Ask a developer to create a game and they’d be more than happy to dig out design documents, market research reports and little notecards summarizing their pitch to potential publishers. Ask them to design a whole game on a Post-It note and their brains would most likely melt out through their navel. Only something as bizarre as WarioWare could’ve been designed with little more than a dozen sticky pads, and only Nintendo’s staff were daring enough to try.
The seed of WarioWare was planted in Kouichi Kawamoto’s Sound Bomber on the stillborn 64DD. Soon he was shifted around inside Nintendo and with the help of Goro Abe and Yoshio Sakamoto, one of Mario’s more obscure enemies was tied to one of Nintendo’s more creative endeavors.
For those who don’t know, WarioWare is all about whittling down key gaming concepts into tiny, twitchy minigames. With just a simple command you’re given a few seconds to figure out how it applies to the ridiculous scene that appears in front of you. For example, the word “Pick!” pops up over a sparse black-and-white scene of a giant nose with a finger gliding beneath it. Silly as it is, it requires a surprising amount of hand-eye coordination to master.
Instead of pointing out the similarities between WarioWare games repeatedly, here they are all at once. Though the interface may change, the format is always the same. Wario and his cast of cronies offer up a roster of microgames loosely based on a theme. 9-Volt’s games are all based on classic Nintendo titles, Mona’s fall into the much vaguer “Weird” category, and Jimmy T’s all revolve around “Sports”.
Each microgame has a few variations to keep you guessing and as you play through each character’s set they get faster, putting more strain on your limited supply of four lives. After completing a specific number of microgames and a Boss Stage, a short story snippet leads you to the next character (and you get an extra life!). Repeat until things get ludicrously, ridiculously, out of control.
All WarioWare game also offer an Album mode where you can play any single microgame until it gets so hilariously fast that you can’t keep up without robotic precision. There are also a handful of bonuses to unlock; their number and variety increasing from game to game. More on these in the Micro Reviews below.
Lastly, and most importantly, every game generates a certain amount of frustration. Not all of the microgame goals are obvious and you will stop between them to get all huffy. But the absolute hilarity of the game that just finished you off (and the dozens to follow) quickly subdue most feelings of rage.
WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! (GBA, May 2003)
Long removed from his Wario Land series, the red-nosed bad guy appears in a wild new form but retains his trademark hunger for money. Determined to cash in on the video game craze, he starts up WarioWare Inc. with the help of his equally wacky friends.
This is the one that started it all. Over 200 never-before-seen microgames put players to the test. Nose picking, snot sniffing, alien counting, no one had seen anything like it before. In order to cram so many games onto a GBA cartridge the visuals had to be kept simple, but that’s not to say they aren’t artistic. Each scene has its own style and presentation. From stark black and white scribbles to lush blue skies filled with wispy clouds, each microgame looks just as different as it plays. Most surprisingly, the audio is equally unique. Each microgame has its own oddball sound effects and most have a unique little tune. Even a few seconds is enough for these catchy jingles to get caught in your head. For a cartridge jam-packed with minigames, visuals, and sound, there’s also a surprising amount of voice. Characters praise and scold depending on your performance, though most of the game is read through subtitles.
Being the inaugural WarioWare outing, the roster of extras are the slimmest of the bunch. Jump Forever, SkatingBoard, and Paper Plane present endless challenges, but it’s the two-player games that are the most interesting. Almost completely abandoned in later WarioWare titles, there are four games that two people can play on a single GBA. Each player uses a shoulder button as both cram in around the screen for hurdle races, block pushing, robo-vacuuming, and more.
The original WarioWare has become fairly hard to find. I had a tough time tracking it down just a year after its release. It’s a great place to start if you’ve never played WarioWare but if you also enjoy party games, you might as well pick up:
WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Game$! (GCN, April 2004)
Not only do you get the entire original game in single-player mode, Wario’s put his trademark twisted spin on the party game formula, pioneered by Nintendo’s own Mario Party.
Eight different game types are on offer, each more unique and bizarre than the last. Wobbly Bobbly introduces some new multiplayer microgames to determine a round’s winner. The losers sit upon increasingly wobbly piles of turtles, required to keep their balance between rounds.
Outta My Way allows players to move their character around the screen to block the view of an obviously peeved microgame player. Whoever can complete the most games with all the interference is deservedly the winner. All for One is the exact opposite, requiring players to shine a flashlight on a darkened screen while one person attempts to pass as many microgames as possible. Your end-game ranking lets you know how close your friends are.
But the best game of all is Listen to the Doctor. Combining classic microgame action with the embarrassing thrill of charades, the doctor tells one player what to do while completing a microgame. For example, a player may have to caress their controller or bark like a dog while trying to finish the game. The other players then rate them on how well they did by hitting the A button to clap. The one who garnered the most applause while playing is (usually) deemed the winner.
Like the original, there are also a handful of endless diversions like the familiar Jump Forever and One Controller Survival where up to 16 players pass a single controller around to complete increasingly faster microgames. This is THE party game of choice! Hilarious, goofy, and fun, it’s also justification for all the days I spent with the original WarioWare: practice.
With the added storage space of a GameCube disc, there are also a ton of extras. Completing microgames in single-player mode unlocks all kinds of goodies including bonus games and music videos. The game also tracks stats for up to 16 player profiles showing their single-player and multiplayer scores complete with skill levels and percentages. There will be no doubt who was the best player of the night in this game.
WarioWare is practically the definition of pick-up-and-play gaming and feels more at home on a handheld. But, if you prefer a console and a big TV or if you’ve got a lot gaming friends, Mega Party Game$! is where you should start. You’ll still get to enjoy the GBA original and all the extras more than cover the difference in price.
WarioWare: Touched! (DS, February 2005)
Sega’s Feel the Magic was the first to bring microgame nuttiness to the DS, but even the bizarre sexual innuendo couldn’t top WarioWare for long. Just four months after the DS’ debut, WarioWare was finally available in the US (it was a launch title in Japan and even outsold Super Mario DS).
With the touch screen, microphone, second screen and increased storage space over the GBA, it seems like Nintendo designed the DS just for Wario. Improved animation, sound, and voice are immediately obvious. Character’s themes now revolve around slicing, rubbing, dragging, twirling and using the microphone. Like it or not, there are even a few characters that forego all of the DS’ features for simple “Hit the A Button” games like previous WarioWares.
There are also 30+ extras to unlock ranging from full-fledged DS-enhanced games like Pyoro-T to novelties like a kitchen timer, bubble blower, and jiggly delicious flan! Collecting them all by topping high scores extends the game’s longevity but I still stopped playing this one way too soon. Perhaps it was the rush to get the game released that cut the roster of microgames well below 200. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but compared to the obsessive original, Touched! Didn’t hold up quite as well.
With all the DS’ features it’s well worth the asking price and still the ultimate showcase of the handheld’s hardware. It may not hold your attention as long as the original, but every moment spent with Touched! is a delight of wacky fun and surprising, creative gameplay.
WarioWare: Twisted! (GBA, May 2005)
Not to be outdone by its dual-screened pseudo-successor, the Game Boy Advance is home to the latest innovation in WarioWare gameplay: the gyro sensor. Be it practice for the Revolution’s controller or the result of a cheap deal on gyros, WarioWare Twisted! offers another unique microgame experience with so many goodies that it nearly outshines Touched!
When you get down to it, Twisted! is all about wiggling your GBA. Though you’d think that would stifle its creativity, here in WarioWare it’s a perfect fit, and the microgames are just as diverse as the rest of the titles. The microgame roster has also been boosted to over 200 and there are now 130+ “souvenirs” to find, by way of a capsule machine that presents itself every time you complete 20 or so microgames.
Like Touched!, the extras range from mundane and hilarious, like a handful of kaleidoscopes, to full fledged games. Wario Bike, for example, is a cracked out cocktail of Excitebike and Super Mario Bros. while Ski Jumping puts a new twist (oh yes, I said it!) on one of the oldest WarioWare microgames.
Unlike Yoshi Topsy-Turvy, the gyro sensor is expertly calibrated here and is almost always easy to use. While twisting through the menus you can hold the right shoulder button to freeze them in place while you reorient your hands. The sensor also recalibrates itself between microgames so if one feels off balance just keep it steady between games. Only some of the more precise games and boss stages grow frustrating. The enlarged cartridge also has a slight force feedback/rumble feature that lets you “feel” every twitch of the menus and many of the microgames.
Twisted! offers some of the best microgames so far. Nintendo fanatic 9-Volt’s boss stage is probably the highlight of the entire game. It presents classic Super Mario Bros. stages as if wrapped around a tube. You tilt to make Mario run; the more you tilt, the faster he goes. Use the A button to jump and cross while squashing goombas, picking up mushrooms, and making the leap to the flag. It’s downright ingenious! Another boss stage sees you holding your GBA completely upside down and yet another has you turning it sideways for a true-to-form top-down shooter.
Visually, things are pared down a bit from Touched! but the WarioWare style is so off-the-wall now that only a lack of animation gives away the humble GBA hardware. Nintendo has even found a way to cram in eighteen full length songs and more sound effects and voice than ever before.
It’s a WarioWare World
Honestly, it’s almost impossible to call a winner between these four. Obviously, the GameCube offering one-ups the original, but beyond that I’d have to recommend them all! Each has so many insane microgames to play and so much Nintendo fan service to revel in. If you’ve ever craved something different from your games, this is where it’s at. Short, simple, and silly; it’s the ultimate game series for this modern age of instant pleasure and increasingly shorter attention spans.
Where it’s Going
I don’t presume to know where the WarioWare series is headed next, but given how easily it adapts to new hardware I’d say a Revolution installment is guaranteed. And whether you approve of Nintendo’s radical new controller design or not, one thing is assured. The fabled Mario 128 may be spectacular, but it’ll take a WarioWare title to really show us what the groundbreaking hardware has to offer.