Friday, April 23, 2010


Long Review -- Wario Ware DIY

(This is a review I did for the Eegra "Reader Radness" forum, so that explains the different formatting. I'm moving it here for preservation because Eegra seems to be packing up.)

DONE BY: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
YEAR: 2010

I love programming. I've been programming since I was four years old and my father got this crappy little Timex Sinclair computer as a door prize at a company picnic or something and I would copy programs out of the instruction manual and see what they would do.

I have tried to make games for every programmable device that I've ever gotten my hands on, and I've gone from "guess the number" games all the way to little menu-driven RPGs on my graphing calculator in high school, and a couple years ago I even made an Atari 2600 game using a language called bBASIC. Sometimes I make something mildly diverting, but mostly I just enjoy the process of programming, where you take an idea and you try to figure out how to make it work. And it's especially fun when you're working with a very limited environment and you manage to work out how to make something especially interesting happen.

And that's the main appeal of Wario Ware DIY. They have this incredibly simple, incredibly limited scripting language, and your objective is to try and make games with it. And it's hard to describe just how much fun it is to work out how you're going to fit an idea into their framework.

For instance, I thought it would be fun to make a five-second version of Defend Your Castle, but I did it with a chess theme. You've got pawns running across the screen trying to attack the king, and you have to tap them to get rid of them. Since you're limited to only 15 moving objects in your game, I thought I could simulate the endless deluge of attackers by making a handful of pawns that instantly respawn after you tap them, and it turned out I could make a decent enough challenge with only three attackers.

The AI is incredibly simple. Every pawn has the same instructions, since you can copy and paste AI in your designs. A pawn starts at a random position on the left side of the screen and moves toward the king. When it's tapped, it jumps to a random position off-screen and moves toward the king again. If it touches the king, it raises the "lose" flag. That's it. All the king does is check the lose flag. If it goes up, it turns into an animated explosion. If the lose flag hasn't gone up by the time the five seconds are up, it raises the win flag.

That's all there is to it, and it turns out to be a pretty satisfying microgame. But the great thing is, even when you're done, you keep getting ideas like, oh, I could add sound effects here, or I could change how they look or add this animation. I've spent hours over the past couple days, and I've made five games in varying states of completion, and I keep wanting to go back and tweak things. It's so much fun.

When you start the game, there's this lengthy, lengthy tutorial about all of the concepts of designing games with the system, and they demonstrate concepts about triggers and actions and flags by taking you through the building of three simple games which you can actually keep in your collection when they're done. And it goes on for a long time, but it's really interesting and fun, and it's even kind of funny because it plays out as a dialogue between Wario and Penny Crygor, and Wario's such an adorable moron throughout.

And when you're done with that, you unlock a "programming dojo", which is kind of like The Incredible Machine. They give you a nearly completed program and tell you what it's supposed to do, and you have to figure out what piece to add to complete it. It's a lot of fun, and it gives you some ideas for how you can sort of "hack" the system to create some unusual effects.

My favorite feature, since I have no musical inclination whatsoever, is that there's a music composer that will write a tune for you if you tell it what sort of mood and tempo you're looking for. And beyond that, you'll unlock records with public domain music and Nintendo music that you can borrow passages from.

But there's two things that Wario Ware DIY does really well that has nothing to do with the game editor. The first is just the presentation. A creativity tool doesn't really need a framing story, but they've given you one anyway. You play a shopkeeper, and your shop sells comics and music and microgames, and every day -- because it keeps time with your DS clock -- you get a new "shipment" in, and you get sales data for all of the merchandise that you have stocked. I don't think it makes any difference to the game in any important way, but it adds a little touch of character and makes you feel like you're really participating in game development for this little fictional world.

And there's a "DIY Forum" where you can read fictional conversations between fictional microgame programmers just as a way to point out things that you might not have figured out on your own, and it's funny because it's such a spot-on parody of GameFAQs and places like that. Here's an example:

Subject: Cartridge label easter egg!

John Sun
Hey, I just noticed that the game cartridge and label colors affect the color of the frame around the game when you play it!

Old. Lock. Ban.
The other thing I really like about the game is that the pre-made games are probably some of the best since the first in the series. Wario Ware has suffered from a lot of problems in the sequels. For one thing, the people who played the original sort of latched on to the whole "Ho ho! Look, it's a game where you pick someone's nose! Isn't that ridiculous!" aspect, and the developers seem to have tried too hard to make their games weird and not hard enough to make them interesting or challenging. For another thing, they seem to have been released as an excuse to demonstrate what could be done with whatever new hardware Nintendo was pimping at the moment.

The games in this set feel a lot more similar to the original. I've just enjoyed them more, especially compared to the other DS version, where some of the games amounted to "blow into the microphone until you win" or "draw circles until you win". I was kind of afraid that the game engine would be too limited to allow much more than "tap here to win" style challenges, but they've really demonstrated the potential for their system here.

It's just a wonderful package overall. It's a fun creativity toy, and it's a fun pack of minigames. This may be my favorite thing to do with a DS since Retro Game Challenge.

FINAL SCORE: Buckets of fun.


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