Developer: Intelligent Systems / Publisher: Nintendo / Played On: Wii U / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor]
I’d love to provide you a clear, direct summary of Game & Wario’s core values upfront, but I can’t, it doesn’t have any. Despite bringing along WarioWare’s bizarre cast, as a mini (not micro) game collection, Game & Wario is more similar to Nintendo Land or even Wii Sports than Wario’s spinoff series. Even those comparisons are problematic, given that some “games” in Game & Wario are merely digital toys that flirt with gamepad ideas rather than solid gameplay systems.
In fact, Game & Wario is such a jumble of disconnected experiences that it’d be easy to write the whole thing off as a lazy multipack of ideas that couldn’t support full games unto themselves. That may be the reality of it, but there’s still a certain magic to this game that will make it valuable to the right kind of gamer.
The easiest way to enjoy Game & Wario is with friends. This game has that uncanny ability to make a room full of drunk people completely lose their minds. Game & Wario contains four multiplayer games, though only three of them are worth a damn. I’ll start with Islands since it elicited the loudest screams. You play by launching a clutch of fronks (the angular, insect-like guys from WarioWare) via the gamepad onto a floating target with various point values marked out in circles. It’s similar to shuffleboard – your fronks can knock others off and after everyone’s had a go the highest total wins. However, if too many fronks are on a side of the island the whole thing tips over, adding a dash of chaos that leads to animated whoops and spilled drinks. Having seen a multitude of party games fall flat, this may be worth the price alone for frequent entertainers.
The other two games worth your time are Fruit and Sketch. The former is a fascinating game of stealth. You control one character on the gamepad that acts as a thief by grabbing three pieces of fruit on a stage populated by a sea of people that move around erratically. Once you’ve nabbed all the fruit, you pass the gamepad around to other players so they can register their guesses for the thief’s identity. It reminds me of the multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed in the way you mask your movements with erratic AI NPCs, creating a fun game of cat-and-mouse with the audience. Then there’s Sketch, which is simply digital Pictionary, meaning you don’t have to deal with drying markers and filled sketchpads.
And, as someone that actually used my Wii in social situations, I deeply love that none of the multiplayer games require extra Wii remotes. The start of any party gaming usually has a fifteen-minute overhead of swapping batteries and syncing Wii remotes, which fortunately doesn’t happen in Game & Wario. Still, there just aren’t enough games, Game & Wario isn’t nearly the content-rich multiplayer experience Nintendo Land is.
Those problems are shared in single player, which offers a broader stable of games but still doesn’t hit an acceptable cutoff. Still, there are some great experiences in Game & Wario even if they come and go quickly. That one-trick-pony nature of the games also contributes to Game & Wario’s unique soul, which plucks at your heartstrings if you were gaming in the mid-to-late 80s.
With names like “Arrow,” “Pirate,” and “Ski,” the minigames here are hearkening the early days of the NES where games were little more than digital experiments. The reference extends to the game’s visual style – every one of the twelve single-player games boosts a boxy, antiquated plastic cartridge flying into the TV set. Even the splash screens before every load sport the bizarre, hyper-detailed art style we used to see on box arts to fool us into thinking the game would be something more than a jumble of confusing pixels. Iterating through the games in Game & Wario gave me a real sense of nostalgia for 80s gaming, when most games were minimally complex in both game systems and production values.
And, just like the 80s, most of the games in Game & Wario are easily dismissed even if they hold twenty minutes’ worth of novelty. Shutter, for instance, is reminiscent of Silent Scope. By using the gamepad’s zoom view you hunt through a typical city scene looking for five distinct targets. Framing them properly in pictures and finding secrets around the town nets you points. It’s fun, but there’s not a lot of mileage in the experience after a couple of runs.
That’s the case with most of the minigames here, though there are a few notable exceptions. Gamer is the clear standout, mostly because of its similarities to WarioWare. In it, you play as recurring WarioWare retro mascot 9-Volt, who himself is playing a game past his bedtime. “Typical” WarioWare occurs on the gamepad (representing 9-Volt’s handheld device), while 9-Volt appears on the TV furiously hammering away on his handheld in bed. Not only do you have to play the microgames on the gamepad screen, but you must keep an eye out for your mom on the top as she’ll spontaneously pop her head into your room or peek in through the window. It mixes red light, green light with a typical game of WarioWare, which is just awesome, and dredges up a ton of late-night Game Boy memories.
Also notable about Gamer – WarioWare looks fantastic in HD. In fact, Game & Wario as a whole looks amazing. Nintendo’s art and visual design has always been impeccable and it shines brilliantly in the short cartoon animations introducing every game. In fact, the animations are so charming that their scarcity stings even more… not to mention making me wish for a full, proper WarioWare in HD.
There are other knick-knacks to play with in Game & Wario, but they are so numerous and transient that it’s impossible to list them here. For instance, there’s a Miiverse sketch challenge that presents a phrase and gives you sixty seconds to illustrate it. Game & Wario also contains a variety of unlockable digital trinkets, similar to WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven. One of these showed me a picture of someone drinking someone else’s tears with a straw… so make of that what you will.
I feel like at this point I should apologize for floating from topic to topic, making a variety of disconnected points and lacking a clear message, but oddly I think this gives you the best idea of what to expect from Game & Wario. It’s a collection of digital toys, only a few of which will tempt you to pick them back up again for another play. With this structure, it defies everything we expect from a packaged game, but in the end it’s fun for as long as it needs to be to justify its price. If you’re open-minded enough for that to justify your time, Game & Wario will satisfy you. I suspect that won’t be too many gamers though.