There are seven costumes our cackling hero wears in this curious, stylus-controlled, spiritual successor to the Wario Land series, and being the thief he is, has stolen all the costumes. It’s impossible to hate Wario as a villain, largely thanks to his starring roles in a host of top-notch adventures. A Wario platformer tends to be an excuse for Nintendo’s developers to really poke fun at one of their characters while experimenting with the kind of off-the-wall gameplay they wouldn’t dare inflict on Mario.
So the poor guy has been blessed with invincibility while simultaneously suffering injuries that might make a lesser sprite yearn for the Game Over screen. He’s been ridiculed as a greedy fool with questionable personal hygiene and his successes are often depicted as accidental (for example falling into a treasure-filled cave while picking his nose) but he’s firmly established as one of Nintendo’s most important characters. We love him. Everybody loves him. What’s not to love? This game, unfortunately.
As Wario-ish as it clearly is, Wario: Master of Disguise falls well short of the high standard set by the earlier mighty Wario Land games. While it’s certainly fairly good in places, a feeling of indifference isn’t the overriding emotion we wanted to be left with after blasting through as much of the import game as our Japanese skills would permit. The chief problem with it is a control system that hampers playability by thoroughly gratuitous use of the touch screen, in much the same way as Tingle RPG does.
Like the Wario Land titles, it’s a slow-paced platformer with puzzles and transformation abilities. Wario’s job is to plunder booty from a variety of locations, changing outfits almost continuously to make use of the special powers each one endows him with. For example, Spaceman Wario has a floaty, low-gravity jump and carries a laser gun for blasting enemies. Artist Wario, on the other hand, remains fixed to the spot by his easel, from where he can paint solid blocks for climbing on, or emergency exits for making a quick getaway. Doctor Wario sees the world through a scanner that shows invisible objects and hidden treasure.
It’s a similar sort of thing to Wario’s previous use of transforming hats and environmental hazards, except it happens far more frequently. And the bad thing about that is the way you have to use the touch screen to transform by drawing a shape directly on top of Wario. You’re constantly using the stylus, be it to swap costumes, direct the laser gun or activate some other kind of attacking move, and it gets very tiring indeed.
Say you have to make a block appear in a room, jump on it to get to a higher platform, then shoot a switch. That would involve drawing the shape to turn into Artist Wario, drawing a shape to make a block appear, drawing another shape to turn into the high-jumping Thief Wario, and yet another one to turn into the Spaceman.
We’re certain we haven’t completely missed the point of it all. There’s no obvious knack to it that makes it slightly less of a pain to play. It really is a platformer where you have to stop, start, stop, start all the way through.
Moreover, it’s a platform game that uses up on the D-pad for jumping, which is something we can’t recall enduring since the days of one-button Atari-style joysticks. None of the platform bits require too much precision, but they’re annoying in the extreme when you realize the reason you’ve been sliding your thumb around on that tiny D-pad, gallantly failing to hit a perfect diagonal in an effort to make a particular jump, is because you actually needed to stop and transform into a different costume.
Nintendo could quite easily have delivered the same game without any of the touch screen annoyances. They did it with New Super Mario Bros and they’ve done it plenty of times with the Wario Land titles, so there was no need to make such a gimmicky hash of it in this one. The controls really detract from what might have been a worthy successor to Wario’s Game Boy outings.