Seriously, Nintendo, make Wario immortal again. Please?
Ever since Wario stole the handheld spotlight on the Game Boy in Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, he has grown in popularity with his zany abilities, crude behavior, and stylish moustache. Wario reigned supreme on the Game Boy Color, greeting the platform with a color-enhanced re-release of Wario Land 2 and sending it off with the incredible Wario Land 3. While production quality has slipped in Wario's subsequent adventures, Suzak and Nintendo's Master of Disguise easily marks a low point in the anti-plumber's shady career.
The plot's premise is adequately preposterous for a Wario game. While watching television, Wario happens upon a show featuring Count Connoli, a rich but average fellow who can transform into the Silver Zephyr, a master thief, using his magical talking wand named Goodstyle. Wario thinks the Cannoli is a pushover, so he creates an absurd invention to enter the show and usurp the spotlight. By swiping Count Cannoli's wand, Wario gains the power to assume various personalities at will, along with their associated powers. With his newfound powers, Wario decides to hunt for an Ancient Egyptian treasure powerful enough to grant his wishes. Of course, the affluent Cannoli is far from amused with Wario's antics and chases down the brute in hopes of reclaiming his powers (and finding that ancient treasure).
This all sounds good, but in actuality the game's presentation is lacking. The game looks and sounds inferior to Wario Land 4, a first-generation Game Boy Advance title. Lazy (even recycled) CG graphics decorate the menu, mostly generic music barely accompanies cliché environments, and Flash-quality animations further cheapen the experience. What's worse, Master of Disguise introduces dialog within the levels, bringing the game to a halt to further plot or provide clues. While Wario has always been more talkative than other Nintendo stars, this banter is rarely of any note, and the game's use of uninspired emoticons (think Golden Sun) instead of, you know, sprite animation, completely clashes with Wario's persona.
Of course, I would let the amateurish presentation slide if the game were any fun. You control Wario with the D-pad (or face buttons) and touch screen, using the D-pad to move, jump, and climb. Drawing gestures allows the player to switch among unlocked disguises, which in turn have their own touch-based attacks or special abilities. Ironically, Wario's default disguise, Thief Wario, seems to be a significant handicap: he cannot butt-stomp or perform his signature ramming charge. Instead, he can sort of shove himself forward briefly with a tap on the screen to pummel baddies. This disconnect with prior games featuring the yellow brute is the first of many. While the disguises are upgraded over time with more moves, they are still limited in ability, and having to swap among them often ruins the game's pace. For example, Arty Wario is frequently necessary to create blocks on which Wario can stand. However, this means the player must:
- Stop (since Arty Wario cannot move at all)
- Draw the Arty Wario gesture (a rectangle ending in one diagonal line)
- Draw one or more blocks (draw a box)
- Draw the Thief Wario gesture (a check mark)
Of course, most likely you'll draw the box poorly or in the wrong spot on your first try, so you'll have to spend more time as a crippled, starving artist. And while most of the disguise gestures are recognized accurately, the game is very stubborn with one of the later disguises (Dragon Wario), possibly because the stylus absolutely must begin on Wario (and not next to him). The treasure chests are also particularly cheap. Instead of having to collect a key or perform some special task to open the chest, Wario must merely stand in front of the chest and complete one of eight shallow Wario Ware rejects picked at random. If you fail, you can simply try again at another random selection.
Levels are designed around Wario's various powers, but not through terribly clever means. You may need to use Sparky Wario to light up a dark room or Genius Wario to see hidden platforms, but the levels only provide challenge in the sense that they're mini labyrinths. Each level has two sides connected via doors (The Goonies II, anyone?), and you must often enter Side B to reach an area of Side A. It can be frustratingly unclear where you must go next: for example, you may need to collect an item or hit a switch somewhere but may not know that because you didn't enter the correct room first. Granted, Wario Land games have always had a help-yourself exploratory attitude, but Master of Disguise's levels are not particularly fun to traverse thanks to unsatisfying combat and almost nonexistent platforming. Hell, even Wario World had more satisfying level design than this game, and it was a brawler.
Boss battles are perhaps the only enjoyable portions of the game. Aside from the uncharacteristically decent music, bosses require precise use of Wario's various disguises. While not all that difficult, landing a hit is often a multi-stage process of exposing and then exploiting a weakness. While the imperfect gesture controls sometimes muck things up, you will briefly forget Master of Disguise's terrible flaws during these fights, demonstrating that the game could have been much better.
It is frustrating to see Nintendo's once-cherished handheld superstars so neglected. It's great that Nintendo is working with third party developers, but not if Master of Disguise and Kirby Squeak Squad are the results. While Master of Disguise may look like a Wario platformer on the surface, the game is plagued by terrible pacing, obfuscated level design, and unsatisfying controls. If you're not going to do a Wario game right, Nintendo, don't do it at all.