It's no secret that Nintendo's E3 presence left a bitter taste in many a gamers' mouth. Cries of "abandoning their audience" were in ample supply and the media, GamesRadar included, couldn't spit enough venom at the company's press conference, which they've now admitted was a misstep. Where were the games for gamers, for the people who've happily trumpeted Nintendo even while the GameCube flag was fading?
Would you believe there's a game, already out in Japan and about to land in the US, that fills this hardcore gap so perfectly we can't fathom why it wasn't a headliner at E3? By our reckoning there are five prominent reasons why every gamer, casual, hardcore or whatever, will love Wario Land: Shake It!
Adios, Miis. Bye-bye, polygons; Shake It! ignores all modern conventions and sticks to SNES sensibilities. It's all about running, jumping, finding secret paths, discovering the fastest way to get through each level and tackling an over-the-top boss, all from a side-on 2D perspective. Any seasoned gamer worth his Fire Flowers knows what this means when it comes from Nintendo's watchful eye - instant enjoyment for everyone in the room.
On top of traditional Mario-style platforming, where you have to make tricky, perfectly timed leaps or die instantly (just how we like it), Shake It! blends elements of two other SNES classics - Yoshi's Island and Kirby Super Star - that make it even more desirable. Wario can grab enemies and throw them at various angles with the same interface seen in Island, and the overall structure of the game is lifted from The Great Offensive, one of the many games included in Super Star.
There's a reason Nintendo's so well known, and it's games like the original Super Mario Bros. that got them where they are today. Everyone could hop in and enjoy it even without goofy avatars or tacked-on motion controls - no reason the same can't happen with this latest old-school offering.
Hm, did we mention "tacked-on" motion controls? Well, it's true Shake It! mixes in some waggle with its run-and-jump buttons (no Nunchuk though), but they're worked in so well they genuinely enhance the experience. Grab an enemy and hold the 1 button to bring up Wario's aiming bar, then tilt the remote back and forth to move the arrow. This lets you aim up and down while using the d-pad to change direction.
There's more than tilting, of course - with a name like "Shake It!" there would have to, um, be a lot of shaking, yes? So, shaking while standing pounds a hammer that makes loose items either fall or shoot upward; shaking while holding an item bag or enemy makes Wario jolt the living crap out of it, sending a shower of coins or health in all directions. The sheer amount of coinage that blasts from the bags is pure eye candy, with countless sprites shooting all over the place.
The motion controls are subtle, helpful bits without completely dominating the gameplay. A good compromise that we'd like to see more of in future backward-looking Wii titles.
We will go to our collective grave believing 2D animation, done properly, is far more impressive than all the flip-flop terabilly polygon shaders in the world. Look at games like Odinsphere or GrimGrimoire to see the potential. Shake It!, despite only running in 480p, looks damn good, and to the average eye it probably looks just as crisp as any 2D XBLA game. Wario's loaded with tons of hand-drawn animations, all of which create a vibrant, lively game world instead of brown, brown and more brown. Check it:
Everyone knows Nintendo almost had a CD add-on for the SNES. After several hours of Shake It!, we're stupidly excited to say this feels like a game that would have become a major hit for the botched SNES CD. The graphics and sound are dripping with 16-bit fluff yet flow so beautifully there's no way a SNES cart could have contained it all. It just feels like it should have been a CD launch game. Nintendo even went so far as to provide this clip showing off some of the finer animated touches:
Granted, some might think saying Nintendo's latest Wii game would make a great SNES title is an insult, but when you consider most polls show the SNES as the best console of all time, hell, it's a comparison anyone should want.
Outside of Fire Emblem and most recently Smash Bros. Brawl, Nintendo stays far, far away from elaborate cutscenes. Metroid dabbles, Mario Galaxy had a few throwaways, but by and large they're the last place you'll go for cinematic production values. Wario Land doesn't stray far from the "gameplay first" mantra, though it does begin with an expertly crafted cutscene from Production I. G, the studio that gifted Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell to the world.
It's nowhere near on par with GITS, but that's not the goal - it's crisp, clean and stylized animation that brings Wario to life in a new way. No, it doesn't make the game more fun to play, but it is nice to see Nintendo taking more advantage of the disc space.
See those bars down the side? Those are your sub-goals for each level and hidden treasures to discover. Yeah, you could just plow through the game, beat every boss and be on your way, but knowing there are unseen paths and items lurking, not to mention challenges just waiting to be beaten, why would you want to?
The replay value is compulsively strong, making us go back and try the same levels over and over, trying to figure out how to beat a stage without falling in any water, or being hit, or with 10,000 coins, or escape the level with two minutes still on the clock. If you're an Achievement whore, this is one Wii game you might want to check out.
Scratch that - everyone should check it out, because it's a hand-drawn, 2D platformer from the goddam kings of 2D platformers. Make your preferences known, gamers - pick it up and we might see more like this, maybe even, gasp, a new sprite-based Mario.
Hear more about this article in TalkRadar.
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