Retro Scope: Wario Land 4

One of the finest Virtual Console games you can buy on Wii U!

By Anthony Vigna. Posted 01/22/2015 12:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

As a huge fan of the Wario Land games, I’m devastated by the fact that we haven’t had a new, mainline entry in the series since Wario Land 4. Ever since I played the first Wario Land on Game Boy, I fell in love with playing as a villain that only cared about his own selfish, greedy desires. Not only that, but the gameplay styles of each Wario Land game were incredibly unconventional for the platforming genre, allowing players to be exposed to really unique mechanics that made the series very memorable.

In Wario Land 4, the setting helps establish what makes it so special. Upon reading a newspaper, Wario finds out about a mysterious pyramid hidden in the jungle that may have a legendary treasure. Despite the fact that previous explorers in the pyramid were put in severe danger, Wario ignores this and heads to claim the treasure anyway. When he jumps down a pit inside the pyramid without hesitation, he finds himself trapped inside without any noticeable exits. While the treasures are bound to be great, the level of danger in the pyramid is very high.

Initially, the player might not realize that this danger exists, especially since one of the first stages takes place on a very calm beach. When I first started playing, I took my time because I wanted to make sure I collected all the major items required for progression. After all, every level has a key that opens the door to the next level and four jewel pieces that help open the door to the boss, so it’s important to make sure you’ve collected everything.

However, once you step on a frog-like switch toward the end of a level, everything changes. A giant timer flashes on the screen and tense music plays as the world starts shaking, ready to take you down with it! The only way to escape the level’s apocalyptic events is by reaching the start of the level, where a vortex will bring you to safety. This caused me to throw my previous play style out the window and start to freak out as the timer clocked down. It was almost like the game was taunting me, as if it were saying, “Did you really think you could just take all that treasure and get away with it?”

The player is now forced to look at the stage from a completely different angle. When you first start a level, you have to explore every nook and cranny to find the treasure that you need. But once the switch triggers, you ignore everything else and immediately try to think of the fastest path to keep yourself alive. However, Wario Land 4 can also be extremely diabolical by blocking treasures you need with walls that only disappear when the switch is hit. In that scenario, the player would have to figure out an unorthodox path that goes through each item’s location in a time-efficient manner.

But wait, there’s more! In some levels, pressing the switch forces the player to go into a completely new area that they have never seen before. Here, the player has absolutely no point of reference on their location and must continue to progress until something familiar is reached. Knowing the layout of a level beforehand gives the player a security blanket when they hit the switch because they know how to escape, but a lack of this knowledge only puts on more pressure to survive without succumbing to impending destruction. The use of the switch only gets more ridiculous in the last stage and on higher difficulties, as you could start a level on top of a switch and be put on a time limit instantaneously.

I’ve only talked about one major mechanic featured in Wario Land 4, but the game is practically defined by its use of the switch. Whenever you start looting a level for treasure, you’ll always know that the switch is waiting for you at the end. You’ll know that your emotions will start to run high as you hit it and try to get away with all the treasures that you took. The switch forces you to be prepared for the worst, especially if it throws you into an unexpected scenario. It effectively sets the pacing for the entire game, which is why it’s so important as a game mechanic.

The series may not be around anymore, but I’m glad that more people will be able to experience Wario Land 4 now that it’s available on Wii U’s Virtual Console service. The level of creativity found in the game easily makes it one of my favorite platformers of all time. But don’t just take my word on it! There’s a 600-page e-book, written by critic Daniel Johnson, that deeply analyzes the game’s brilliant design. The fact that this e-book even exists speaks volumes about the quality of the game.

Why are you still reading this? Go play Wario Land 4 right now!

2 Responses to “Retro Scope: Wario Land 4

  • 207 points
    Jon Stevens says...

    I really enjoyed the first Wario Land (with it’s crazy power-up hats) and was initially a little disappointed that the series went in a different direction.

    Looking back though, by Wario Land 4, the series played completely different to Mario Land and had carved out its own niche. Playing mini-games to unlock extra help against the bosses was definitely a high point for me!

  • 849 points
    ejamer says...

    Wario Land 4 is a fantastic game, with only two (minor) disappointments:
    * the collectible CDs seem to be nothing more than a joke/troll item
    * the game is simply outdone by its Wii sequel so coming back to 4 after playing Shake It! just isn’t as impressive

    Definitely an underrated gem on the GBA, and still well worth playing for any platforming fans. :)

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