the new year often sees me playing through sequels that i hadn’t gotten a chance to play through the previous year, and this year was no exception. i kicked things off with wario land 3 for game boy color. i’d enjoyed playing the first three games in the series (for those following along at home, recall that WL3 is actually the 4th game in the series due to the virtual boy entry in betwen WL1 and WL2), but i had been fairly disappointed in wario land II, so i wasn’t sure if i was going to skip over WL3 or not since i knew it was going to be very similar.
but in turns out that god is in the details, and although on the surface the two games are quite similar, in my opinion WL3 is by far the better game. maybe part of the reason i enjoyed it so much more is that since i already knew there would be a fair amount of backtracking (due to the fact that wario can’t die) that core design decision didn’t bother me nearly as much as before. either that or the backtracking was lessened somewhat in this game.
the biggest addition to the gameplay is that each level has four treasures to find. the first time through a level you’ll only be able to find one of the treasures, but as the game progresses the layout of the levels evolve and wario finds power upgrades so that completely new and distinct areas become accessible. the power upgrades aren’t anything too surprising for long-time fans of the series, but the ways the levels change makes returning to them multiple times thoroughly worthwhile instead of a chore (somewhat like what i believe happens in the wiiware game fluidity, although i’ve only played the preview of that game so far). instead of relying completely on artificial metroid-like hindrances like doors of a certain color (although there are a fair number of those kinds of obstacles), levels gain new features due to between-level events like water draining or beanstalks growing or snakes appearing. after a certain point the game becomes non-linear to a certain extent since you can choose to return to a previous stage that has changed or explore a new one, and you can beat the game with about half of the treasures. the game has several built-in mechanics to remind you where you can go next to find an accessible treasure you haven’t gotten yet, and after all four treasures in a level become accessible you can then try to find all 8 music coins, which definitely adds to the game’s depth and longevity.
although i enjoyed my time with wario land 3, when it came to ranking it i hesitated. there are definitely some things that were annoying about the game, such as the aforementioned backtracking, the golf mini-game that you have to play too many times in order to progress, and the occasional clunky boss battle. since wario’s transformations are dependent on enemies affecting him, it also gets to be annoying that the majority of the transformations require you to wait for them to wear off. but these complaints end up being significantly outweighed by what the game does right: it has so many of the things i’ve found to be key factors in really successful platformers, including colorful and varied locales, fun characters and powerups, tight controls, a smooth progression, and new elements introduced at virtually every turn but all in keeping with the game’s universe. wario’s looney-tunes-esque transformations are as enjoyable as the last game, and he continues to be an endearing anti-hero. in the end, after my somewhat curmudgeonly take on my past year of gaming i had to give this game the credit it deserves and give it a spot on my “greatest games of all time” list. a hearty cheer for wario land 3, and i’m looking forward to continuing on with this great series.
heh heh heh … wario’s treasure trove of wario land 3 links:
– loads of great info, screenshots, sprites, and official artwork at mariowiki.com
– entry at wikipedia
– ending at vgmuseum.com
– FAQ at gamefaqs
– overview of the wario land series at pressthebuttons.com