There is absolutely no question that Wario: Master of Disguise is a well made game. The graphics are serviceable, the audio is sound, and the game play is like a charming if dumbed down mix of Kirby and Metroid. Even the level design works more times than it stumbles. So why, with all this game has going for it, does Master of Disguise still come up short of greatness? The answer, as it turns out, is one of pacing.
That’s right, pacing. Generally a complaint reserved for movies and television, this design glitch has managed to worm its way into what is otherwise a fine example of handheld gaming and in the process has made the experience bipolar. One minute you’ll be trekking through levels, collecting gems in a space suit whilst shooting robots with lasers as only Wario can, and the next you’ll find yourself meandering lost through endless corridors wondering just where it all went wrong. In fact, it isn’t until the last maybe quarter of the game that things really begin to gel and the whole experience comes together quite nicely, which again goes back to the game’s pacing which is at best inconsistent and at worst outright boring.
Handled by third party developer Suzak, the studio behind the Game Boy Advance’s impressive F-Zero: GP Legend as well as a handful of other less recognizable releases, Wario: Master of Disguise does bring to the table a number of notable features, not the least of which is its emphasis on different disguises that Wario can equip, each affording him with different abilities.
As in earlier Wario Land releases, certain forms are required to access specific areas within the game’s many levels, with some requiring multiple forms in succession in order to proceed. For instance, a distant ledge might require Arty Wario to paint a block to bridge a gap, or obstacles might stand in the way, only destroyable care of Dragon Wario’s fiery breath. The various disguises are collected over the course of the adventure, and the game even allows you to revisit past levels in order to access portions you might not have been able to reach previously without Wario’s new outfits.
Each of the disguises is equipped using the touch screen, and this can quickly become cumbersome. Changing into Cosmic Wario, for instance, requires you to draw a bubble over his head, while Genius Wario necessitates the drawing of a magnifying glass, and Sparky Wario is used by drawing a lightning bolt. Thankfully the game’s character recognition is quite lenient, and even sloppy doodles can oftentimes be sufficient.
However, there are some instances, during boss fights in particular, when multiple disguises will be needed one right after the other, and these encounters can become frustrating when the game translates one doodle for another and forces Wario to take on one disguise when you intended for something else altogether. At the end of the day, this is simply another case of functionality that would have been better suited for a button press or a simpler touch screen interface. As it is, more times than not this game’s use of the touch screen feels like an unnecessary gimmick.
While Wario’s past platforming exploits have only been passable at best, the yellow mascot has proven to be an icon for mini-games care of Nintendo’s Wario Ware franchise. It is because of this, perhaps, that here too mini-games have been shoehorned into the anti-hero’s latest adventure. However, while the so-called ‘micro-games’ fit very well within Wario Ware’s narrow yet entertaining mold, these same distractions come off as simply annoying and out of place here.
Throughout the game’s many levels, each of which play out as chapters in a television series, Wario will come across different chests, some of which contain items vital to success such as his various disguises, while others simply hide treasure to be amassed for points. However, in order to open each chest, a different mini-game must be completed, each requiring rather unimaginative use of the stylus and touchscreen. These tasks range from tracing a picture or connecting dots to dragging falling gems, coins, and poop to their appropriate receptacles. Some of these challenges are more difficult than others, though failing results in little consequence, as Wario can simply try to open the chest again and face a different mini-game for his trouble.
Altogether, Wario: Master of Disguise has quite a bit going for it, at least on paper, but the game is dragged down by inconsistent pacing and other design quirks that make it considerably less appealing. It’s certainly not a terrible game, but considering the number of great titles available for the Nintendo DS, Master of Disguise’s flaws are simply too numerous to ignore. The game feels less like a Nintendo-published release and more like an initial stab by a third party upstart. Admittedly this is true to a degree given developer Suzak’s limited portfolio, but this late in the console’s life cycle more is expected regardless of pedigree. Unless you happen upon Wario’s latest handheld adventure for a very cheap price or have nothing else to rent for the weekend, give Wario: Master of Disguise an unapologetic pass.