Review by Malorkus

Reviewed: 11/26/18

Disaster of disguise.

Wario Land was always a reliable source for platform game goodness during the Game Boy days. The systems were usually too primitive to deliver anything as intuitive as a home console platform game, but the Wario Land series was an exception, warping Mario’s more straightforward style of games with puzzle and beat-em-up elements. Enemies could be tools instead of just obstacles. When the DS arrived, a new Wario Land sounded inevitable. People waited. Years went by, and screenshots of a DS Wario platform game that looked remarkably like Wario Land appeared. But it was not. It turned out to be a wholly new Wario platform/puzzle experience - Wario: Master of Disguise. (The Wii ended up getting the next - and as of now final - Wario Land title.) The general thinking? “Okay, looks fun anyway, this series has not steered us wrong yet.” Unfortunately, Master of Disguise steered us so wrong that the series now pretends it never existed.

Wario is inspired by a thief he sees on television named The Silver Zephyr, a.k.a. Count Cannoli. The thief uses a talking wand to grant himself disguises, allowing him to sneak into situations undetected and steal treasures. Wario warps into the TV (just go with it) and takes Cannoli’s wand, earning its powers to himself. While Wario searches for treasure using these disguises, namely wish-granting shards, Cannoli is hell-bent on stealing the wand back. As Wario boards a cruise ship, you take control as you learn to move about and activate disguises. The platform mechanics in Master of Disguise are generally stiffer than in Wario’s other adventures, but the game’s frustrations run much deeper. Different puzzles will require the use of different disguises, and the tutorial will teach you the most basic transformation, the thief.

Perhaps the most similar to traditional Wario, the thief disguise lets you bash enemies. The other disguises are more unique. The astronaut disguise will allow you to blast lasers and enemies and doors. The artist form lets you summon boxes to stack upon each other. There are several others, and you can switch between them by drawing shapes on the touch screen. This is my central problem with Master of Disguise: it has some of the worst touch recognition of any DS game I have played, and coming several years after its launch, this is unacceptable. For example, to turn Wario into the artist, you must draw a square over his face and slice it in half. Each time I tried doing this took probably ten attempts, because the game would detect my boxes as a circle, which instead activates the astronaut disguise. The artist’s powers also require drawing objects, which are also often detected incorrectly. I had this exact same problem with the mad scientist disguise, which requires you to draw a magnifying glass, and the game would again detect it as a circle. I wanted to have fun with these different abilities, but the game never let me.

Master of Disguise’s problems run deeper than poor touch programming too. Collecting a treasure is not as straightforward as simply opening a chest. Instead, you will be transported to a touch-based mini-game that has absolutely nothing to do with the treasure in question, or really anything to do with the rest of the game. These are basically random Flash games or Nokia phone games like “Connect the dots” or “Trace the drawing”. They are also timed, so if the touch screen does not detect tour input correctly, say goodbye to the treasure. These break up the flow and make the game further feel like a malfunctioning touch technology demo, starring Wario for no reason. The stages are lengthy enough as is with nowhere to save (arguably too lengthy for their own good), so having to waste time with these mini-games only adds to their tedium.

The only compliments I can really give Wario: Master of Disguise are on a conceptual level. It has no shortage of unique ways to give Wario new moves, let him fight foes, and solve puzzles. This makes it all the more unfortunate how the game does everything in its power to prevent you from doing those exact things, from abysmal touch screen detection to poor platform mechanics to stuffy and nonsensical stage design. It really feels like the developer (a now-bankrupt studio) had no familiarity with the character beforehand, which I would have less of a problem with if its puzzles were clever instead of making me complete games I played in 5th grade computer class in the late 90’s. Thankfully, this game would be a one-off, as the greedy yellow guy went back to Wario Land and WarioWare titles. But the fact that this is the only portable Wario platform game we got after 2001 is a travesty.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Product Release: Wario: Master of Disguise (US, 03/05/07)

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