Wario Land 4

Wario may have started out as an imposter of Mario, but has since evolved into his own character. The same could be said for his games. Wario Land 4 isn't quite like any other platformer, and even deviates a bit from previous games in the Wario Land series itself. It's a unique game that oozes quirkiness, but doesn't sacrifice quality gameplay in the process.

Wario Land 4 is not a typical platformer. There is a fair amount of running and jumping to be done, but it's not the main focus of the game. There are not even any bottomless pits to be found here. Although he can easily clear his own height, Wario doesn't exactly have the amazing vertical leap of other platform-hopping heroes, either. What he has instead is a wide arsenal of moves for stomping bad guys and solving puzzles. The focus is geared much more towards bashing baddies and exploration, rather than jumping from platform to platform until you reach the goal.

The main goal in every stage is to find treasures, often well-hidden. You'll have to search every nook and cranny and occasionally think outside of the box to locate everything. Unlike in the previous games in the series, you don't upgrade moves but start out with your full range of abilities. This is not a bad thing, as every move is used extensively and in creative ways, and it also eliminates the need for backtracking. You'll have to use every trick in Wario's bag to solve the clever puzzles, collect all the treasure, and bash all your enemies to a pulp. Every level is a outstanding specimen of level design, each with their own secrets to discover and obscure corners to explore. Each stage also has a particular gimmick, such as a level where you can fly on magic carpets, or one where you must race against falling dominoes. Fortunately, all of these gimmicks usually manage to avoid being a source of annoyance, and give the stages a feeling of variety and internal unity.

Wario can also assume a variety of different transformations. Instead of Kirby and Mega Man, who defeat their enemies to gain powers, Wario takes a beating from the baddies to take these forms. He can be smashed, flattened, bloated, set on fire, and zombified. In addition to being quite humorous, these transformations grant Wario new abilities and are essential in overcoming the game's obstacles and solving puzzles.

Each level also contains a switch that you must find and hit to open up the level's entrance and escape. The second you hit that switch, it starts a timer, and you must reach the entrance before you run out of time. Hitting the switch will also often change the level in some significant way, requiring you to think on your feet as you return through the level to reach the goal in time. The bosses are timed, as well, and this emphasis on time adds a refreshing challenge to the game.

A well-tuned difficulty curve adds to what is already a very good game. After a brief tutorial stage, you can tackle the four main sets of levels in any order. There are 2 difficulty modes. The "Hard" mode adds more enemies and hides the treasures in harder to find locations. The player can also unlock a completely devious, but ultimately satisfying Super Hard mode that lives up to its name.

Unfortunately, if the game could be said to have one glaring flaw, it's that the controls can be unruly. Hit detection can be squirrely, and the physics can be awkward. Especially troublesome are the controls for throwing enemies and objects, which are delicate and can be a source of frustration, especially when combined with the occaisionally wonky physics. It gets rather bad in one level that requires you to do a lot of throwing of small projectiles at moving targets. Even so, the controls aren't significantly broken and the odd physics can be gotten used to. Never the less, control remains the games most significant, and glaring, flaw.

The graphics are eye-popping and colorful. The designs of the characters are exceedingly quirky and bizarre, while the highly detailed animations seem to give each character and enemy individual personalities. These animations also add to the humor of the game, whether it be Wario's goofy transformations or the exaggerated expressions of damaged enemies.

The music is surprisingly good, with a wide selection of tracks ranging from jazzy numbers to hard-driven head-banging metal. Some songs even have vocals, and the graphics and audio come together to form a unique aesthetic. An aesthetic that frequently crosses over into the surreal. Wario Land 4 pushes the Game Boy Advance's graphical and sound capabilities, and it lends the game a look and feel all its own. Quirky and odd, it's a lot like Wario himself: extremely weird, but still somehow charming.

With top-notch level design and decent challenge, Wario Land 4 is a game that is satisfying to both the mind and reflexes. The game also has a very unique and quirky feel that makes it a unique experience to play. This isn't Mario, but it's not meant to be. It's something different that can stand alone. I would even go as far as to say this is the highlight of Wario's career. Above all, despite some control issues, Wario Land 4 has qualities that all games should strive for: it's fun, challenging, and original.