In which I contend that Game & Wario is less a product, more a state of mind.
There’s only so much one could say about Game & Wario. It’s a mini-game collection, with 16 in total, and a first pass through them all will take the average player about an hour. Exploring the game felt pretty clinical and lifeless, so I’ve designed a handy review format to complement that tone. Let’s start at the beginning.
ARROW — In which Wario must beat back against a never-ending, fruit-thirsty horde.
You see, this new video game console has come out in Wario’s city. It has two screens: one on the controller, and one on the television. After watching a commercial, he realizes that it’s The Best Console Ever To Be Created By Man, and that the only obvious option is to make a game for it.
That game is the creatively titled Arrow. By holding the GamePad vertically (one of the game’s oft-repeated to tricks to try and wring life out of the hardware), you’re presented with a bowstring. On the television, waves of enemies approach you. You can probably figure the rest of this out. There are a lot of games to cover here, so let’s come up with a shorthand.
Is it functional? Yes, but the GamePad’s touch screen makes pulling back arrows more of a chore than it should be.
ASHLEY — In which the titular character finds little joy in exploring a world made of dessert.
This one’s basically just a auto-scrolling level, but it relies on the GamePad’s tilt functionality to move up and down. Ashley flies around on her broom, and you’re tasked with collecting power orbs to get her out of the joyful world she so despises. “Expert” players will probably find use in spin moves mapped to the left and right triggers.
Is it functional? Yes, but, in a recurring theme with these mini-games, the hardware doesn’t feel up to snuff. Tilting just isn’t as responsive as it is on other devices.
Is it fun? It’s amicable enough, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to play it again.
BIRD — In which tongues are extended, and one is reminded of years long gone.
Fruit! It’s positively everywhere in Game & Wario, and it gets a supporting role in Bird. You, guess this, control a bird, as he tries to catch falling fruit with his elastic tongue. The hook is that his tongue only extends in a predictable, diagonal line, and if the fruit touches the ground, it creates a hole. The television displays a fully colored and animated version of the game, but the real showstopper is on the GamePad screen: a version designed to resemble the monochromatic Game & Watch aesthetic.
Is it functional? Yes. Just the D-Pad and the A button.
Is it fun? Nah, but the Game & Watch look is appreciated!
BOWLING — In which the cast celebrates a job well (?) done.
Bowling was the undisputed king of the excellent Wii Sports mini-game collection, and the comparison doesn’t really do this game any favors. Chronologically, this is one of the last mini-games to unlock, and it’s the one that comes just after the credits roll. You hold the GamePad vertically (remember?), and roll the ball down the lane. You can then use the tilt functionality (remember?) to guide the ball, but only up until a certain point.
Is it functional? More frustrating than anything, because of the tilting imprecision.
Is it fun? No.
DISCO — In which two players battle to be King Of The Disco.
There are four multiplayer games in Game & Wario, and this is the first, alphabetically. In a somewhat obvious effort to shed a lot of preconceptions, none of these modes require Wii remotes! In fact, each multiplayer game only needs one GamePad, which also means online multiplayer is off the table.
In Disco, two players sit on opposite ends of the GamePad screen. They take turns “attacking” and “defending,” where one lays down a string of notes by tapping on three lanes, and the other has to reciprocate the beat. Whoever’s more successful at both gets more points, and whoever has more points wins the round.
Is it functional? As a rhythm game, it’s pretty terrible. There’s no noticeable change in the backing track based on your notes, and the touch screen feels laggy and imprecise.
Is it fun? *record scratch*
DESIGN — In which the assembly line is a cold and unforgiving place.
Design is all about Dr. Crygor. And line-drawing.
Basically, Crygor thinks you (yes, YOU!) have real potential in the robot making business. Apparently, all of his robots are made by drawing shapes on a Wii U GamePad. In the first level, you’re instructed to “draw a 1.5 inch line,” or “draw a circle with a 2 inch diameter,” or even “draw a 65 degree angle.” You’re rated on the accuracy of the measurements, as well as the smoothness of the shapes.
Is it functional? It’s math. It better be!
FRUIT — In which the pineapples are missing from the pool, and someone must pay.
The second multiplayer mini-game, Fruit (remember?), is all about Where’s Waldo-style person finding, and it’s for 2-5 people. The “thief” of the group has the GamePad, and selects one of several character models. During the game, they try to blend in with the throng of people, while also covertly stealing fruit. The “agents” (the other 1-4 players), study the television screen, trying to locate the culprit.
Is it functional? The concept is solid, but it’s the same kind of “GamePad against TV” dynamic that most of the Nintendo Land multi-player games used. Also, the way the people in the crowd tend to clip through one another leaves the whole thing feeling a little unfair.
Is it fun? Maybe with the right people, but few things aren’t fun with the right people.
GAMER — In which a child copes with abuse through escapism.
The easy to identify highlight of Game & Wario is 9-Volt’s Gamer, for sadly obvious reasons. It’s basically WarioWare, this game’s infectious, superior predecessor, with a challenging twist. 9-Volt wants to play video games past his bedtime, and his mom is on the prowl. Those video games are all on the GamePad, and they’re the 5-second, addicting micro-games from WarioWare. On the television, you have to be aware of when the horror movie-strings swell, signaling that his mom is near, and hide under the covers.
Is it functional? Very much so.
Is it fun? Yes. The balance between the GamePad and the TV is interesting and nerve-wracking.
ISLANDS — In which Fronks are flung, and flail fearlessly.
Another multiplayer game, and one that requires the passing back and forth of a single GamePad. Each player has an allotment of “Fronks,” little creatures that can be launched onto a floating platform for varying points. To launch them, you hold the GamePad vertically (remember?), and pull back on the slingshot, in a movement reminiscent of, I don’t know, drawing back an arrow?
Is it functional? The resistive touch screen is as troublesome here as it was in Arrow. It doesn’t feel very good.
Is it fun? It’s really, really tedious.
KUNG FU — In which skills are refined, and dumplings are collected.
Kung Fu is another obstacle course-style game, one that looks kind of like Okami and plays pretty poorly. It’s a runner, and you’re always moving forward, so the main movement interaction is a perilously floaty jump. You can tilt the GamePad forward and back to control the jump’s distance, and your power is determined by how many dumplings you collect along the way.
Is it functional? Not really. The jumping feels lame, and tilting the GamePad results in a lot of awkward viewing angles.
PATCHWORK — In which a make-the-shape puzzle game is precisely as fun as it sounds.
Patchwork comes to you courtesy of the twins Kat & Ana, and it’s easily one of the least cohesive games on display. It consists of dragging around differently colored patches to fit inside a puzzle board, and eventually make an identifiable shape (horse, flower, etc.).
Is it functional? Yes. The touch screen is used to drag the pieces around, and it’s fine.
Is it fun? Not by a long shot. Feels kind of like a throwaway eShop game.
PIRATE — In which Wario tries to avoid sequel fatigue.
Obviously overwhelmed by the success of Arrow, Wario took another swing at game development with the equally creatively titled Pirate. It’s a rhythm game, where you need to move the GamePad in different locations when commanded to block incoming arrows. There’s also a kind of surreal posing interlude, which seems to want the player to stand up and bend like a mannequin.
Is it functional? The GamePad loses its calibration rather easily, and even if it didn’t, the rhythm aspect of the game (much like Disco) is pretty awful. Everything feels just a little out of step.
Is it fun? No.
SKETCH — In which a lawsuit from the people who brought you Pictionary feels barely avoided.
I’m just gonna lead with this: Sketch is Pictionary. You know Pictionary? Yeah, it’s that.
Is it functional? Sure.
Is it fun? Huh… I guess. No more fun than Pictionary, though. And I’m pretty sure you don’t need to spend $40 to play Pictionary.
SKI — In which Jimmy T shreds some mad snow on his way to a dance party.
Ski is the same runner-type as Kung Fu or Ashley, but it’s from a top-down perspective. You need to guide Jimmy T down a slope, and you do so by holding the GamePad vertically (remember?) and tilting left and right (remember?).
Is it functional? The game takes place pretty much entirely on the GamePad, and as I’ve said near hundreds of times before, holding the GamePad vertically and tilting it left and right isn’t terribly responsive.
Is it fun? Next.
SHUTTER – In which privacy is invaded, but for justice, totally.
Shutter is a kind of single-player variant of Fruit. You’re a cop, or a private investigator (something like that), and you’re tasked with locating five suspects in what basically amounts to a photo hunt. You use the GamePad like a camera to look around and snap photos of the clearly deviant scum.
Is it functional? Looking around the level with the GamePad works pretty well, I suppose, and taking pictures is simple.
Is it fun? Not terribly. It is, as I mentioned, just a photo hunt game, and one that uses the GamePad in a way I’ve seen before.
TAXI — In which contact with unidentified flying objects is established, and summarily broken.
Taxi is, by Game & Wario standards, relatively complex. UFOs are invading and abducting animals, so you have to drive around in your taxi and rescue them. The GamePad screen has a first person view for driving around the map and shooting down the enemies, while the TV screen presents a real-time, overhead view to better locate the incoming UFOs.
Is it functional? Yes. The aiming and shooting with the GamePad is solid, and the driving controls are adequate, if a little loose.
Is it fun? It’s more fully-realized than most of these mini-games, but it’s still not the kind of thing I’d ever return to.
Game & Wario has released on the Wii U around 8 months into its lifespan. It’s not a travesty of a game, but it’s tiresome, and that fact, especially as it relates to the future of this console, is a travesty. The game’s main selling point is that it makes use of the console’s controller. That’s on the goddamned box. This is a game for the launch of a new system, not one to justify its existence over half a year out.
In that way, Game & Wario is less of a product than a state of mind: one that’s desperate, fragmented, and drowning under wave after wave of insulting mediocrity.