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Game & Wario review: Weary-o ware

Bob Mackey

Wario's been with us for two whole decades, and in that time, Nintendo has used Mario's Garbage Pail Kids variant to disrupt some pretty fundamental gameplay ideas – especially in endlessly inventive portable series like Wario Land and WarioWare. As made evident by its E3 2013 lineup, though, Nintendo has placed less of a priority on tinkering during the Wii U generation, instead focusing on producing sequels to established series. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Game & Wario is essentially a reworked Nintendo Land.

Like Nintendo Land, Game & Wario features an assortment of GamePad-friendly mini-games, each one offering a novel way to use the console's controller. If you've played Nintendo Land, however, some of Game & Wario's games may strike you as a little too familiar. "Ski," for instance, plays a hell of a lot like Nintendo Land's miniaturized version of F-Zero. Some of the games call to mind Nintendo's legacy as an outstanding arcade developer, though the majority don't dare progress beyond the baby steps established by Game & Wario's tech demo predecessor.

Gallery: Game and Wario (E3 2013) | 26 Photos

The best mini-games stand out for clever and necessary use of the TV and GamePad in tandem. "Shutter" throws you into the role of photojournalist, and requires constant reference of the bigger screen while using the GamePad as a viewfinder for snapping perfect shots. As levels progress, Shutter tasks you with capturing specific actions and even targets that may seem invisible at first.

"Gamer," meanwhile, is the only real taste of authentic WarioWare. It tosses you into the pajamas of an up-past-his-bedtime 9-Volt, who's determined to play video games without alerting his mother. This surprisingly tense slice of Game & Wario puts new WarioWare micro-games on your GamePad, while the TV displays 9-Volt playing away in his bedroom. Gamer forces you to balance the hectic pace of micro-games with the drawn out tension of watching for signs of 9-Volt's mom so you can burrow under the covers before she pops through a door, window or TV. (She's surprisingly supernatural.)

Mediocrity makes up a hefty chunk of the remaining Game & Wario content, however, as many games offer only the simplest take on the Wii U's functionality. "Ashley," for instance, takes a standard shmup and adds tilt controls, which is about as fun as it sounds. "Kung Fu" rethinks the vertical action of Jumping Flash, though Nintendo's brand moves at a plodding pace across a boring landscape. "Design" seems to have the most promise – at first. It asks you to play a game of geometric Mad Libs, creating specifically measured shapes and lines to make up what will soon become a robot's head. Once you've seen one creation though, you've basically seen them all. "Patchwork" could very well be a downloadable 3DS puzzle game, which is why it doesn't really feel at home in Game & Wario. The TV doesn't add much to the equation, outside of getting your friends to shout advice while you methodically drop pieces of an image onto the right locations.

Sadly, a few of Game & Wario's selections barely seem to work at all. Like Game & Wario's best parts, "Taxi" necessitates dual screen play – showing the game world on the TV and a first-person perspective on the GamePad – as you alternate between picking up passengers and shooting down the aliens trying to abduct them. Unfortunately, each stage ends with a multi-target boss that will test the limits of your patience with the GamePad; let's just say that aiming upward isn't the controller's specialty.

"Pirates," the last of the original single-player games, ends Game & Wario on a sour note. This Rhythm Heaven-like mini-game has you block and return arrows flung in your direction, all to the beat of a song. Just like Taxi, Pirates shows the GamePad's knack for getting completely uncalibrated – expect "center" to become "slightly behind your left shoulder" just as the action heats up. To make things worse, each level ends with a dance section where you copy certain moves while receiving no feedback as to whether or not you're doing the right thing. After experimenting a half-dozen times, I still couldn't tell what the game wanted from me.

Game & Wario also features four multiplayer games, all of which feel rushed and underdeveloped in comparison to the single-player offerings. "Sketch" is digital Pictionary. "Island" offers yet another chance to flick things at targets, only competitively, and with a real sense of Mario Party arbitrariness thrown in. "Fruit" has the GamePad player take on the role of a Where's Waldo-type figure while stealing fruit and trying to blend in with the mindless NPCs milling about. Everyone else has to stare at the TV for minutes and sort through a ton of moving visual information in order to identify the thief at the end of the round, which isn't as compelling as the game thinks it is. "Disco" has the roots of what could be a fun multiplayer game, asking you and a friend to hold the GamePad lengthwise while sending and copying musical attacks that flow towards you like the gems in Rock Band. The technology presents a real problem here, in that the GamePad can only read one input at a time, so you can easily block your competition if you're feeling sleazy. Sure, adults can (probably) abide by the honor system, but I can see Disco as the catalyst for plenty of sibling spats.

Game & Wario review wearyo ware
It's disappointing to see the once confidently subversive Wario brand perverted into a desperate, flailing mess like Game & Wario. Ten years ago, WarioWare came along as Nintendo's drastic rethinking of game design. Today, the surly character and his offbeat pals act as the face of the company's newest collection of lukewarm, carnival-style antics.

Playing it safe may make short-term sense for Nintendo's bottom line, but the company should never forget that their most innovative and beloved classics often operated on risky and untested waters. Game & Wario, on the other hand, lazily floats in a half-full kiddie pool, trying its best not to make any waves.

This review is based on a retail copy Game & Wario, provided by Nintendo. Game & Wario will be available at retail and on the Nintendo eShop on June 23.

Bob Mackey is a freelance writer based out of Berkeley, California. Since 2006, he's written a semimonthly column for the comedy website Something Awful, and his work has been featured on outlets such as 1UP, Gamasutra, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Cracked. You can follow him on Twitter at @bobservo

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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