Review: Wario Land: Shake It!

Months after E3 has passed, people are still wondering why Nintendo’s press conference didn’t touch on any of the great traditional games coming to their platforms. Think about it: the DS has Square’s RPGs, Sonic Chronicles, Metal Slug 7, and Kirby Super Star Ultra, among other things. On the Wii, you’ve got the likes of Samba de Amigo, Mega Man 9, de Blob, FaceBreaker: K.O. Party, The Conduit, Sonic Unleashed, and the big daddy of new platformers which we’re about to talk about right now: Wario Land: Shake It!

Had the company dedicated just a little bit of time to touching on these, there wouldn’t be nearly as much ire being projected against Nintendo by the core gamer fanbase as there is right now. There are still a great many reasons for people who don’t just play party games to power up their little white boxes, and this game is one of them.

Boy, is it ever one of them. Shake It! (much like the recent release of Bionic Commando: Rearmed) is proof that 2D platforming isn’t dead, and furthermore, that the genre hardly needs to be exiled to portable systems or scaled-down graphically in order to remain viable or exciting. All it takes is a little work, a publisher with some faith in the product, and some down-home good game design, all of which this game has in spades.

The plot involves Wario being summoned by the subject of an alternate-universe kingdom where there’s a Queen In Peril™ to be saved, an evil despot to defeat, and a whole lot of gold to be had. Not caring so much about the former, but definitely caring about the latter, Wario teams up with former rival Captain Syrup to travel to the Shake Dimension and do what he does best.

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If you’ve played any non-WarioWare Wario title before, even just one (my back catalogue of experience merely holds the original Game Boy Wario Land, and the sorely underrated GameCube Wario World), Shake It! will feel just like slipping back into a pair of old, comfortable shoes. Even if you haven’t, the tutorial stage is so well-done that you’ll know everything you need to in five minutes flat. As Wario, you’ll engage in Mario-style platforming, but you’ll also throw your weight around the place; from charging into enemies, performing massive butt-drops, and wrestling with opponents, you’ll do whatever it takes to get the loot, and most likely have an evil grin on your face doing so the entire time.

The big hook of Shake It! is, of course, to be able to shake the Wii Remote (held sideways, NES-style) in order to make Wario perform all sorts of actions. From swinging on bars to launch himself at enemies, to shaking moneybags and the enemies themselves loose of their coinage, the mechanic is implemented well, and really allows you to feel the brutal power that is Wario firsthand. Only slightly less-well-implemented are the tilting mechanisms: sometimes you’ll have to steer vehicles, swing on ropes, or toss enemies and objects (for the record, the way tossing is implemented, Nintendo’s already come up with a perfect mechanic for a new Yoshi’s Island title) by tilting the Wii Remote back and forth.

It certainly works well enough, but there are times when you’ll wish to the heavens that the motion controls weren’t mandatory, because sometimes you end up sacrificing precision. Still, the motion-usage in this game is light-years ahead of most other Wii titles—and even the tilting has its Awesome™ moments, such as the Subwarine levels, where Wario decides to invade the Shake Dimension’s waters in a nod to games like In the Hunt. The motion controls breathe new life into a very old genre wherever it can.

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Speaking of breathing new life into a genre: it’s been said over and over again in previews, but the art direction in this title is astounding. The well-done anime cutscenes are one thing, but when the entire game uses a meticulously hand-drawn style that goes overboard on the animation frames and air-brushed backgrounds, you have a recipe for greatness. What you haven’t heard to death, however, is how the soundtrack for this game matches the visuals in terms of quality. Every tune fits the stage being played, and all of them are varied and dangerously catchy. As usual, Wario himself is also a chatterbox, eliciting grunts of satisfaction, anger, frustration and more whenever he grabs some cash, shakes a helpless enemy, or takes a hit. The whole thing comes together in an aesthetic package that is rarely witnessed in 2D videogaming, especially nowadays.

The game’s anything but shallow eye and ear candy, though: even more inventive are the bosses and the stage structure. In this way, the game is very reminiscent of Sonic and the Secret Rings. Each stage contains multiple optional objectives that will prove your worth as a player (involving defeating/not defeating enemies, avoiding certain traps, etc.), and three treasures to collect. Gather and master, and you’ll gain percentage rankings, and fat stacks o’ cash. There are also secrets hidden throughout stages that will unlock new, super-tough levels that really test out the game engine, and your skill in working within it. Replay is thus inevitable; it’s almost impossible to ignore the curiosity that ensues when you first accidentally uncover a secret stage, and the extra objectives are always fair enough to make you say, “one more try,” if you happen to miss them. It’s also impossible to accomplish every single stage objective in a single run-through. As for the bosses, they’re somewhat easy, but fighting them is never dull. Their attack/defense patterns and their weak spots change with every hit, making sure that they’re less rote and more fun.

There’s really only one gripe I have with this game, and even then, it’s coming from a perfectionist’s perspective. Shake It!’s stages provide several challenges that require ultra-precise platforming; the type more suited to a Mario game. However, we’re controlling Wario, who, true to character, is fat, flops around, and has very quirky momentum. Frustration is imminent when situations that require pinpoint precision pop up, and the result is exactly what you’d think. Lost lives and failed objectives will happen, at the exact moment you won’t want them to. They’ll also happen just frequently enough to be annoying, and the aforementioned motion controls only compound this issue at times. Practice, repetition and memorization do help—a lot—but there are times when you’ll feel you’ve just been robbed, especially since failing many challenges means an immediate stage restart. Thus, due to occasional feelings of helplessness, the game loses a tick off of my rating, and you, the reader, have been amply warned.

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Closing Comments:

Fortunately, the highs of Shake It! completely overshadow the lows. I’m in love with it, and if you’ve ever played a sidescroller before, odds are you will be as well. I certainly don’t possess the clairvoyance to be able to predict whether this game will be one of the Wii’s runaway hits or a sleeper. What I do know that this is a great title for introducing traditional video games to people who normally play only the Wii’s novelty motion-controlled fare. It really hits the sweet spot that few games do: it’s forgiving enough for people who like simple, easygoing games to finish, but challenging enough for completionists to work at for days, even weeks on end. Do yourself a favor and snatch this one up.

Version Reviewed: Wii