IGN Review of Wario: Master of Disguise
Even though we're more than two years into the Nintendo DS life cycle, Wario: Master of Disguise, Nintendo's latest platformer, plays an awful lot like a first generation DS title. You remember those days: developers puttering around with the hardware, trying to figure out how to bring the touch screen into traditional handheld gaming. There's nothing particularly bad about this game design, but it's so full of sluggish and annoying DS mechanics that it reeks of a studio's first try on the platform. Even if it isn't.
Wario: Master of Disguise is another third-party developed, first-party published game featuring Nintendo's big-named characters. It's not a surprise, after all, Nintendo's been dishing out its designs all over Japan -- Yoshi's Island DS went to Artoon, Princess Peach came from the Starfi developers at Tose, and Kirby's been in Flagship's hands for years. Wario's from a relatively unknown studio Suzak -- they're actually the ones who brought the halfway decent F-Zero GP Legend to the Game Boy Advance. Though the team's worked on a handful of DS titles in Japan, Wario: Master of Disguise is Suzak's first to hit the US.
Wario's had so much success in his lead role as a champion mini-game dude in the Wario Ware series that many people might have forgotten his original roots as a platform hero in the Wario Land series. While it might be a stretch to say that Wario: Master of Disguise is a sequel to the four games in the handheld Wario Land series, there's certainly some inspiration here from the past Wario designs. For Wario's latest DS adventure, Suzak's whisked the Nintendo anti-hero into a world of a fictional television series. He bumps into the show's lead character, a master thief called the Silver Zephyr, and steals his magic wand to become a rival thief: "The Purple Wind." With the new world to explore comes new opportunities for Wario to steal gold and collect booty, and with the help of the Silver Zephyr's wand that's the ultimate task.
The hook for Wario: Master of Disguise is, like in past Wario Land games, the ability to change into different forms to access different portions of the level. So if you need to place a large stone block to weight down a remote switch or to use as a platform, you have to turn into Artist Wario. If you want to weild a laser gun to blast enemies and other distant targets, you'll need to turn into Cosmic Wario. Need to spot a hidden item or door? Genius Wario to the rescue. These forms are collected through the adventure, so you won't have all of the various abilities until about the halfway point. This does open up some opportunities for backtracking, as you can retry finished levels with your upgraded Wario to get hidden treats and secrets by using powers you didn't have the first time through.
But here's the problem: the powers are activated via drawing symbols on the touch screen, and the function is so unbelievably wonky that it really should have been handled by a button press instead. It might not seem terrible early in the adventure, since the first two powers are simply a circle or a check mark. But as you open up more abilities, you enable different drawing icons, and unless your penmanship is damn near perfect you'll find the game gets easily confused with what you meant to scribble. Wario: Master of Disguise isn't exactly fast-paced but there will be times you'll need to quickly switch from one form to another, but it's incredibly difficult to do this since the pattern recognition engine is incredibly sketchy...and you'll find yourself either not changing at all, or changing into a form that you didn't intend on becoming.
This also converts into portions of the game where you need to strategically place stone blocks in a level, since you have to draw squares where you want to place them. If the game doesn't recognize your square, it'll simply create an anthropomorphic poo to run off-screen (I'm not making this up), but it'll also destroy the block you've created if the poo runs into it.
While the platforming in Wario: Master of Disguise has some creative moments that add a bit of challenge and variety, the same can't be said for some of the terribly uncreative mini-games that you have to perform to unlock the enormous amount of treasure chests scattered throughout the levels. Each chest throws a random task at the player, tasks that seem to be pulled right out of the first chapter from "The Book of Incredibly Generic Nintendo DS Designs." Some challenges require you to trace over a specific Wario item, or play a bland variation of "Irritating Electric Stick." Oh, and there's even a sliding tile puzzle too! What a concept! These lock "mini-games" feel like unnecessary busy work, because none of them are particularly hard to complete, and even if you lose you're hardly penalized.
The game definitely screams "third party" not just in its clunky and inconsistent gameplay but also in its inconsistent visual style. The cutscenes use the familiar rendered imagery that Nintendo's been evolving throughout the GameCube days, but the in-game elements feel a little "off." Even though the game's been developed by a Japanese team, Wario: Master of Disguise's graphics have a weird 16-bit European flavor. It's not entirely a bad thing, it just doesn't fit the Nintendo vibe half the time.
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