Wario's Woods
  • Genre:
    • Puzzle
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 02/19/1994
    • US 12/10/1994
    • UK 1995
    SNES
    • US December 1994
    • UK 1995
Score: 80%

This review was published on 07/26/2013.

Wario's Woods is a puzzle game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid 1990s. It was one of the last officially licensed games released for the NES, as it came out extremely late in the NES' life span, and right in the middle of the SNES'. It's a little unusual that Nintendo decided to release two nearly simultaneous versions of the game like this, though this kind of thing wasn't totally unprecedented back then. Sometimes companies would release stripped down versions of their new games on older systems, for the folks that didn't make the upgrade. Both versions of the game contain the same type of game play, but the NES version has far less going for it in terms of extra bells and whistles. As such, the SNES version is the clear winner, and that's the version this review will be focusing on. Wario's Woods is a very interesting puzzle game. It came out at a time when Tetris clones were a dime a dozen, and while it follows a similar structure, it experimented with some very original mechanics. The game may not be the best in the genre, but it's one of the most unique.

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The story to this game is pretty unusual, just like everything else about it. Despite being in the game's title, Wario isn't the good guy in this game. Wario originated in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the Game Boy as an antagonist, but he eventually got his own spinoff series in which he was the protagonist. That's not the case here, as Wario is the bad guy in Wario's Woods. The game takes place in a peaceful location known as Peaceful Woods, except Wario claims the woods for himself by placing a wicked spell on its inhabitants. All the creatures that lived in the woods were now under the control of Wario, and he attempts to use them to try and conquer the Mushroom Kingdom. What a greedy little man. So it's obviously up to Mario, the Italian plumber hero of the Mushroom Kingdom to save the day, right? Wrong. For whatever reason, Mario is nowhere to be found. Mario is missing, in a manner of speaking. Instead, it's all up to Toad, a mushroom fellow first playable in Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES. Toad is an unlikely hero, as he is usually a minor character in most of the Mario games. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Toad is about as desperate as you can get. Toad is not alone on his adventure to thwart Wario, however. A fairy named Wanda will aid Toad in his quest with magic. It gets weirder. Birdo, a regular boss from Super Mario Bros. 2, will also be helping Toad, but only by providing moral support. I have no idea why Birdo is suddenly one of the good guys, or why he was included in this game at all. One of life's many mysteries. Wario's Woods certainly has a strange premise for a Mario game, though I guess it can't be classified as such, since Mario isn't even in the game. Any game that treats an underdog like Toad as the hero is cool with me, though.

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If you thought the story was strange, then you should see the game play. This has got to be one of the strangest puzzle games I've ever seen. Most puzzle games of this sort are based around the Tetris formula of blocks that slowly fall from the top of the screen and need to be manipulated in some way to clear them out. You can usually control the blocks directly or via a cursor. This game follows a similar formula, except instead of controlling the blocks with a cursor, you do so with Toad. I'm not saying that Toad himself acts as a cursor. What I'm saying is that Toad can be controlled as if you were playing a side-scrolling platform game, and you're supposed to use him to arrange the falling objects in some fashion. This mechanic changes everything you may or may not know about puzzle games. Toad can pick up and carry objects above his head much like he did in Super Mario Bros. 2. He can either pick up individual objects, or entire stacks of objects, and he can place them down just about anywhere. There is also a neat ability to kick objects around, kind of like the kick power-up in Bomberman. Speaking of Bomberman, the objects that fall down in Wario's Woods are not blocks, but rather bombs and enemies. The objective in Wario's Woods is to pair the bombs and enemies of the same color to destroy them, eventually exterminating all the enemies in a given stage. You don't need to destroy all of the bombs, as they are merely there to facilitate the destruction of enemies. The bare minimum to destroy stuff is a three chain, where three things of the same color are matched up vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. You need to include at least one bomb per chain, otherwise nothing will happen. Like in any puzzle game of this type, bigger chains of explosions can be created to your benefit, provided you do some clever planning. The way you have to account for Toad's position adds a very interesting element to the game play not seen in other Tetris clones. It's quite challenging and strategic, but most of all, it's original.

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In the SNES version of the game, you have a fair amount of game modes to choose from. The first main mode of the game is Round Mode. Round Mode is the standard mode of the game, where clearing out all enemies attains you victory and enables you to move onto the next round. A basic mechanic of this mode is that Birdo or Wario can show up to provide helpful or harmful effects. When Birdo is present, you'll have the friendly fairy from the game's story helping you from the top of the screen by dropping bombs, but she goes away when Wario shows up. Wario will sic a nasty sparrow on you that creates more enemies, which impedes your way to victory. Also, Wario will occasionally hit the side of the stage to make the massive Thwomp at the top go down a bit, giving you less room to work with. A timer determines whether Birdo or Wario appears. It's possible to alter slightly alter this timer by getting big chains; doing so keeps Birdo around longer and keeps Wario at bay. Each round is harder than the last, culminating in the game's greatest challenge. This is by far the longest mode, being that it consists of over 100 rounds. Every few rounds, the background of the stage you're in will change, usually to signify a near tier of difficulty. As you progress into the later rounds in the game, you will start encountering enemies that can't be easily blown up like the standard foes. For example, there is a specific type of enemy that can only be blown up diagonally, making it far more difficult to eliminate these guys. There are a couple of other enemy types besides those ones, and they all change the general strategy in a big way. Even though this is the biggest mode of the game, it's by no means the best. It's a fine mode to play for a while, but it gets repetitive quickly.

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Versus Mode is the real McCoy in Wario's Woods. This one follows most of the same rules as the standard mode, but it pits you up against another opponent in a bombastic battle. Did you see what I did there? Winning a match comes down to exterminating all the vermin in your side of the arena before your opponent does. Three wins are required before you beat a given opponent for good. There lots of different stages with plenty of opponents to face in this mode, so you'll be at it for a long time. What makes this mode more exciting than the standard one is that you can hinder your opponent by getting chains. The same can also be done to you. Something that really helps in getting a massive chain is to bomb four or more things at once; doing that will make a gem appear. Matching the gem with three other objects of the same color will annihilate all monsters of that color, usually causing lots of chains in addition to helping you clear things out. Getting chains will do stuff like lower the Thwomp on your opponent's side, or cause a row of monsters to appear, adding to their workload. The opponents later on get quite challenging, as they are programmed with incredibly smart AI. You'll have to become a master to beat those guys. Another really cool thing you can do in Wario's Woods is the two player mode. A two player versus match is pretty much the same thing as a single player one, except the opponent is controlled by a second human player instead of the computer. It's not as exciting as the multiplayer in, say, Tetris Attack, but you'll still be able to get some enjoyment out of the two player mode in Wario's Woods. Overall, the Versus Mode makes this game worth its while.

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Wario's Woods is a one of a kind game. Sure, there are a ton of Tetris clones out there, many of which came out around the same era as this game, but Wario's Woods does something completely different from those other imitators. It's also got great graphics, music, and polished controls, if you're playing the SNES version. The NES version isn't anywhere near as good, but it's still serviceable. Mechanically, Wario's Woods is very deep and engaging. It's one of the most complex games of its type, while still being simple enough to be approachable. New players will undoubtedly take some time to get used to it, though. All in all, Wario's Woods is one of the better Tetris clones out there, in addition to being one of the more interesting. If you like games like Tetris Attack, then you should give Wario's Woods a try.

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