Review: Wario: Master of Disguise

Wario: Master of Disguise Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Suzak
Release Date: 3/5/07
Genre: Action Platformer
Players: 1

Out of all of the beloved Nintendo mascots, Wario has never quite drawn my affinity. I’m not sure why that is, but for one reason or another I’ve just never found any of Wario’s games to be all that exceptional or memorable. After playing Wario’s latest starring adventure for the DS, Master of Disguise, that feeling has unfortunately continued to stick with me. While a worthy enough effort overall, Wario: Master of Disguise simply doesn’t stack up to the impeccable quality of Nintendo’s bustling stable of mascot platformers.

Wario’s new DS adventure kicks off as he’s watching TV one day and comes across a show about a master thief with a magical wand that enables him to change into various disguises. Greedy as always, Wario whips up an invention that lets him hop right into the TV, at which point he steals the wand, takes on the thieving persona of the Purple Wind and sets out in the search for treasure as the new star of the show. From there he learns about an ancient artifact called the wishstone, and in classic game design style the artifact has been split apart and it’s up to you to help Wario track them all down.

For such a goofy premise, there’s a surprising amount of story going on here, and subsequently far too much text to sift through for a portable game. Sadly, most of the dialogue is dull and unoriginal as well, with liberal use of “silent but deadly” fart jokes (that’s the Purple Wind’s slogan, of course) that just come across as a desperate attempt at humor. Needless to say it doesn’t work, at least not for me.

At first glance, Wario: Master of Disguise resembles the tried-and-true Mario-brand of 2D side-scrolling platforming. Upon further discovery, though, the game actually reveals itself to be much more of a puzzle-based affair opposed to a full-on hop-and-bop platformer, which I think is a refreshing surprise. Each of the game’s 10 episode missions is setup almost like a 2D Castlevania or Metroid, in that you work through a series of rooms of a larger map with each room presenting different obstacles, puzzles and enemies to conquer.

Wand in hand, Wario is able to master eight different disguises to help on his journey. Each disguise grants Wario unique powers, such as firing laser beams as Cosmic Wario, drawing blocks and warp doors into the environment as Arty Wario, breathing fire as Dragon Wario, and lighting up dark rooms as Sparky Wario. Completing puzzles often requires using different guises in succession, which makes for some clever and inventive level designs, at first. However, it doesn’t take long for the variety to run thin, and after the first three episodes or so many of the same challenges start to feel recycled and the game then begins to gradually lose its staying power.

Wario’s mastery of disguises is also the focal point of the game’s touch-screen gameplay mechanics, for better or worse. Switching between disguises requires you to draw specific symbols on top of Wario’s character model. Drawing a circle around his head, for example, changes him into Cosmic Wario, while drawing a magnifying glass changes him into Genius Wario, and so on and so forth. The concept is neat, but unfortunately some poor touch-screen recognition causes serious headaches at times when you really need to change costumes quickly, say in a boss fight. Sometimes you’ll draw a symbol and it’ll register incorrectly and change Wario into an undesired disguise, while on other occasions your stylus gesture just won’t be recognized whatsoever, even if it is drawn accurately. This problem doesn’t run rampant by any means, but it always seems to rear its ugly little head at the most inopportune moments, which becomes frustrating.

Touch-screen controls are put to further use in a collection of mini-game challenges that crop up upon opening treasure chests. The mini-games come in eight types, such as panel-slider puzzles, connecting numbered dots in order without lifting the stylus, coloring images based on memory from a given example, and tracing images while avoiding lasers that scan up and down the area. These games are actually kind of fun at first and the input recognition is on point unlike the disguise system, however they become frequently repeated only a few episodes in and eventually lose their luster.

Much like the rest of its parts, Master of Disguise doesn’t quite exude the graphical and aural charm you’re used to seeing in a Nintendo platform game. Sure, the color schemes are attractive enough and Wario’s ever-changing character model looks great, but the environments in which you spend so much time exploring are flat and plainly detailed. Musically, the array of MIDI-quality tunes is suitably lighthearted and devious, though largely forgettable, and beyond that there isn’t much else to hear other than basic platformer sound effects and Wario’s usual laughs and groans.

Wario: Master of Disguise
isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s clearly not the most remarkable piece of game design either. The platforming, puzzle solving and disguise concept all work well together enough of the time to make for a game that has its shining moments worth experiencing if you’re a fan of the genre. However, the game as a whole lacks the expected level of Nintendo polish (especially the shoddy touch-screen recognition) to compete with the DS’s numerous other stellar platformers, and the repetitive nature of the puzzles and level designs lead to a short-lived and all around unspectacular Wario romp.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!