time you shake it, it will spawn coins and thus: our greedy friend agrees to save their kingdom in exchange for the bag. I love a simple setup like this in order to get you going, while still providing a charm to its premise. With this, I am already excited to get this adventure started.
From the globe itself, you select both which world and which stage inside them you want to tackle. The stages are normally set as 2D platformers, with each of them providing opportunities for exploration after hidden goodies and for simply speeding through with fun obstacles to overcome, complimenting both playstyles. Wario’s moveset returns from his 2D days, to the point where the player needs to hold the Wii-mote on the side, similar to an NES controller. As the anti-Mario, you can jump, shoulder-dash, go through pipes, crawl, crawl-jump, ground pound (which gets stronger the further you fall) and pick up enemies and items. While those are handled with traditional button inputs, the rest of Wario’s abilities are preformed through motion controls.
While holding a stunned enemy or an item, Wario can shake them to get money or health-refilling garlic by literally shaking the Wii-mote. This is surprisingly fun as it gives a sense of immersion and never gets used too much or becomes tiring. Shaking bags of coins through this method is especially engaging, due to the action you have to preform and that you must be quick enough to gather your scattered treasure. You can also aim what Wario holds by tilting the Wii-mote and throw enemies or items with the press of a button, which works wonders.
If you are not holding anything, shaking the Wii-mote will have Wario punch the ground as long as the auto-filling bar on the top of the screen is maxed up. By punching the ground, Wario can stun enemies around him and activate obstacles marked with an exclamation mark. Though this might sound straightforward, this mechanic is used for more than just for opening doors. You might have to use it for timed platforming, access a different road or to find hidden secrets, adding some nice variety to it. All of these ideas, makes this Wario-title a more immersive experience than ever before. Thankfully, this does not hinder the game’s focus on platforming.
In every stage, you must find a merfle trapped in a cage and free it by shaking it. As soon as you touch the cage, an alarm will sound and a timer will appear that showcases how much you have left to get back to the beginning of the stage, in order to finish it. However, you will not run through the same course as you came from, since blocks will be either activated or deactivated, and even lead to new areas you could not enter before, giving you a different stage layout to venture through. This is a fantastic idea to make the stages still fun to venture through and not feel like backtracking. The fast speed these sections come with are exhilarating and engaging, with run-tubes for more speed and possibly canons to have Wario shot from adding to the rush. You can never get lost either, as the freed merfle will point you towards the exit.
What is possibly the most amazing thing about Wario Land: Shake It, is how diverse and engaging each stage is. All introduce something new, such as swinging on poles, man-eating plants you have to use as platforms and plenty more. This makes every area memorable and I cannot say there was a single stage that had me bored or unengaged, thanks to the constant variety to the platforming. Even better, is that the different mechanics are also reused for later stages with more diverse setups added inn to make the tasks harder and more demanding, but still entertaining.
The wonderful puzzle rooms hidden in the stages are also a joy, due to how they test your way of thinking and reaction time. They are also short enough to not overstay their welcome from the intense stages. The only exception to this focused variety, are the water-stages were you will pilot a submarine. In these auto-scrolling levels, you will have to tilt the ship by using the Wii-mote, both for navigation and for aiming with the torpedoes. Luckily, these are still entertaining thanks to the constant action and the responsive controls.
Each world ends with a boss fight and the creativity does not stop here. A bird-chef you must feed bombs, fighting a race car where you punch back wrenches it throws, and a circus clown head you must use pole-jumps in order to damage it, are all dangerous and entertaining fights, with the rest being no slacker. The last couple of bosses had a bit of a high difficulty spike, but where still enjoyable and engaging. Sadly, while Wario Land: Shake It has fantastic levels and bosses, there are a couple of problems. The enemies in the stages are not threatening, with some not even dealing damage on contact, making the game become incredibly easy. I am puzzled on why these enemies were even included at this point, besides being used for the occasional platforming. To give a clear idea of how useless they are, I even forgot I had a life-bar until the end of the game.
Another odd design-choice, is the shop in this game. For the coins you pick up throughout the stages, you can use them to purchase maps to unlock worlds, potions which functions as one extra life and respawns you of from where you died, and heart vessels for expanding your health, which becomes available after each fight with a boss. This is a silly thing to have, since I always could afford the items I needed and with how easy the game is, potions were useless. Why not just have these elements unlocked in a traditional way instead, with worlds being unlocked progressively and heart containers acquired by winning a boss fight?
The game is only five worlds long, with each having four levels and a boss fight each, as well as one tutorial stage and the final boss. While being a game that can be beaten in a couple of hours, they packed every stage with creative layouts, new gimmicks that adds to the platforming, and fantastic design to complement those seeking an adrenaline rush and those who loves exploration. The minor setbacks are rather odd design-choices that should not hinder your enjoyment in what a wonderful dimension Shake is.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Feel the amazing vibes!
It was a beautiful choice to go with a hand-drawn art-style for this 2D title, as it brings so many colours to it. The stages set in the deserts with pyramids in the middle of the night, a train that constantly moves, a Chinese inspired temple, the waterfall canyons, a casino-town, all are excellent stages with so many attention to details. I can only recall the submarine stages and two caves being similar, but even then, they had subtle differences within the levels’ constructions and backgrounds. One of the caves, for example, had elements to make it look like it contained archaeological discoveries.
However, Wario and the bosses are the highlights. Not just because of how wonderful their designs are, but also for their fantastic frames of animations. To give an idea of how impressive these are, Wario’s moveset alone consists of 2000 frames of animation. The bosses adds to this creative world, such as the mentioned chef-bird who flies on a wok and grows bigger as it eats, or the nightmare-inducing clown head with tricks inside its hat. This attention do details and creativity, is truly amazing.
Which is then confusing why 90% of the enemies were these boring pirate creatures that look like evil versions of Kirby with colour swaps, and the lack of a true widescreen support. Whenever widescreen is enabled, the sides simply show your secondary objectives with dull brown colours trying to represent the map. This is a missed opportunity to not give these areas a bigger scope and if I wanted to experience this through traditional 4:3 for a retro feel, I would just put that on. At least the cutscenes for the beginning and end of the game are in widescreen and are brimming with colours and visual gags.
The stages come with memorable and original tracks, and I am blown away by how diverse, long and impressive they are. Tomoya Tomita has never worked on music before, only been a sound designer at Konami, and with Minako Hamano (who you might know from Super Metroid and Brain Age) on board, they created a rich soundtrack with genres ranging through jazz, easy rock, western, and plenty more. By having every instrument being clearly heard yet work as their intended purpose for creating rhythm, background accompany and so on, it makes every track memorable and exciting. Every song is varied, unique and fitting to their stages. The sound effects are also neat, be it the simple grunts and complaints from Wario, the chimes from picking up coins or anything involving using the Wii-mote as it will make sounds itself.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Why is a six-week-old curry a treasure?
In every stage, there are three hidden treasure chests and three to five objectives you can partake in. The objectives are varied and can be anything, such as getting a certain amount of money, do not kill any enemy or get to the end of the stage within a limited amount of time. The chests are fun to find due to how creative the levels are, and what they contain are always amusing. Reading the lore these treasures have, leads to some strange world building, especially when the items can be bizarre ones like “The Key to My Heart”. These treasures alongside the objectives, makes it so you will explore each stage thoroughly and with how short each are, none overstay their welcome. It says a lot when breaking all the stones in a level is actually fun, due to the game’s fast pace and the level’s design.
If that was not enough, there are also hidden stages that can be unlocked by finding the hidden maps. If you are not interested in going on a blind hunt, do not worry. When the last boss is beaten, the game will show exactly which of the stages have a secret map, making the search more bearable. Though this is great fun, the rewards for going all 100% is severely lacklustre. The only thing you get, are visual representation of your accomplishments on either the title screen, the menu screen or at best: one last melody to find. Despite that these rewards are nothing interesting, it is a perfect example on how the journey is more important than the goal, which the developers thankfully noticed.
Extra Score: 8/10
Wario Land: Shake It is a wonderful title that is held back by some shortcomings that are simply odd design-choices, and nothing game-breaking. Every stage is entertaining with a lot of creativity to them, the boss fights are engaging, the presentation is stellar and the extras encourages fun exploration. This is like finding a small gem. It might not be big, but it is definitely worth picking up!