The Retrospective: WarioWare Inc.: Mega MicroGame$

Nintendo is an odd beast. Often accused of retreading tired ground with old concepts and even older IPs, the Kyoto-based developer/console manufacturer/surrogate parents for children everywhere manages to make money even today with games that rarely pull from the trends of modern design. And while one could argue that Nintendo basically has every known genre (and more) covered with their extensive library of franchises, they always seem to approach those genres in distinctive and wholeheartedly Nintendo ways.

And so then we have WarioWare, which manages to confound every convention of game design. Released on the GBA way back in 2004, it served as a proving ground for Nintendo’s untested ideas and experiments. And I thought I’d play it recently, not having done so before.

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Without a doubt, WarioWare laughs in the face of every individual who claims that Nintendo’s lost it’s creative edge. It earned high praise at release, and was celebrated for its innovating design that laughed in the face of convention. Wario’s persona began to shape itself around this new vehicle for his character, and now it could be estimated that his biker costume is nearly as recognizable as his tradition purple and yellow getup.

A series was birthed from the original entry, and each did more to push the boundaries of game design than the last. What became apparent after the more conventional controls implemented in the first was that each game down the line would have to push the limits of its respective platform. A DS title would intelligently use the touch controls and the Wii title would (attempt) to do similar with motion control.

And with a Wii U game coming soon (albeit in a slightly different format), the series seems to be experience no slowdown. Even in today’s world, the formula has appeal. But why? Gaming has changed quite a bit in recent years, and especially with the onset of widely available, bite-sized gaming experiences found on mobile, one would think that such a game wouldn’t be able to find an audience.

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Before playing the first WarioWare, which I got for free through the 3DS ambassador program, I only knew vaguely what the games were attempting to do for their players. Admittedly, I was familiar with it more because of the stage in Super Smash Bros. Brawl than anything, and while I was intrigued by the constant visual and gameplay variety, it never convinced me to seek out the game on my own.

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And even after receiving it for free from Nintendo, it was quite a while before I decided to actually give it a whirl. There were other games provided that I felt deserved trying first, and it sat in its pocket of my SD card lonely and cold. When I did eventually get around to it, I was immediately surprised by just how far that variety went. In terms of both mechanics and style, each short, snake-sized game was extremely different from the last.

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Naturally, there is something quite frantic about getting assaulted with a new play style, goal, and visual style every few seconds, but WarioWare manages to use such fluid simplicity that I only occasionally failed specific games due to control confusion. Usually it embarrassingly just amounted to my own ineptitude.

Perhaps even more immediately apparent, though, is the game’s superb understanding of the GBA’s limitations. Just about every type of game possible on a GBA was shown, from a short recreation of the mode-7 heavy F-Zero to music with distorted, but at least audible voice tracks. It all lends to a delightfully absurd love letter to the SNES and GBA eras of gaming.

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So what can be said ultimately, of WarioWare, a game so determined to be different it perhaps manages to exist in its own genre? Well as I stated before, WarioWare is, in essence, a declaration of war from Nintendo’s creative soul. It’s proof that Big N can, and does, innovate with gameplay and constantly manages to pull aces out from its sleeve. No, not every single minigame is brilliant or original. Some games simply demand the player press a single button, while others were ripped from popular Nintendo games that already exist (although admittedly, I absolutely love 9-volt’s level).

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But even if every game included wasn’t compelling, the overall collection still shows that, in world filled to the brim with derivative piles of triple-A muck, all lovingly borrowing elements from the core four (Gears of War, God of War, Call of Duty, and Uncharted), Nintendo manages to be different, and do so with such style.

This game is an emblem of creative energy, and simultaneously manages to represent the significant change in gaming that occurred mere years afterward. With handheld gaming finding rare but substantial competition in the mobile space, WarioWare seems like an odd, premature recognition of that sphere of gaming. After all, successful mobile games build themselves up to be short experiences useful for little more than short bursts of distraction. WarioWare could totally be an iPhone game, considering its obsession with console-specific control schemes. It would function well with touch and gyroscopic motion, unlike most Nintendo franchises.

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And yet, WarioWare can only ever be on Nintendo consoles, at least as long as they hold fast to their purist mantra. They will likely never sell for less that $40, and yet I imagine that they will always find a level of success. Because it’s Nintendo we’re talking about here. And even if their releases can be sporadic, their consoles get neglected, and their IPs can get run into the ground, they know game design, in all its form and function.

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