Virtual Boy Wario Land
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Virtual Boy
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • US 11/27/1995
    • JP 12/01/1995
Score: 85%

This review was published on 08/08/2016.

Virtual Boy Wario Land, subtitled in Japan as Secret Treasure of the Awazon, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Virtual Boy. It was originally released in North America on November 27, 1995, and Japan on December 1, 1995. Prior to its release, the game went under several different working titles, such as Wario's Treasure Hunt and Wario Cruise, the latter of which even appeared on the Virtual Boy's box. The Wario Land series began on the Game Boy with the release of Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land in 1994 and continued in 1998 with Wario Land II. Not many people know that this game came in between those two. Most people are also unaware of how good this game is. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best game on the Virtual Boy. Considering the Virtual Boy only has 22 games on it, most of which are terrible, that may not sound like much. However, this game is good even outside of the Virtual Boy. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that this is one of the best games in the Wario Land series.

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During his vacation in the Awazon river basin, Wario decided to land his trusty seaplane, the Bulldog, near the Aldegara waterfall to take a rest. While relaxing in the sun, he saw some masked creatures bringing treasure chests into the waterfall. This piqued his interest, so he followed them like the creep he is. Behind the falls was a large cave, and inside that cave was a vault filled to the brim with treasure. Being that he's a greedy jerk, Wario rushed in to grab the booty. Much to his surprise and dismay, however, the floor below him collapsed and he fell deep within the Earth. Fuming with anger, Wario swears revenge on the creatures that did this to him, even though he's the one who started it. Now Wario seeks to escape the laborious labyrinth he has found himself in, and steal the treasure while he's at it. Help Wario help himself.

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Outside of the Virtual Boy's nasty looking red and black color scheme, this game has some outstanding 2-D graphics. The sprites are large and in charge, plus they're extremely detailed. The animations are particularly notable here, as they're leaps and bounds beyond what the Game Boy is capable of. The additional frames of animation go a long way to add personality to the game. This can be seen just from the intro scene, where a snoozing Wario is disturbed by a naughty beaver. Characters are exceptionally expressive, like the beaver that sits in a chair near the bonus game doors, lazily watching television while eating snacks. That's to say nothing of Wario himself, who's the king of expression. Just watching Wario's idle breathing animation is good fun. The foregrounds and backgrounds are also excellently drawn, giving every environment a unique look. This is definitely the best looking game on the Virtual Boy. Also, there's actually an in-game battery indicator that shows you how much juice the batteries in your Virtual Boy have left, which was fairly advanced for the time.

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This game plays like a combination of the first two Wario Land games. You use the left d-pad to walk, duck, and crawl, and holding either the L or R shoulder buttons while moving will make Wario run faster. The A button is used to jump, and if you press down while airborne, Wario will do a body slam that hurts enemies. The B button can be used in conjunction with left or right on the left d-pad to do a shoulder tackle that harms enemies and breaks blocks. When Wario jumps on or touches most enemies, they'll be stunned. At that point, he can pick them up by touching them and then throw them into other enemies with the B button. While underwater, you use the left d-pad to smoothly swim in any direction, hold either the L or R buttons to swim faster, and press A to rapidly swim upwards. The tight and intuitive controls make playing as Wario a very delightful experience. Additionally, separating the action and run buttons is a good idea, since it stops you from accidentally throwing stuff when you want to run.

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Like the first Wario Land, Wario can collect power-ups to power himself up. Depending on what power-up he gets, Wario will have different abilities. The Viking Helmet makes his shoulder tackle stronger and turns his body slam into an earthquake inducing butt pound attack that stuns nearby enemies. On the other hand, the Eagle Statue gives him the ability to fly for a brief period of time, and the Dragon Crystal allows him to shoot fire. If he combines the Eagle Statue and Dragon Crystal, then he'll be able to do both. Similar to Mario, getting hit will turn Wario small, and he dies if hit while in a shrunken state. Small Wario also lacks the shoulder tackle and body slam, leaving him almost completely defenseless. He can get big again by grabbing a Garlic Bottle; two Garlic Bottles equal a Viking Helmet. The power-ups in this game are all pretty cool, so it's always exciting to find one. One nice touch is how the game prevents you from picking up power-ups you don't need, allowing you to save them for later.

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Unlike the first Wario Land, there is no world map. Instead, levels are done in a linear order. The levels themselves are also mostly linear, though they do get ever-so-slightly nonlinear later on. The objective of most level is to find the key and bring it to the locked elevator door at the end within twenty minutes. The fact that you must search for the key means you can't simply blast through the levels, though it's usually pretty easy to find. There are also secrets galore, with coins and power-ups hidden just about everywhere. As such, there is a minor emphasis on exploration, though you'll never get lost, because the levels are laid out in a fairly straightforward manner. And despite the whole game taking place underground, there is plenty of variety to the environments. For instance, you'll visit a forest, desert, haunted mansion, and even a watermelon factory. Don't question the logic behind forests and deserts being underground. There's even a level where you swim up a waterfall, which is freaking awesome. No two levels look alike, and they're all highly enjoyable. This is also one of the few Virtual Boy games that saves your progress, which is very much appreciated.

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One of the game's central mechanics is the ability to move between the foreground and background. This is achieved through the use of special jump pads that are found all throughout the game. All you have to do is stand on one and then press the jump button to change planes. Enemies and obstacles will sometimes move between the foreground and background, too. For example, the first level has spiked balls that swing back and forth between the background and foreground, and you need to move past them while they're in the background. This feature primarily exists in the game to show off the Virtual Boy's unique capabilities. The game itself is still strictly 2-D, but it uses parallax, along with the Virtual Boy's stereoscopy, to make the visuals pop with a 3-D effect. This not only looks neat, but it also adds variety and depth to the level design.

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Occasionally, boss creatures will challenge Wario to a fight. Before you get to face the boss, though, you'll have to fight a guardian. These are like appetizers before the main course; they die in two hits and don't put up much of a fight. The actual bosses are much tougher, and figuring out how to harm them is part of the challenge. An example would be this giant swordfish faced serpent that leaps into the air and attempts to land on you. When it lands, you have to confuse it by standing behind it, and then you'll be able to bop its head. Many of the bosses will attack Wario from the background, further showing off the Virtual Boy's 3-D effect. Watching the giant serpent boss leap around in the background is particularly impressive. By far the best use of this effect is the robotic teapot boss that jumps back and forth between the background and foreground, shooting you with bullets as you chase it between the two planes. There aren't too many bosses, but they're all good.

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In between levels, you'll be taken to a special area where you get to play two different bonus games. You can play both, one, or none; the choice is yours. The only limitation is that you aren't allowed to play each bonus game more than once per level. As for the bonus games themselves, one's a simple gambling game where you put forth some coins for a chance to win more, and the other is a mini-game to get hearts, which give you extra lives for every hundred you grab. In the heart mini-game, you jump between the foreground and background to collect hearts and diamonds while avoiding bats. The obvious strategy here is to gamble all your coins, then use your winnings to earn as many extra lives as you can. However, there is a special reward for amassing a large stash of coins, so you may want to hold onto them...

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There are six endings to the game. The ending you get depends on several different factors, like total play time and coin count. The first couple of endings are entirely dependent on your total stash of coins; having more coins will produce a nicer ending. However, the better endings require that you collect all of the secret treasures in the game. Most levels will have an optional treasure hidden somewhere in them, and finding them is part of the fun. You do lose treasures for getting a Game Over, though, so you can't die too much. In order to get the best ending, not only do you need to get all the treasures, but you also must finish the game in less than two hours. On top of that, a Hard mode gets unlocked if you beat the game with all the treasures. All these things add a healthy helping of replay value to the game, which is always good.

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Great graphics, fantastic game play, top quality level design, fun bosses, incredible polish, and it's even got some replay value; this is one good game. Literally the only drawback to this game is that it's on the Virtual Boy. It's tragic that such a good game was released on one of the worst platforms of all time. If there ever were a game worth getting a Virtual Boy over, this would be it.

Word Count: 1,825

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