Release: Out now
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Hit nail! Poke dog! Stomp badger! In WarioWare you’re never more than a verb away from a finished concept, making it the perfect candidate for a user-generated outing. Only a few seconds long, the microgame is an ideal entry point for budding developers. An idea is formed, the art assets drawn and the code written in under an hour. A quick chuckle as you play, and on to the next.
Interestingly, where console-based creation kits like LittleBigPlanet or Kodu tend to disguise development tools as playful sandboxes, Intelligent Systems is surprisingly frank about the whole thing. Art assets are art assets and AI routines are AI routines. Wario is never far away to hijack a tutorial, and menu scrollbars are replaced with abseiling ninjas, but these are minor blotches of silliness on Nintendo’s otherwise sensible presentation. Bar a painting interface echoing that of Mario Paint, the tools are very clean, very precise, not very Wario.
In fact, their one indulgence – a series of tutorials with teaching assistance from Wario – is the most irritating part of the package. Wario butts in on mandatory lessons given on drawing, music creation and programming, claiming he doesn’t understand. Nintendo’s localisation team has not lost its ear for the wacky dialogue heard in the Mario RPG games, but perhaps it has become too aware of it, such is the volume of Wario’s interruptions that his ramblings can obscure the lesson. Harassing Penny, the teacher, Wario causes her to lose her place and the class along with her. It’s a rare example of Nintendo user-unfriendliness.
Persevering through the lessons grants access to the more beneficial dojo. Here, lines of code are added to complete half-finished microgames. Whether triggering celebratory confetti when win conditions are met or manipulating invisible switches and triggers, these micro-lessons encourage learning by doing, neatly disguising the whole process as a puzzle. Even better is rooting around in the guts of the packaged games and seeing how Intelligent Systems made them (every game was created using the tools). What effects aren’t taught can be stolen (as can art assets, for the sloppy of hand) and, in some cases, improved upon. Attempting to better Yoshio Sakamoto’s own Metroid microgame is a fun challenge.
Games are limited to tap inputs, and while this restricts the packaged games (as a standalone singleplayer experience, DIY is weak), it makes for a more workable production line. Constraining input to basic prods actually bullies creative thinking. With no direct means of controlling moving objects, players are encouraged to find ways of adding motion to otherwise static offerings. What begins with taps to send a ladybird scurrying off can soon evolve into side-scrolling platformers or even using an onscreen D-pad to steer objects around. To prove the versatility, Nintendo has enlisted indie talent – 2D Boy, Gaijin Games, Daisuke Amaya – to design microgame versions of their own works. Available to download, they are testament to DIY’s potential.
Developer input aside, WarioWare’s online scene is far from satisfactory. Friend codes keep your developer circle tight, and that only two games can be uploaded at any time seems overly fussy for four seconds of gaming. WarioWare begs for an online space along the lines of DSi’s Flipnote Studio where users can upload and download at will, improving on other works and seeing their own blossom under another’s watchful eye. Yes, YouTube’s vast, expanding catalogue of microgame recordings inevitably reveals the grubbiness from which Nintendo is trying to protect youngsters, but it seems a shame. For those of us with purer nail-hitting, dog-poking and badger-stomping in mind, the pleasure will have to remain in the doing.