Monday, March 05, 2012

Old game is still good! - WarioWare Inc.

The first time I played WarioWare, I actually did it via a downloaded ROM on a GBA emulator. This was not only because it was unavailable in the UK at the time, but also because I had only found a couple of reviews of it, and they suggested that it was not going to be worth my money. However, I have long since learned to trust Nintendo, so I figured it would be best to find out for myself.

I fired it up, watched a fairly amusing intro, and then was thrust into the action. Literally, into the very heart of the action, as the screen just flashed up the command "DODGE!", and I was presented with a Wario sprite stood there. "Dodge what?" I thought. Suddenly, a hot dog on wheels came charging at me. I instinctively pressed the A button, and jumped over it. "Easy. Yeah, this i ... wait, what?"

The command on the screen had changed to "SPOTLIGHT!", and now Wario was tiny in the middle of a bright light on a black background. Before I could even work out what was going on, Wario was moving. I realised, not even to this day could I tell you why or how, that I needed to keep him in the light, and moved the spotlight accordingly. Another success, and again the thought was "Ok, this is going to be simple." Before a whole different command, this time "STOP ME!" was flashed at me, and I was shown a spinning triangle and a pointer. Pressing the button moved the pointer, and this was my first failure. By now, I was thoroughly confused, but more importantly, I was absolutely delighted!

By the time I got to Jimmy T with his sports themed games, I knew that I absolutely had to posess this game. The very next day I went to my local games store, meaning to ask them if they had any plans of importing it, and was lucky enough that they already had done. I bought it immediately, and went home with the kind of excitement brewing in me that 3 year olds normally reserve for bubbles.

(Piracy is killing gaming, people. Importing is also bad. Don't EVER follow my example, whereby the ability to do exactly those two things has led to me buying every single title in the history of this franchise. Not to mention the additional purchases from people to whom I have evangelised these games, and forced to play.)

The genius of WarioWare is quite simple. It strips away any and everything that is NOTGAME from the GAME, and then challenges you to complete the task at hand by relying purely on your own sense of gaming logic. If you have played a lot of games, you will know what to do on more screens than if you have only ever played a few. Each 'microgame', as they are called, lasts for literally three seconds, and wether you fail or succeed it is then whipped away to be replaced by another one with a frequency that leaves you dizzy. Each vignette is introduced with a single simple command, and you then have the briefest slip of time in which to work out what it is you have to do.

Complicated instructions not needed.

There are no tutorials. There are no sections where control is rested from you in order to make sure you face the right direction. Despite the random and chaotic nature of the game, where the controls change on average every 5 seconds, you are left to fend for yourself. Sometimes you need to move, sometimes you need to mash, sometimes you need to time things correctly. But, always, you work it out inside the three seconds you have. Sometimes you are too slow, but even when you are you just realise that you should have gotten it sooner, and you only ever blame yourself for your mistakes.

Games used to do this to us, you know? Let us learn from our mistakes, let us figure shit out for ourselves. They weren't as concerned with piling spectacles on top of fancy set-pieces as they were with just entertaining the hell out of us. They eschewed as much NOTGAME as possible, always preferring to focus on GAME. WarioWare was, and remains, the pinnacle of this school of game design.

It would be unfair to call it a collection of minigames. To do so would to be missing the point by a distance that you would normally travel during your average year. It is the cumulative effect of the non-stop assault on your gaming senses that makes it such a miraculous ride. Plus, getting through each of the individual chapters is not even half of the journey. It is barely a tenth of the full package, as going back into any individual  to play it for a highscore is in itself a revelatory experience, as the speed increases with each success until you find yourself playing at an almost subconscious level, responding in fractions of seconds to ever more ludicrous scenarios.

Once upon a time, games made us laugh and smile at least as often as they made us swear. They didn't want to be compared with cinema and literature, because they offered something that neither of those media were capable of reproducing. No matter how powerful and movingly an actor can portray an emotion, they will never manage to push the feeling of pure triumph inside me in the way that dropping Bowser into his own pool of lava did. I continually fail to understand why games want to escape the very thing that sets them apart and elevates them above the other forms of entertainment, and instead try to become more like them. (Not that visual novels and the likes don't have their place. They do, and that place is FAR AWAY FROM MY CONSOLE.)

WarioWare has been dismissed by many as "Fun while it lasts" and "Throwaway gaming", usually by people who then go on to play a title that drowns them in NOTGAME. Be it unskippable cut-scenes full of exposition that literally drain the will to live as you watch them, tiresome tutorials that assume you are so braindead that you don't know that pressing UP on the stick makes you go forwards, or a pointless item collect-a-thon that reeks of utter desperation as a way to artificially pad the length of the title so that reviewers can't then go on to say "But it's too short" before just giving it a 7 anyway.

What it has seemingly never been, is regarded as a shining example of all that videogames should strive to be. In their purest form, they are sheer escapism of a kind that nothing else can match. It is rare indeed that a book can coax me to read it again if I failed the first time, and even more rare that I feel a sense of achievement having made it to the end of a movie. Games do this all the time, and we should celebrate this fact. Films and books have both moved me, sometimes intensely, but they have never made me punch the air and shout " FUCK YEEEAHH! I FUCKING DID IT!"

Forget all the crap that the so-called AAA blockbusters like to make you think games need to have. Do what it takes to get WarioWare in front of your face, park yourself on your sofa, and prepare to engage with a title that makes you shove a finger up a nose and shake a dog by the paw, and never thinks that any of this needs explanation. Play a game that not only knows it is a game, but also knows that other games have been made as well, and celebrates this fact by referencing vast tracts of our hobby's history. Remind yourself of the child that fell in love with videogames because of the way the coloured dots on the screen made you feel. And then shake your head at all those bastards who insist on telling you that this is just for casuals, and what gamers, by which they mean YOU, need, is for every game to be made in the Unreal engine and to feature ever-increasing counts of grey polygons being shot to pieces by angry men with no hair.

The sequels all missed the point, adding complexities that just weren't needed. (Although the DS DIY title is extremely brilliant, eventually.) WarioWare Inc. has a purity that makes it stand out as one of history's best, and actually potentially most important, games. It may even have been the starter of a paradigm shift for Nintendo themselves, as they seem to want to release more and smaller titles these days, farming all the bigger games out to third parties. (Only keeping Mario and Zelda in-house.)

So, enjoy. Educate yourself. Oh, and try to beat my 57 on "Putt For Dough" in Jimmy T's section, if you can!

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