Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Wario Ware: Smooth Moves

My opinion of the latest Wario Ware game fluctuates depending on a wide variety of variables, like the day of the week, what I had for breakfast, the proximity of Earth to planet Mars, that sort of thing. I may call it any number of things ranging from "the best Wario Ware game to date" to "a clear sign that Wario Ware jumped the shark well before its time".

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. On average, I'd call it a pleasant experience. Not as compulsively addictive as the original or Twisted, but also not as forgettable as Party Games or Touched. It ironed out some of the more regrettable kinks that the series had developed, but it also did away with some of its better eccentricities.

I'm going to write about it for a while here.

Return to Diamond City

As anyone will tell you, the best part about any video game is its story. That's why nobody bought Tetris. Smooth Moves finds Wario led to a mysterious temple by larcenous moogles, only to discover (and steal) a mysterious Wii controller-shaped stone artifact called the Form Baton. In days of old, the Form Baton was a divine gift to civilization, inspiring people to hold it in lots of fascinating ways and do stuff. But in Wario's hands, it's little more than the inspiration to make a bunch of new microgames.

Which leads me to the question -- is Wario Ware Inc. still in business? I mean, sure, the first game ended with Wario firing all of his friends and running off with his OBSCENE PROFITS, but they've clearly banded together again in Twisted. The further you get from the original, the less they play up the idea that these characters are actual software developers. In Smooth Moves, there isn't even a location where the characters slowly gather together as you complete their games. There isn't even much social connection between them -- it's as though they've all moved on from those heady, romantic days when they were all making video games together, and now they're all off doing their own things. And yet, they can't seem to escape their past, because everywhere they turn, they find themselves confronted with difficulties that can only be overcome if you play a bunch of microgames.

Touched took the controversial move of ditching Dribble & Spitz and Orbulon as developers in favor of newcomers Mike and Ashley. Although Ashley was universally loved by all, Mike was despised for being a one-trick pony whose trick wasn't very good. Basically, he was created to be the developer responsible for all of the games where you blow into the microphone on the Nintendo DS until you win, and it's pretty hard to imagine him doing anything else.

Smooth Moves, on the other hand, features every character in the series and two new faces. One minor disappointment is that, apart from Wario and 9-Volt & 18-Volt, the developers no longer have any kind of real theme to their games. I still miss the concept in the original, where games were categorized by genre, but it's better than the "control style" categories in Touched, where you ended up with an entire developer whose games amounted to "find the right spot on the screen and draw a million fast circles". If they had tried to squeeze out 25 games that revolved around "The Discard", for example, I'd imagine that this game would be the thing that'd get discarded. YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE

Let's take a look at our friends old and new, eh?

As per tradition, Wario is once again the alpha and the omega. In his introduction stage, you have to help Wario escape the Temple of Form with the Form Baton, thus providing impetus for the rest of the game. All of the games use the same simple form: the remote control. Luckily, the level isn't restricted to only pointing games, so it never gets boring.

Wario returns to wrap things up at the end, but instead of re-using the Wario Man gimmick from Twisted and Touched, Wario is transformed into his tiny self (actually dozens of them) in an accident involving a new motorcycle and a strawberry patch.

In a refreshing change of pace, Mona's stage has nothing to do with being in a hurry to get somewhere or endangering police officers. This time around, she's a cheerleader for Diamond City's football team, and the story revolves around the plucky young quarterback whose heart she has captured. But alas, in the end, he just can't compete with the fat, ugly, troll-like object of Mona's true affections.

Jimmy T & Jimmy P
No longer making their own microgames, the Jimmies have embraced their love of hosting the remix stages, and now the two Jimmy levels serve only to combine the games of the other developers and present them at a greater initial difficulty.

After having his family along for the last two games, Jimmy T is dancing solo again in this game. Like in the original, he comes across as an enigmatic -- and slightly intimidating? -- disco maniac. But when he loans an umbrella to a stray cat caught in a rainstorm, he finds himself with some unexpected dance partners.

Jimmy P is actually introduced as a new character, T's mysterious double who seems to be leading a parallel life. While T dances the night away at Club Sugar, P spends his daytime hours at Club Spice. Although their storylines are very similar, there are key differences -- one involves kitties, the other involves doggies.

9-Volt & 18-Volt
The -Volts are once again one of the last developers you unlock, thanks to Nintendo's epiphany that no one will pay attention to anything that they unlock after being given a five-second Metroid game. The Nintendo-themed stage is decidedly low on the real classics this time around, instead focusing heavily on five-second Gamecube games, with the occasional 3D reimagining of Clu Clu Land or Balloon Fight. A cameo appearance by Wario Ware Twisted only serves to remind us of how sweet that game's 9-Volt stage was in comparison -- wall to wall NES games, not a single space wasted by stupid "classic toy" minigames, and a very cool Super Mario Brothers boss game. It was the best of times.

Dribble & Spitz
Dribble & Spitz reprise their role as cabbies who drive a mysterious stranger to a location only to watch them vanish in an incredible fashion without paying. They also have the only stage with a persistent theme tune, but it's slightly forgettable compared to the classic driving tune in the first game and the multiple user-selectable soundtracks in Twisted.

Kat & Ana
Even if it is a bit derivative of the first game (and completely lacking the beautiful theme tune and epic visuals that accompanied it), it's nice to see Kat & Ana focusing on the ninja aspect of their "kindergarten ninja" schtick again. I mean, come on, chasing monkeys? Running from bees? That's weaksauce. Gimme the battles with giant demons any day.

Ashley was the real breakthrough fan favorite of Wario Ware Touched. The dark and twisted teenage witch thing was excellent, and the catchy theme tune was the icing on the cake. She's once again trying to put together a spell, and her morbid charm is just as wonderful as ever. The only real disappointment is that her boss game is based on the Discard -- it can be won in one move. Considering how important the boss game is to a Wario Ware level -- Nose Dive single-handedly propelled Kat & Ana's stage to my most-played level in Twisted -- I find myself skipping over Ashley whenever I power the game up. Such is life.

Young Cricket & Master Mantis
These guys are new for Smooth Moves, and it's really hard to care about them. I sort of tend to mentally lump together anything that has to do with Asian martial arts, so I see Cricket as a guy who's gunning for a position that Kat & Ana already fill. What's worse, the stage is about Cricket cutting in line at a restaurant, and then thinking better of his decision. Wow. Epic. A vocalized theme tune might have saved this one.

Penny Crygor is the other new face to Smooth Moves, a cutesy girl genius character derived thematically and genetically from Doctor Crygor. With her grandfather's love of SCIENCE, but lacking his trademark dance moves and obsession with toilets, there's really not a lot to be said about her. Her stage is about inventing a motorcycle to beat her grandfather at an invention contest.

The alien just always has to be different, doesn't he? In the first two games (TWISTED CAME BEFORE TOUCHED ITS TRUE), his gimmick was games that lasted twice as long. This time around, he's all about games that use twice as many hands. His stage is just like all of the other "normal" developer stages, except that it takes place after the events of the epic single-player campaign mode and the games never show up in any of the "remix" stages. The only way to access Orbulon's stage is to connect a Wii Nunchuck (or "Balance Stone") to your remote ("Form Baton"), and the only way to return to the other game modes afterwards is to unplug it. So yeah. Kind of weird.

Orbulon's spacecraft is once again having technical difficulties, this time crashing into the Temple of Form shortly after Wario returns the Form Baton. But when Orbulon discovers the Form Baton, he also finds the Balance Stone, the combination of which allows him to pilot the temple into orbit.

Dr. Crygor & Mike
Dr. Crygor's undergone another evolution thanks to his new invention, the Kelorometer. And now you -- yes, you! -- can derive the exact same benefit from his "workout" remix. The deal is, you have to play through a selection of twenty microgames, selected for the aggressive and exaggerated movements that they require. Instead of scoring you based on wins and losses, the game keeps track of how many "kelories" you burn as you waggle the Wii remote around. The mix also includes two games -- one at the halfway point and one at the very end -- that last much longer than normal and are basically unwinnable, the only point being to repeat the described action as many times as you can. It's odd, yet interesting, much like the good doctor himself.

Oh, And, Uh, Gameplay?

Oh, I don't know. On the one hand, it feels like most of the microgames are either "waggle masher" games (a descendant of the "button masher" and "screen masher" games from the rest of the series), where the challenge is simply to shake the controller as fast as you can before your time is up; or timing games, where you have a single action to perform and the challenge is to time it correctly. There are some actual skill games, but none of them really stand out. The real challenge of the Wario Ware series -- trying to identify your goal and accomplish it in five seconds -- feels a little downplayed, especially now that you're given a clue as to how to hold the controller before a game begins. Some of the games will throw a little changeup at you, but when you're told to hold your controller in "the elephant" pose and then the game features a giant elephant nose on the screen, there's really little doubt as to what's going on.

On the other hand, hey, it's still one of the more active Wii games out there. If you want a game that really showcases real-world action translated into video game action, you can't do much better than this.

Yeah. It doesn't really seem like that great of a trade-off, does it?

The boss games are pretty underwhelming this time around. Give or take a Wario Dance Company, none of them really have that feeling like they're a great starting point to what should really be a stand-alone game. Compare the boss games in Smooth Moves to Mona's Balloon Trip knockoff, 9-Volt's Super Mario Brothers, Kat & Ana's Nosedive, Crygor's gravity-sensitive robot game, or even Jimmy's staircase-ascending game from Twisted, and you'll find Smooth Moves is wanting.

They've also made the controversial decision to remove "The Grid", the mode where you pick a single microgame and play it repeatedly at ever-increasing speeds and difficulty. On the one hand, it makes this game feel like it's missing something. On the other hand, you don't actually want to play any of these games individually. They're mostly mashing and timing games, do you really want to sit there and repeat that motion over and over again for any length of time? Thank goodness, in fact, that we're no longer tasked with accumulating high scores in all 200+ microgames in order to unlock that one last goddamned doodad.

The sideshows are pretty all right this time around. I guess. None of them really scream "infinite replayability" the way Dr. Wario or Mewtroid or even Orbit Ball did. There's a 3D version of Balloon Trip that uses the remote + nunchuck combo -- as you flap your arms, so too does your on-screen balloon fighter. There's a sort of Breakout Adventure game where you have to guide a ball and paddle up a tall, tall tower by breaking enough blocks to clear a path for yourself.

But the best reward of all is the latest version of Pyoro -- and I say that as a man who has never understood the appeal of these side games. This version is set up like a vertical shooter. Pyoro is basically a cursor on the screen, controlled by pointing the remote. Pressing a button snaps his beak out to eat approaching bugs. But the real cleverness of the game is in its combo system. You can change Pyoro's angle by twisting the remote. If you attack a line of bugs from just the right angle, you can snap them all up in one gulp and earn a big point bonus. It's almost worth the price of the game all by itself. Well, maybe when it goes Player's Choice or something.

And finally, they saw fit to ruin the multiplayer experience by making it focus on games where you pass the remote around. I mean, come on. They want us to wear that wrist strap so that we don't hit any weak points for massive damage, and yet they expect us, in a party atmosphere, to switch it around every five seconds. Uh uh. Ain't gonna happen. Mega Party Game$ let us use all four controllers at once; why can't Smooth Moves?


On the one hand, Smooth Moves is such a bland game that it makes me wonder why I should bother with the Wario Ware series if the people making it seem to think that it's little more than a showcase for weird graphics and whatever stupid new controller Nintendo's come out with. On the other hand, it's not so bad as to make me give up hope entirely.

It's only natural, when you love a video game, to want more. Probably Wario Ware just exploded into a franchise much too quickly, which led to a drought in the rampaging creativity that made the first game such a favorite. It's kind of a shame.

But the game's still a decent enough distraction. If, for some reason, you're short of minigame packs in your Wii library.


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