Wario has been Nintendo’s excuse to be weird, going on 20 years now. After making his debut in “Mario Land 2” as the final baddie, Wario has gone on to carve out an oddball niche for himself in gaming.
“Mario Land 3: Wario Land” was a competent, slightly skewed take on traditional “Mario” platforming in a lot of ways. While Wario might have been a different character in both look and feel, you were still racing against the clock to get to the end of a level, and you still collected power-ups that gave you special abilities. It’s worth playing, but it’s nothing mind-blowing.
“Wario Land 2,” on the other hand, might be one of the most underrated games in history. The story starts with pirates ransacking Wario’s castle and taking all his treasure. Naturally, he wants to get his treasure back.
Soon after starting the game you learn its big gimmick: There is no way to die. Wario is impossible to kill; the worst that happens if you get hit by an enemy is you lose some coins and Wario is knocked back. There are no time limits to any of the levels, either. Essentially, in the same way Wario is the anti-Mario, “Wario Land 2” is the anti-”Mario” game.
Within this framework, the game goes totally bonkers. It’s not that you can’t fail, it’s just that failure doesn’t give you some melodramatic death animation. You miss the jump? You fall down. And you might lose some coins in the process.
This means that instead of pulse-pounding action, the game oddly is more about considering your options while exploring the levels. Every level has a ton of secret, hard-to-reach coins that you can often see, but can’t always get to
“Wario” feels much more physical than “Mario.” There are more elements of the world you can interact with, and there are a wider array they can be interacted with. It feels like a world, just one with very strange physical laws.
This even extends to the adversaries in the game. Enemies are obstacles, to be sure, but they are just as often tools you can exploit to navigate the levels. Some enemies, instead of knocking Wario back and causing him to lose coins, actually transform Wario into different forms, each with their own unique qualities. If Wario gets force-fed cake, he gets slow and can’t jump high, but he can crush enemies by walking into them, and can break cracked floors by falling on them. If Wario gets crushed by a weight, he becomes flattened and can float down. These states can be either helpful or hindering, depending on the situation.
All in all, this is an entertaining little game that was one of my favorite parts of the Gameboy Color era. The only things that can even remotely be compared to it are the game’s own sequels, and they never surpassed the original.
“Wario Land 2” was developed by Nintendo for the Nintedo Game Boy and Game Boy Color game systems. Used copies can be found easily, or it can be download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop (ubne.ws/Zjq6yF) for $4.99.
Noah Hinz is an art and game design enthusiast living in Walla Walla. Contact him with questions, game and playing suggestions or anything else related to games at firstname.lastname@example.org.