Review by SneakTheSnake
It's just not for me.
I appear to be in the minority here, but I don't like Wario: Master of Disguise. I see what they're trying to do, but it doesn't appeal to me. I can't recommend it either; although it does innovate more than, say, New Super Mario Bros. did, I find the game to be too slow-paced and cumbersome to consider fun.
Wario the thief has now become greedier than ever, and he wants to nab all the treasure he possibly can. He happens upon a rival thief who happens to have a magic scepter; the scepter, upon eating special gems, can allow Wario to don new personas and gain new abilities. Wario takes on a new thief persona, which is somehow a greedier and cruder version of Wario; he's out to out-thief the thieves and to get all the riches he can before his rivals do.
I'm oversimplifying the story; the story is one of the more surprising differences in this Wario game over the others. It's surprisingly story-oriented, and the characters - from Wario himself, to the helpful scepter, to the thieves he encounters - are surprisingly chatty. There's banter about Wario's greed, as well as about his disgusting habits, and he insults the other thieves with whatever childish insults readers can think of. I suppose this is meant to broaden Wario as a character, to give him more personality; however (and I know how contradictory this sounds), but I'd rather Wario be a Silent Bob and express his emotions through grunts and pantomime. At any rate, Wario will body-check his way from cutscene to cutscene (and the game's heavy on them, too); I just wasn't too interested.
Wario: Master of Disguise is a platformer at heart but, based on the game's pace and main mechanics, it borders on the puzzle-platforming category. There's a bit of Metroid thrown in there for good measure. Each level in Master of Disguise is rather large, actually; in addition to having a full Metroid-style map, there are two "sides" to both map (interior and exterior) and save points scattered throughout. In these levels (appropriately called "episodes", considering the plot-heavy nature of the game), Wario must navigate through the corridors of each building in question, using his newfound disguises to solve rudimentary puzzles. He can also bust open chests by playing simple mini-games.
Each disguise grants Wario new abilities. His thief form gives him a higher jump and can help him head-bash into enemies; his genius power-up allows plays to see otherwise-hidden platforms. His artist disguise helps him paint in blocks, which can be used as platforms or to hold down switches. This is pretty cerebral for a Wario game, and I welcome the changes in concept. I don't welcome the exhaustive use of the DS stylus when it's clearly not called for.
That's the curse of the DS. In addition to the dual screens, we're supposed to use the stylus, but I simply don't like using the d-pad and stylus in tandem, especially in a platform game. It makes no sense, and it breaks up the gameplay in a very awkward way. Either have one or the other, but don't do both. In order to change disguises, one must stop moving and draw a shape over Wario's head. The game registers these shapes okay, but drawing anyplace on the screen - a millimeter away from Wario's head, for example - will conjure up a block, or an attack, or something you didn't want to do. This happens all too often because of the hitbox for Wario's head; I would have much rather used the R-trigger to scroll through costumes or something, but I understand that that defeats the point. It's still a poorly developed mechanic.
The touch screen works well otherwise - in the mini-games for example. No problems here with the occasional mini-games, which are required to pass in order to obtain bonus treasure and to gain new disguises. These are ridiculously simple games, like guiding a Wario head to treasure, tracing lines or connecting dots, but they're serviceable on their own. I only compliment them so highly because they capture what I think is important to Wario games; the madcap sense of humor and the fast pace of the adventure.
Wario moves slowly in Master of Disguise, even in his thief costume. This makes the game move at a slow pace - that, and the constant stopping in order to change costume. Boss battles become all the more confusing, as players will have to change form two or three times to best the admittedly-easy bosses.
Master of Disguise is a confusing game; its objectives are sometimes ambiguous, save points are too few and far between for levels this large and episodes can easily take twenty to thirty minutes for inexperienced players. There is a greater sense of exploration in this game than in, say, Wario Land 4, but it's easy to get lost unless one happens to come across the map (which only works for whatever "side" of the level, the interior or the exterior, you found the map on). Enemies are uninspired, the story drags on, and the puzzles, when they appear, are on the easy side.
The graphics are all right, but I don't find them impressive on the whole. The game goes back to sprite-based graphics; some of the character designs are interesting and novel, and I admit that I do like the 16-bit backgrounds for the stages. There are some nice graphical details here and there, too, but the cutscenes aren't too good, and the interface is kind of odd. The music fares slightly better; I enjoyed the game's soundtrack overall, and I'm glad they did not have Wario spout out boilerplate catchrphases like they had Mario do in the Super Mario Advance titles.
Master of Disguise is a big game. It's an ambitious one as well; the game features plenty of replay value, in that players can go back to previously-completed stages with newly-acquired costumes to nab treasure even if, annoyingly, the game resets every level after you exit it. The game is a bit too slow-paced for its own good, and the sometimes-creative gameplay suffers at the hands of the shoehorned stylus-based controls.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Wario: Master of Disguise (US, 03/05/07)
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