Mario, Link, and Samus get all the love, but even all these years later, I only have eyes for Wario. He might be morbidly obese, flatulent, and he tends to have a digit exploring his nose more often than he should, but he's not self-conscious. Why should he be? Wario's only got one person in mind, and he's cruising down the highway in a big purple Cadillac like the pimp that he is.
When we visited Nintendo's booth at E3, there was just one game we knew we had to see. Schedules ran tight, but luckily we finally got to sit down with Wario Land: Shake It!, a game that could fulfill my dreams or break my heart. Wario, you devil. This new title looked to be a perfect recreation of Wario Land 4's brilliant style with all of the detail and production value that 2D games would get in a perfect world.
My optimism remained guarded, though. Like Wario World and Wario: Master of Disguise, this was an outsourced affair (this time to the upstart Good-Feel), and like those games, I worried that Shake It! wouldn't be able to capture the magic of the classic Nintendo R&D1 games. One thing is for certain, though: the developers at Good-Feel have studied the Wario template closely, and they intend to replicate the formula as best they can.
The sense of style more than does Wario justice, and the first thing I noticed was the animation. It's not that the animation was unusually fluid, but rather that it was genuinely funny to watch. Wario is a very physical, slapstick sort of character who gets beat up as if he were chasing down Bugs Bunny, and Nintendo's antihero is given all the care here that you'd expect to see if he were on film. The backgrounds give off a hand-painted vibe, completing the cartoon look, and it pulls it off better than any game since Earthworm Jim. Sure, I could cry about the letterboxing in widescreen mode, but I'd much rather look at what is on screen than what's not.
The game plays very similarly to Wario Land 4, albeit a bit streamlined. Wario still has his signature shoulder rush and butt stomp, along with a new ground punch that can be performed with a jerk of the Wiimote. He can likewise grab and toss enemies like before, but now he can also aim his throws, a bit like in Yoshi's Island. Unfortunately, the hilarious "ailments" that were the foundation of a lot of the puzzles in the series are gone for the most part, although we did spy the snowball, and there are machines that force Wario into a dash that can break through certain walls, so the idea isn't completely lost.
I breezed my way to the end of the first level, with disappointingly little resistance, and even managed to find all three "treasures" (optional collectibles for completionists) before reaching the "Merfle," a small, green, elf-like creature that marks the stage's goal. A timer popped up and Wario took off at full speed, plowing through enemies and obstacles alike in a race to the finish. For anyone that played Wario Land 4, this hasty escape should seem pretty familiar.
This is where the demonstration was meant to end, but the Nintendo rep, sensing my thirst for a challenge, decided to let us skip ahead a bit and loaded up one of his favorite stages from later in the game. Set on a train, this level veered into the puzzle-intensive territory the series is known for. Many of these involved finding ways to hit switches in odd places and banking tossed objects around corners. My lips widened to a masochistic grin as I began to struggle through some of these rooms. I was still able to get through to the end, but it was reassuring to know that the challenge of this game was still going to be more mental than twitch.
Alas, the show floor closed not long after I completed this stage, and so ended my time with Wario. We parted ways with a melancholy smile, but we both knew we would be together again soon. The two months would be long, but at least I could rest easy knowing we were back on track and closer to recapturing the magic than we'd been in many years.