finally played through pretty much all the levels in wario land II for game boy (which was also released a bit later as a colorized version for game boy color). i really wanted to like this game more than i did, because i had quite enjoyed the first two wario land games i had played (as recounted here and here). the first sequel, on the virtual boy, was extremely similar to the original wario land game, but this game offers a new twist. here wario, perhaps due to his brute strength, somehow acquires invincibility, and instead of hats his rasputin-like powers come from his ability to transcend death and other ailments. when he gets struck by a hammer, he becomes a spring; when he gets squished by a heavy weight he becomes as thin as paper; and during the course of his adventure he also survives getting burned and frozen and even eating too much cake. the powers aren’t really anything new and they’re generally underused, but the looney-tunes-cartoon-like aesthetic (carried over into the sound effects and music) is entertaining, and in his third solo outing wario is still a fun, greedy-yet-somehow-also-lovable, character.
so what was the problem? unfortunately, the game suffers from one huge design choice that i just couldn’t accept, which follows directly from the fact that wario is invincible. since nothing can hurt him, instead of losing life when wario gets hit by an enemy, most of the time he loses coins. this works out fairly well because each level includes two simple mini-games that cost coins to play and yield the game’s two types of useless collectibles. so the more money you have the easier it is to collect everything in the game. all that is fine and good, but the problem comes when, instead of losing money when you make a mistake, the game punishes you by forcing you into an area where you have to backtrack to where you just were. this particularly happens during boss fights (where in general you can’t get hit once, because otherwise you have to schlep your way back to the boss room), although it happens in other places as well where in other games there would have been a certain amount of “try and die” gameplay. this backtracking happens all too often and makes the game quite annoying and dully repetitive at times. i’m surprised the game seems to have gotten such a good reception given this huge limitation in the game design.
the other main problem is that many of the stages have “secrets”, such as the previously mentioned useless collectibles and also a handful of alternate exits and also just secret stashes of coins. some of the “secrets” are a simple matter of picking the right power to apply to the situation, but some of them are just trying wario’s various powers at every dead end in hopes of uncovering a hidden room. this reminded me far too much of the complaints people had about milon’s secret castle, and many times finding the secrets in this game felt even more arbitrary (and tedious) than in that one.
all in all this was one of the more-disappointing first-party games i’ve played by my beloved nintendo. apparently WL3 is very similar to this one, and i’m sorely tempted to skip it. i played a bit of WL4 and it also feels pretty similar, so i may have to make an exception to my usual OCD habit of playing games sequentially and instead skip forward to other entries in the series. we’ll see.
wario’s secret links:
– good FAQ at gamefaqs.com
– nice history of wario (and waluigi) at kombo.com: part 1 and part 2.
– recent article at gamespite.net
– entry at wikipedia
– endings at vgmuseum.com
– PDF of manual at replacementdocs.com