Shake It and Bake
Let me start this off by saying that I have always loved just about any game with Wario in the starring role. Of course I like the WarioWare games, but I love the Wario Land platformers even more. Starting off on the Game Boy in 1994 and continuing through to the launch of the Game Boy Advance in 2001, all four Wario Land games pushed the audiovisual limits of Nintendo’s handheld hardware while remaining consistently well-designed, incredibly unique, and always quirky. They all deserve to be ranked among the best platformers ever made, despite the fact that they are handheld games.
So it is with great disappointment that I have to admit the series’ newest installment, as well as its first console entry, Wario Land Shake It!, just doesn’t live up to Wario’s past glories. Though part of this may be nostalgia speaking, as I haven’t touched the previous titles in many years, I really didn’t have quite as much of a good time with Shake It! as I did with the other games. That said, the game is still a fine platform game in its own right. It’s not even close to being one of the best platformers on the Wii, not by a longshot. But if you’re looking for some Wii Wario action, Shake It! will do the job.
The premise of the game is simple. Wario is tasked to enter the “Shake Dimension” to rescue its queen from a greedy pirate. At first, he is reluctant; wanting no part in having to rescue some damsel in distress in a world he hardly knows anything about or cares for. But when he hears that there’s great treasure in the Shake Dimension, he immediately sets any plans he had aside (read: none), and decides to take on the job.
This setup informs the gameplay, as the entire goal of Wario Land Shake It! isn’t really to rescue the queen so much as it is to collect as much treasure as you possibly can in each stage. The enemies, while harmful, merely exist to slow you down, but can also be used in many of the game’s puzzles to reach greater stores of treasure that are otherwise impossible for Wario to reach on his own. Before leaving each stage, you must rescue a trapped Merfle, one of the queen’s subjects. After you rescue the Merfle, you must make a mad dash back to the entrance of the stage to complete it, often with some minor map changes on the way back to keep things interesting. Indeed, if you do die at all during a main stage, it is because you failed to reach the exit on time. The entire game feels very reminiscent of Wario Land 4, with Wario having tons of hearts, getting sucked into a portal of some kind when starting and finishing a level, and having to collect a supernatural/magical being before heading to the exit. Even the opening tutorial level is very similar, using background signs to quickly and intuitively communicate Wario’s controls and skillset to the player.
The title of the game refers to not only the world which Wario travels through, but also one of its core mechanics. This installment of Wario Land incorporates the Wii’s motion controls into the mix, and more specifically, shaking. When Wario grabs a coin sack, the player must shake the remote repeatedly to make coins fly out of it. If you want to maximize the amount of coins that you earn out of a sack, shake it in a tight corridor so that you’ll catch all of the coins. Wario can also shake enemies to pick up onions, which restore his hearts by one. Besides shaking, the motion controls are also used to aim when throwing an object, ride a sort of cable-wheel cart, and even control a submarine.
In the submarine levels, you tilt the controller to angle the submarine, and press the d-pad forward or backward to move in those directions. Overall, it works fairly well, though these levels can be a challenge to score well on, since they’ll need to be replayed several times to memorize the best routes. Overall, the gameplay is fairly diverse in Shake It!, making extensive, yet unforced use of the Wii remote’s motion sensors. These are motion controls I think even motion-averse gamers can get behind.
The game’s map takes place on an anicient globe with five continents to explore, each with a boss at the end. A player could easily blitz through the entire campaign in just a matter of about 4-5 hours. While the game may seem short, a really dedicated player could easily spend double, even triple that amount on Shake It! due to the game’s ridiculous level of replay value. Each level has multiple objectives to complete, including finding all treasures and completing missions. Missions are various objectives that the player can attempt to complete. Most levels have some sort of high score requirement that can be met, requiring the player to literally search every last nook and cranny of a stage and making sure that no coin, great or small, gets away from Wario’s fat pockets. Another objective type involves racing back to the entrance in the fastest time possible, which usually requires a perfectly timed series of dashes and jumps as well as extensive level memorization. Then, there are also secret levels to find, each also containing their own objectives like the main stages. It’s easy to beat Shake It! with your only potential troubles being some nasty boss fights near the end of the game, but to truly master it will take even the most dedicated player patience and skill. The missions and objectives make this arguably the hardest game in the entire Wario Land series, which is much appreciated by longtime fans such as me.
The game’s art style is very attractive. The graphics are hand-drawn and extremely colorful, with the entire game looking like an interactive anime tv show. The menus are slick, well designed, and attractive to look at, giving the game a nice, polished feel down to its interface. The only thing that bothered me about the art was that everything had a strange black outline surrounding it, which I thought looked quite odd for the entirety of the game. The anime-styled art direction is no coincidence, since Shake It’s development was supervised by Production I.G. , a studio known for several popular animes. While they were mainly responsible for the game’s opening and closing cutscenes, I’m sure they had a hand on the in-game art as well. Shake It! doesn’t come close to the similar hand-drawn look of Rayman Origins, but it’s still a fairly nice looking game overall.
The game is simply much too derivative of Wario Land 4. In fact, Shake It! is so close to Wario Land 4, that it practically feels like a pixel-for-pixel remake at times. One of the things that makes Wario Land so great is that it experiments and changes radically with each new game released. Not Shake It! The shake gameplay, while functional and somewhat fun, isn’t really enough to build an entire game around and call it “new”. Sure, there are SOME other new elements, like the fact that Wario can only dash using certain tube objects, the addition of secret stages and missions, and that finding jewel pieces is no longer a requirement. However, most, if not all of them don’t really improve the already-solid Wario Land 4 experience.
The game also seriously de-emphasizes what has always been one of my favorite things about the series: Wario’s transformations. Wario Lands II-IV gleefully subverted video clichés by having Wario change into a variety of different, freaky forms instead of taking damage when certain enemies attacked him. The player would then have to use these forms to navigate the environment and solve puzzles, most of which could only be navigated with the right form. While transformations are still in Shake It!, there are only two for the entire game: Burning Wario and Snow Wario. Even worse, these transformations are only used very sparingly throughout the course of the adventure.
Even worse is that Shake It! fails to take advantage of the hardware its running on. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in this game, gameplay, graphics, or sound, could have easily been done on the Game Boy Advance 11 years ago. Granted, the game is much bigger than any previous Wario Land, even the massive Wario Land II, but other than being able to fit more content onto a disc, there is simply no reason for this game to be on the Wii. It’s not as if the graphics are so mindblowingly amazing that they just had to be on a console, either. The game has a great visual style, but for some strange and inexplicable reason, it only runs in 4:3 aspect ratio. If you run Shake It! in 16 : 9, you’ll get an ugly brown border around the parts of the screen not taken up by the game in favor of some light information informing you of what missions you can still complete and any treasures you have found. This is the ONLY Wii game I have played which possesses this annoying drawback. Why did Good-Feel get so lazy with the graphics?
Of everything that makes Wario Land great; the music suffers the most in Shake It! What used to be quirky, mischevious, mysterious, catchy, even borderline avant-garde composition has been replaced with some of the most boring elevator music I have ever heard in a Nintendo published title. I seriously hate to use the term “bland” when describing music, but this jazz-pop soundtrack that’s seriously lacking in both jazziness and poppiness deserves it completely. Other than the main menu theme, which I can remember simply because I heard it so many times while playing, I can hardly recall even a single tune from Shake It! If you collect all of the treasures and missions in a single level, which is not easy most of the time, you unlock the undoubtedly mediocre soundtrack for that level. It’s too much gameplay hassle for such a pitiful reward.
The Bottom Line
Wario Land Shake It! is ultimately a decent platformer and not much more. It’s definitely a Wario Land game, but it is almost certainly the weakest. No doubt giving Wario a 7 year layoff making microgames made Wario lazy when it was time to head out on a real adventure once again. Still, Shake It! is definitely one of the better titles on a system that’s not exactly filled to the brim with quality software. If you like platformers, and especially Wario, be sure to snap it up before Wii U arrives.