Wario, who first appeared in the 1992 Game Boy game Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, is like the opposite of perennial protagonist Mario: he's greedy, lazy, and out only for himself. That said, he's been the star of some pretty entertaining games - most famously, perhaps, the WarioWare series of mini / micro-game collections.
On the surface, Game & Wario resembles WarioWare; it is, after all, a collection of smaller games that are linked together with an outlandish "plot" (of sorts), amusing cartoon cutscenes, and simple, approachable gameplay. Once you play, however, you quickly realize that the games in this collection are much, much deeper than those usually associated with the Mushroom Kingdom's most outlandish antagonist.
The title, whose name comes from a classic series of handheld LCD games released by Nintendo in the 80s, is loosely based on Wario's attempts to make lots of money by releasing games for a new multi-screen console which - inside this game, at least - is outlandishly successful and something everyone in the land desires.
These games might exist to suit Wario's virtual designs, but in reality they're rather more successful at serving Nintendo. Why? Well, in addition to being a great deal of fun, they're the best possible demonstration yet of what the Wii U is capable of - better even than NintendoLand, which did an otherwise admirable job.
Each game addresses the interconnected, dual-screen nature of Nintendo's console head-on, leveraging the unique display combination in all sorts of different ways. In one, simply called Camera, you need to look around your TV for people to take pictures of and then - using the much zoomed-in view on the GamePad - actually take photos like you're wielding a camera. If you've ever played the excellent Silent Scope arcade game, you'll have an idea of what to expect; it feels natural, makes sense, and immediately starts you thinking about other possible ideas for the concept.
Another great - and very different - example is Pirate. Here, there are three pirate ships (captained simultaneously by outrageous Captain Wario, no less) and an airship, which will take turns to fire arrows at you. In time to the music, you must raise your GamePad to block incoming projectiles, as Wario calls them out. If you've played Space Channel 5, you'll feel right at home with the rhythm of the proceedings, but the GamePad integration takes the concept to a whole new level. Eventually, you're asked to dance along with the captain, and your enthusiasm is judged in combination with your accuracy; how it knows, who can tell? But it sure does; I couldn't fault it's ability to tell if I was really getting stuck in or just trying to muddle through while in my armchair.
The best example, though, is an outstanding game called - fittingly - Gamer. In it, you're trying to continue to play your favorite Game & Watch-style handheld despite the fact you're supposed to be in bed asleep. The way it works is simple; you must play the minigame on your GamePad, but all the while you also need to keep an eye on the TV, which displays your bedroom. Your mother is going to pop her head in from time to time, and if she catches you playing, it's game over. The combination of trying to get a high score / not die in the GamePad game (which plays a kind of WarioWare microgame collection), while all the while avoiding your mother's random checkups (by pulling on the GamePad's triggers to hide under the covers) is nothing short of genius, and is thrilling to experience.
While great fun in singleplayer (and very deep - each game you unlock has many different layers to discover in repeated plays), it opens up still further in multiplayer - although there are just four games to play in this mode, compared to twelve when flying solo. The multiplayer titles include a great pictionary-like game called Sketch, an asynchronous mode in which observing players must attempt to determine which of the numerous on-screen characters is played by the person with the GamePad, a rhythm battle game, and one in which you must fling things onto a target.
A third mode lets you challenge (and be challenged by) other Game & Wario players via Miiverse. You must either pose a challenge word or draw something inspired by someone else's word; your drawing (which you only have a few seconds to craft) is then automatically posted on Miiverse for everyone else to either enjoy (if you're not me) or mock endlessly (yeah, that's my category.)
With the focus of console gamers firmly locked on the next-gen consoles coming out later this year, it's easy to forget that more horsepower does not automatically translate into a better looking game. Game & Wario's a timely reminder that art is not measured in megahertz; it looks, quite simply, spectacular; Nintendo's artists have done amazing things here, with bright, clear imagery that's beautiful to behold and packed with humor. In turn, the soundscape of the title, full of whimsy and nostalgia, ably backs up the visual panache to create a presentation package that just oozes flair and polish.
None of which would mean anything were the core (the game itself) not a joy to play. Fortunately, the game design more than backs up the front end spit and polish, with not a single fizzer in any of the title's many and various components. Hell, even the game's credits are funny!
It would be easy to assume that, given the Wii U's troubles, a recommendation that all Wii U owners pick this one up would be coming from a place of desperation rather than legitimate critical appraisal. Rest assured, though, that even if you have all of the consoles and a gaming PC, each with a big backlog, Game & Wario still deserves a spot in your collection (the spot inside your switched-on console.)
While not universally successful (depending on taste, as there's a lot of variety in the game styles), it still leaves a great impression in your mind and an enduring desire to play more - particularly if you're obsessed with Nintendo history or just like the sound of a game that's built around "fun" rather than "character exposition" or some other similarly pseudo cinematic nonsense. Game & Wario's a game, a label it wears proudly in its name, and it delivers entertainment in spades. Get it.
Game & Wario
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Click here to buy Game & Wario.