Wii U Essentials: Game & Wario

Originally intended as a pack-in game for the Wii U as a demonstration of the GamePad’s capabilities, Game & Wario has been considerably overshadowed by its eventual replacement Nintendo Land.

But it’s a great game in its own right, both as a showcase for the Wii U GamePad and as a title that provides enormously varied quick blasts of entertainment whenever you feel like it.

It’s very much an old-school Nintendo game, in other words, and while it’s rather different from previous WarioWare titles, it’s an excellent addition to any Wii U owner’s library.

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Much like the WarioWare series that spawned it, Game & Wario has a loose, silly plot that involves Wario attempting to get rich quick somehow — in this case, by taking advantage of the new, mysteriously Wii U-esque console hardware that allows players to enjoy games across two screens. Inspired by the promise of untold riches — evidently he’s unfamiliar with the oversaturated indie games market these days — he and his friends produce a series of games for the new console inspired by their lives and work. And each of these becomes a discrete component in Game & Wario as a whole.

The package kicks off with a game called Arrow, inspired by Wario waking up to discover a mouse stealing his last strawberry. This is a fairly straightforward shooting gallery sort of game with an interesting twist: rather than simply pointing and firing, you hold the GamePad vertically, pull back a bowstring on the touchscreen and tilt it up, down, left and right to fine-tune your aim. The arrows act fairly realistically, arcing through the air and being affected by gravity, so you’ll need to compensate for both this and the movement of the enemy characters in order to score hits.

As the game progresses through its five different stages, a variety of different enemy types show up, beginning with simple characters that advance towards Wario and continuing with giant cannons that need to be blocked by using the GamePad like a shield to hide behind, and even bosses that have specific weak spots to be exploited. Arrow is a challenging game, and the unconventional control scheme takes a little adjusting to, but proves to be an enjoyable experience once you get the hang of it.

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Next up is Mona’s game Camera, in which our heroine has taken on a job as a photographer for a local newspaper. Across five different levels, Mona is tasked with locating and photographing five different people for various reasons: in the first level, they’re criminal suspects, for example, while in the last she’s sitting on a train attempting to get paparazzi-style shots of famous models.

The game is controlled by holding up the GamePad to face the screen, with it acting as a zoomable camera viewfinder. You get an overview of the entire scene on the TV — though in later stages the viewpoint may well be moving — while to take a good photo you have to point the GamePad at the appropriate place, zoom in enough to get the subject to fill the frame, centre it, make sure they’re not cut off at the edges and even time it right so they’re facing the camera and don’t have their eyes shut. It’s surprisingly difficult — particularly as the stages start to introduce gimmicks such as the characters being in disguise or the viewpoint shifting — but satisfying and challenging, and the scenes themselves are filled with silly visual humour.

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After that comes Jimmy T’s game Ski, in which you’re challenged to navigate a series of increasingly perilous courses by holding the GamePad vertically to see a top-down view of Jimmy proceeding down the slopes, tilting it from side to side to turn. This is a simple game but demands an absolutely perfect racing line in order to get the gold trophy on each of the courses. There’s also an “endless” mode in which Jimmy proceeds down an endless slope, collecting “Ski Bunnies” — leotard-clad female admirers (plus, inexplicably, a bear) — along the way.

It’s a game filled with plenty of cheeky humour that also helps to give you feedback on how you’re doing: performing particularly well causes Jimmy T to gradually throw off his clothes as he proceeds down the slope, with the best possible performance culminating in him reaching the finishing line clad in a gold spandex unitard in which his balls are very clearly visible… and which the camera takes great delight in repeatedly focusing on in the post-game animation sequence. Jimmy T is a man comfortable in his own skin, it seems, even when his afro wig flies off midway down the slopes.

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After Ski comes a marked change of pace with ninja toddlers Kat and Ana’s (geddit?) game Patchwork. This is a rather sedate puzzle game somewhat akin to a jigsaw in which you’re tasked with completing blocky pixel-art pictures by slotting awkwardly shaped pieces onto a canvas marked with overlapping outlines showing where it’s possible to put them. It’s extremely simple but enormously addictive, like all good puzzle games, and for my money it’s a highlight of the whole Game & Wario package.

Patchwork is mostly a challenge in observation in the early levels, since there’s only one place that each piece can go. Once you complete the first thirty puzzles and reach Medium difficulty, however, the game starts throwing red herrings your way, with at least one piece having more than one place it can fit, only one of which is correct. In Hard difficulty, multiple pieces have multiple places they can go, and after that comes Challenge mode, in which you’re tasked with completing puzzles with certain conditions such as tight time limits in place.

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Then comes Young Cricket’s game Kung Fu, which is a simple motion-controlled platforming challenge. Shown from a third-person three-dimensional perspective on the TV and from above on the GamePad screen, all you have to do in Kung Fu is make it to the goal by tilting the GamePad in each direction while Young Cricket repeatedly jumps at regular intervals.

Just making it to the goal is reasonably straightforward in most cases, but the challenge in Kung Fu comes from having as high a score as possible at the end, which relates to Cricket’s hunger value, a constantly declining value at the top of the screen. This can be replenished by collecting dumplings that are lying around on each course, and there are also three scrolls hidden in each stage for further bonuses. High scores in Kung Fu, then, involve a combination of plotting a speedy, efficient route to the goal that takes in as many dumpling-grabbing opportunities as possible. It’s surprisingly strategic, and the tilt controls coupled with the dual-perspective presentation work well.

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Next up comes Gamer, which will provide the most familiar experience to fans of the previous WarioWare games. Youngster 9-Volt is up past his bedtime but wants to play his video games, so the concept of the game involves simultaneously playing the game on the GamePad screen and hiding from 9-Volt’s mother when she shows up via a variety of increasingly terrifying means. For those who just want to play the game, the option is present to play as 9-Volt’s bachelor friend 18-Volt, who can simply enjoy it without parental interference.

The game 9-Volt is playing is essentially a typical WarioWare game, consisting of short five-second microgames that involve everything from pressing the A button at the correct time to pick a nose to ensuring a pixel-art Fronk creature doesn’t get stomped on by a giant boot. Many of the microgames have been seen in previous installments — a significant number of them appear to be drawn from the original WarioWare, Inc. on Game Boy Advance — but they’re just as silly and fun as the last time we saw them.

The three difficulty levels (followed by an “Endless” mode) see 9-Volt’s mother showing up in more and more outlandish ways, beginning with simply walking up the stairs and opening the door and culminating with her climbing out of the TV, smashing her head through the window and all manner of other silliness. There are also a variety of red herrings to throw you off; a cat opening the door, for example, or an old man wearing a wig that looks like 9-Volt’s mother’s hair passing by the window. It’s an inventive evolution of the WarioWare formula, and widely regarded as one of the best bits of Game & Wario as a whole.

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After that comes Design, a peculiar game hosted by Dr. Crygor that challenges you to draw lines and shapes on the GamePad screen as accurately as possible. You’ll be asked to, for example, draw a straight line 6cm in length, a circle 5cm in diameter and a perfect equilateral triangle. The accuracy of your sketches will determine the eventual quality of a robot that Dr. Crygor is building, with poor quality drawings resulting in a completely broken mess.

The game is extremely simple and rather frustrating, but has several means of playing for those with a particular eye for geometry. The hardest mode challenges you to draw each shape without taking your stylus off the GamePad touchscreen against a tight time limit, while a two-player mode allows you to compete against a friend. It’s an interesting demonstration of the possibilities of the GamePad’s touchscreen and stylus, but is ultimately a fairly limited affair compared to what the rest of Game & Wario as a whole offers.

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Thankfully, the low point of Design is followed up by another of Game & Wario’s strongest games, Ashley. In this, you take control of the eponymous young and grumpy witch as she becomes trapped in a dessert-themed world — about as far away from her somewhat Gothic tendencies as it’s possible to get. Naturally, Ashley isn’t all too happy about her situation, so it’s up to you to guide her home in a side-scrolling game controlled by tilting the GamePad to point Ashley’s broom up or down.

The main challenge in Ashley comes from collecting as many of the pink “Spell Power” orbs as possible during each run. Collecting orbs in succession without letting any fall off the screen increases your score multiplier, and on subsequent playthroughs performing a loop-the-loop with the ZL and ZR buttons around a star mark allows additional point-scoring opportunities. There are also enemies to blast: Ashley will automatically attack any that come close, but she’s also able to collect screen-clearing bombs as she progresses through each stage that also suck in all the on-screen orbs.

Ashley is a really fun game, with the only disappointing aspect being that it’s over so quickly, consisting of just three stages. There’s plenty of replay value inherent in chasing high scores, however.

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Ashley is followed up by one of the more complex, involved games in the whole package: Dribble and Spitz’s Taxi. This game is essentially a cross between Crazy Taxi and Defender, challenging players to rescue potential fares from UFOs attempting to abduct them, then delivering them safely to their destination. The game unfolds through a combination of a top-down overview map on the television and a first-person perspective on the GamePad. It’s possible to whip out a bazooka by holding down the ZL button, and this can then be fired at UFOs or marked pieces of scenery with ZR, with the latter yielding valuable bonus treasure chests worth a considerable number of points at the end of the level.

Each stage concludes with a boss fight, where the pair must avoid telegraphed enemy attacks while hitting the boss in its various weak points. After the boss is defeated, bonus points can be acquired by picking up any leftover treasures, a series of stars that the boss drops and dropping off any remaining fares before time expires. It’s an exciting game with a surprising amount to it, though like Ashley it’s a bit of a shame it doesn’t have more stages.

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After that comes Pirates, a game hosted by Wario in pirate disguise and an interesting take on rhythm action. Various pirate ships will launch arrows at you, and by aiming the Wii U GamePad around, you have to “catch” them and then throw them away in time with the music. You then have to build up energy by matching Wario’s dance moves (or at least by flailing the GamePad around in rough time with the on-screen movements) and finally launch a devastating blow to finish him off.

Pirates is treated as the “final” game in Game & Wario, since clearing its first stage unlocks the end sequence, but the package as a whole is far from over at this point. There are additional stages to Pirates, for one thing, plus two more games to play, and then four multiplayer-only modes on top of that.

The first of the bonus games is Bowling, which is fairly self-explanatory. Rather than taking a semi-realistic approach as in Wii Sports, however, Game & Wario’s Bowling sees you holding the GamePad vertically and launching balls up the screen, with spin and aftertouch added by tilting the GamePad as the ball proceeds up the lane. The game can be played in one of two ways: Challenge tasks you with clearing various configurations of pins themed after the various characters, while Standard allows for a conventional bowling match for one or two players.

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The second bonus game is Bird, a version of the Pyoro minigame from past WarioWare installments in which a bird with a frighteningly long tongue has to catch falling fruit without being squashed by them. Rather delightfully, the game is presented in Game & Watch LCD style on the GamePad screen, with a distinctive “Claymation” look on the TV screen. It’s much easier to watch the GamePad screen, but the action on the TV is fun to watch for onlookers.

Then come the four multiplayer games, each of which are well fleshed out in their own right. The first of these, Sketch, is pretty straightforward: one player with the GamePad sketches a prompt word using the stylus and touchscreen, while the other players have to guess what it is from what they see on the television. The GamePad-wielding player then has to tell the game which of the other players successfully guessed it first. A simple but effective use of asymmetric gameplay.

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Next up is Fruit, which is a really interesting challenge: one player with the GamePad controls a thief who has to blend in with an on-screen crowd and steal five pieces of fruit. The other players then have to identify the thief from a lineup once the heist is complete. To make things interesting, occasionally the game indicates the rough area of the screen where the thief is lurking, but also some of the computer-controlled characters remember previous playthroughs and play back past players’ movements. It’s another really simple idea, but a great deal of fun for everyone involved.

Then comes Disco, a game for two players in which they take it in turns to tap out rhythms on the GamePad touchscreen which must then be echoed back by their partner. This is a good example of the GamePad being used for “tabletop” play — something that Wii Party U also does very well — and an enjoyable challenge in its own right, though its enforced limitation to two players makes it a bit less of a suitable party game than the other offerings.

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Finally comes Islands, a game in which up to five players take it in turns to catapult small pixellated Fronks of various colours onto a series of rather unstable platforms in order to score points. Holding the GamePad vertically and controlling the action very similarly to Arrow, each stage has a variety of gimmicks to mess with players as they progress, meaning the lead will frequently change hands rather dramatically over the course of a match. It may initially seem rather unfair, but each of these gimmicks are manageable with careful aiming and a knowledge of basic physics — not to mention a bit of opponent-goading.

The whole Game & Wario package is rounded out by its “Chick-N-Win” machine, in which you spend tokens acquired during the game for things like completing stages for the first time and attaining target scores. Each go on the machine results in one of 240 different items popping out, ranging from microgames pulled from Gamer to silly software toys such as a series of vegetables that can be flicked into a frying pan and which then spin around in an inexplicably amusing manner. There are also collectible cards for each of the characters giving biographical information, hints for each of the games and interactive jukeboxes featuring music from the game — as well as a hilarious credits sequence that features hand-drawn depictions of the entire staff’s noses, plus a handy key that allows you to learn various silly facts about them.

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All in all, Game & Wario may initially seem like a rather silly collection of throwaway minigames, but each of them (with the arguable exception of Design) has plenty of depth and replay value to it. It’s a great game to get out at parties, and even for solo play it provides a ton of satisfying, quick-fire, arcade-style fun rather like old NES games and indeed the Game & Watch series of devices that provide the game’s loose inspiration.

More than anything, it’s an excellent demonstration of what the GamePad brings to the overall Wii U experience — and, if nothing else, it’s a brave, innovative and experimental game that shows Nintendo’s creativity at its best.


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