Game & Wario’s perplexing identity crisis

Jose Cardoso August 16, 2013 - 1:27 pm

Though featuring series staples, Game & Wario is no WarioWare – but you probably knew that already. Taken as its own entity, the collection is equally daring, restrained and bizarre, but hampered by communication in relation to razzle-dazzle objectives, it remains confused as to its own identity.

Game & Wario Feature image 3A

It was evident in the early stages, but it’s now become accepted that a lack of understanding – and you might even say poor education work – has hampered the Wii U’s ability to forge momentum among those outside Nintendo’s loyal consumer base. Part of the reason why Nintendo Land took the direction it did was so it could help dispel notions of the Wii U being this confusing, enigmatic experiment.

What of Game & Wario, then? Is it too bent on derailing negative or uninformed viewpoints on the system? More than half a year after the system’s launch, you’d hope for a more aggressive strategy, but all the same, Game & Wario is a highly intriguing departure, with questions aplenty in response to its direction.

Why the shift from split-second, reflex-heavy microgames to more drawn-out, developed mini-games?

Why the emphasis on trying to convince the “one” over an entire group?

And why align itself with Game & Watch, as though it were in some way faddish?

These are questions that collectively paint Game & Wario as an off-shoot from anything previously done under the WarioWare name, but they also prove puzzling in relation to the game’s role at this stage in the Wii U’s life.

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Compare its contrast in vision to that of forerunner title Nintendo Land. Whereas the point of Nintendo Land was to actively demonstrate asymmetrical gameplay first, and solo amusement second, Game & Wario almost exclusively zeroes in on educating with function in mind and on a singular level.

Nintendo Land prospered because of the vibrant pull existing in its more inventive executions; its long-term mobility born from a dose of simplicity and an even larger helping of hidden depth. These are qualities not typically associated with the WarioWare brand.

Nevertheless, due to the series’ funky, fresh, and often irresistible nature in a social setting, Game & Wario seemed best-suited to mend any loose ends. If only it weren’t battling its own set of visibly unruly insecurities.

Game and watch me fumble

Game & Wario’s desire to be “buddy buddy” with the Game & Watch series appears to be in the hopes of dissolving any complexity associated with its activities. That much can be seen in how each offering is titled.

Each iteration in the Game & Watch line was to have respective objectives or roles encapsulated in a single word or two. In doing so, there was no deciphering or contemplation necessary about your task or position – even the “how” was quickly answered upon boot-up. They stood alone in this respect. Each entry also abided by a set model for gameplay variation (Game and Game B), which may not necessarily have referred to increased difficulty, but could also have involved a change in pace, tools, or destination points.

Game & Wario, however, has misled itself, trying to mimic the same model but with little consistency. While the first three games – Shutter, Arrow, and Ski – are the most self-explanatory, the lines get blurred the deeper you get into the package. And on the matter of alternate offerings, while some good is accomplished by means of an endless component or an added limitation, the only changes made in a considerable number of these are new courses, and this does little to shape the appeal over the long-term.

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Why this matters when the heavy referencing would be lost anyway on its main audience is because – beyond the “inspiration” – shaky ground remains the by-product when direction interferes with the balance and cohesion of the whole. And the uncertain mish-mash we see Game & Wario has become is certainly a strong reflection of this.

Suspicions that Nintendo stuck a bunch of tech demos across a two-year term into one package of vague connection are warranted, as that is precisely what defines Game & Wario’s body of work. Portions of the game began life as early prototypes showcasing the Wii U GamePad at E3 2011 when the system was first unveiled, hence why there’s such a strong distinction of experimental-focused gameplay. And the original plan was for Game & Wario to be pre-installed on the system, which explains why the attempt to unite the offerings and form an identity is so lopsided.

Still, conditions surrounding early production don’t account for the damaged appeal of the final product and its inability to achieve solid footing. And it most certainly doesn’t explain the short-lived and ill-advised activities overshadowing the sprinklings of originality.

Though not advanced, stylus-based Patchwork gives Picross a run for its money in the field of deceptively challenging puzzlers arranged by grid format. Yet, what business does it have here in a collection that purposes to establish the system’s more unique conventions?

Design has you drawing lines and shapes to specifications – a more comfortable fit for Big Brain Academy. Here, it’s half-baked filler at best.

Pirates – what should be one of the shining stars – crumbles over faulty technical execution. Kung Fu’s irksome play method doesn’t allow the good ideas of two different perspectives to shine forth. And then there’s Ashley, the worst of the bunch, which simply establishes use of the controller’s motion capabilities but does so to borderline poor translation.

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Whether because of technical execution not working in unison or an honest lack of creativity, these fail to deliver as effective GamePad showcases. The more daring executions seen in Gamer, Shutter, Taxi, and Fruit all work well as isolated portions for showing off the versatility of the GamePad, but they also carry the entire package. Without them, Game & Wario would be in woeful need of originality.

Divide and flounder

Game & Wario does a lot of undercutting for its arcade-driven umbrella to stay afloat, but in its indecisive struggle to maintain its identity through the model it uses as inspiration, there’s a startling neglect on the development team’s part to infuse every aspect with both accessibility and innovation, as per the game’s goals as a demonstrative showcase.

The frank truth is that much of the lessons on how the GamePad can function are taught through Nintendo Land’s festivities under similar contexts, except Nintendo Land does a far better job of it, and with less technical and directional mishaps. It also holds out healthy prospects and continued thrills for returning players.

Game & Wario’s offerings would’ve garnered more support if it had been supplied through a more convincing route – pre-installed, as was the plan – and served as a closer supplement to Nintendo Land at system launch. It would’ve made for better definition, the dubious inclusions wouldn’t have made it past the conceptual stage, and then that pressure for something “unified” wouldn’t have existed to later lead to the tactless, thrown-together package now being offered. But since that isn’t what happened, and I don’t foresee Nintendo pulling a TANK! TANK! TANK! anytime soon, it looks like we’re back where we started with the Wii U needing a more persuasive, eloquent contender.

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