Time Extend: WarioWare: Smooth Moves

WarioWare Smooth Moves

We’ve been around these parts before. Readers will recall our look back at the original Made In Wario, a GBA game about what happens when a player presses ‘A’. It was a package whose focus on the nuts and bolts of interaction – what makes games work – blossomed into inventive mini‑essays on what we’ve been doing with our fingers since forever. WarioWare: Smooth Moves is different. Its DS predecessor, WarioWare: Touched!, was the first in the series to be used as proof-of-concept – showcasing a new system’s controls in the hope other developers might take the ideas and run with them. Touched! was good fun, but a touchscreen is always a touchscreen. No matter what it shows, you’re performing similar gestures in a small space: snip, pull, slice, match, solve – its games were grouped so that you were doing fundamentally the same thing over and over. The magic of WarioWare is that you never resent the repetition – each slice, greedily devoured, is served up again and again with the tiniest adjustments that change your interaction – and it’s where Touched! just falls short.

Smooth Moves, by contrast, fizzes with ideas for Wii control, because it was the only game close to launch that could. Twilight Princess’s GameCube origins meant it couldn’t stray too far from the Zelda formula, Wii Sports was about refining five control schemes to perfection, and Wii Play was designed as a gentle introduction. The Wii Remote can move anywhere around you, be held in any way you can think of, and be swung wildly or tilted imperceptibly, but in all the time since launch, it seems like WarioWare’s the only game that noticed. Hold it to your nose, on your head, at your hip, on your palm, put it on the floor or just drop it.

A defining characteristic of WarioWare is nostalgia. So Smooth Moves, introducing a revolutionary console, is in the worst situation possible: there are no precedents. The controller antics obscure it, but the proof-of-concept burden weighs much more heavily than it ever did for Touched! For the first time, WarioWare can’t deliver something old as something new. Smooth Moves is forced to reinterpret the past, and imagine possible futures.

It’s not about deconstruction any more. Smooth Moves is about reconstruction, returning to those nuts and bolts Wario had so gleefully examined and tossed into his basket, and wondering what new uses could be found – which, in some cases, means building entire games for them. Nowadays we’re all a little waggle-fatigued, but Smooth Moves is about goofy precision rather than random waving. Its games tread the line between the Remote’s tilt sensor and pointing capabilities, neatly alternating and often using both.

The corollary is that controls now have to be explained. Contrary to WarioWare’s quickfire style, the series’ one-word instructions are not up to the task of detailing your movement as well as outlining Smooth Moves’ challenges. The wry solution is etiquette. The Wii Remote is referred to as the “Form Baton” and an American voiceover explains each style with droll metaphor before it’s used: you hold it like an umbrella “with the quiet dignity of a circus clown in the rain”. For the Chauffeur pose, you hold the Remote firmly at both ends, and “as the Form Baton turns, so too the Earth and all upon it, from liver to liveryman”.

This awareness of the physical object is central to Smooth Moves. Nintendo’s concern that players wear the wrist strap can feel preachy even though it’s genuine, but Smooth Moves inserts a game for which you require the tether. “Drop it!” If you’re wearing the strap, pass. If not, oops.

The games are gleefully daft in their fit with the Remote poses. Drink a glass of juice using the Umbrella pose, careful not to go too quickly and spill it. Head a football with the Mohawk, do a hula dance with The Big Cheese, and tilt balls down holes with The Waiter. Aesthetically, it carries on the patchwork brilliance of the series, which has always been visually underrated, taking you from salarymen to cheerleading lions, from pencil sketch to polygon to 3D afro.

The standard format holds for the initial stages, a trek through themed minigame collections using one or two particular styles. Wario’s own supporting cast returns for bizarre cameos (Jimmy and his brother Billy are a particular highlight) that bring their own styles; if you’ve ever wanted to hear Nintendo’s version of schmaltzy American radio, listen to Tomorrow Hill on YouTube. And when it’s time for this part of the game to bow out, it does so in rare style – asking for nothing less than a full dance-off that ends with striking Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever pose.

But WarioWare: Smooth Moves has a secret beyond this – six secrets, in fact. There are ‘big’ games waiting to be unlocked in Diamond City, and each does what the rest of Smooth Moves doesn’t. They spend time with the good old days, and remake them in Wii’s image.

The earliest game genres involved bat-and-ball mechanics, and Tower Tennis plucks Breakout’s idea of destructible blocks from this lineage, the Wii Remote twist arriving in the form of a tilt-controlled paddle. Bounce the ball as far up the tower as you can, breaking the bricks that impede progress. Success or failure rests on the tiniest margins, the tilting of the Wii Remote never betraying your steady hand, and this precision – impossible with a standard controller – is the magic ingredient. The speed remains constant, occasionally interrupted by special flowers that boost you upwards, and the obstacles become more fiendish as the line between inspiration and failure becomes harder and harder to walk. The killing kiss, the touch of genius, is your single life – brutal, perhaps, but absolutely necessary to make that height feel like anything at all. It’s the game that 4am was built for, with the inevitability of your boss frowning like Bowser the morning after, but your new score of 544 softening the blow. Don’t be fooled by the simple visuals. Tower Tennis is the naughty, bad side of Nintendo, giving up all the pain and frustration you want, and it’s totally irresistible for it.

The real surprise about Tower Tennis, though, is its place in the larger undercurrent of Smooth Moves. Thought it’s definitely the highlight, it’s just one of a series combining old mechanics with the Wii Remote. Block Star has the compulsive tidiness of good Tetris technique, but here you’re holding the Remote on the palm of your hand to control the floor, rather than the falling bricks. Pyoro, a WarioWare constant, had been no more than a flightless bird in forgettable bonuses, but Pyoro S (the ‘S’ references the ‘Sensor’ controls) gives him wings in a 2D top-down shooter where Remote tilting aims his Yoshi-like extendable tongue. Its clever bonus system is based on killing all enemies in a wave (from three to four) at once, always tempting you to get too close or spend too much time lining up a shot.

There’s a Balloon Kid remake (Balloon Trip) that lasts longer than our arms did, in which you flap to keep afloat and move. Turning the game into 3D was a step too far for this particular mechanic, and the repetition means it soon palls, but the controls don’t falter. Can Shooter seems an obvious one, but then you begin shooting rockets out of the sky and noticing that these cans levitate and wiggle across the screen. Finally, Game & Watch’s Flagman is remade as Tortoise and Hare, a flag-matching diversion that proves a point about the Nunchuk controller.

The Remote’s little brother needs someone to stand up for it – it has a torrid time when it’s not simply performing as an analogue stick, its three-axis accelerometer rarely a convincing grenade-thrower. Smooth Moves’ multiplayer proves the fault isn’t with the hardware but its applications: in Star Nose, two players share the Remote and Nunchuk to pilot noses through a tunnel collecting fruit, and one game is never just one. Bungee Buddies has the two of you sprinting through a city, a sky walkway and eventually the heavens themselves, the Remote and Nunchuk held at the hips and obstacles scrolling down to be jumped over (as well as suspended cake slices that boost the buddies forward). Never do you feel compromised by the Nunchuk. Why is it so rare that this is the case?

Smooth Moves was lost among the early Wii software line-up – not as obviously new as Wii Sports, as accessible as Wii Play or comparable to Twilight Princess. Hindsight’s kind, but perhaps especially so because Smooth Moves wasn’t the launch pad for the Wii Remote’s potential we all thought; it still stands as its most complete, if piecemeal, expression.

No other game has played so loosely with the controls and yet kept them so intrinsic, and Nintendo’s platform could do with a few that dare to try. Instead we have the limited appeal, and even more limited uses, of the MotionPlus add-on, and a formula among the majority of thirdparty Wii games – simple, uninvolving gestures repeated ad nauseum. Smooth Moves imagined an incredible Wii future. One where its controls were even more boldly transformative, dragging the past into the present, as well as wildly fertile in their own right. What an idea. And what a shame that Wario, fat and greedy and forever doomed to minigames, was the only one who could see it.