WarioWare: Get It Together!, released on Nintendo Switch in 2021, developed by Intelligent Systems, Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development
The WarioWare series has made its way to the Nintendo Switch 18 years after first launching as a unique handheld title made up of an escalating series of increasingly intense ‘microgames’ that each take a couple of seconds to play through. The latest title however seeks to revolutionise the series by letting the player choose a squad of different characters that have unique ways of failing or succeeding in each challenge.
The first ever Street Fighter game is often consigned to history as a painful proof of concept for its direct sequel that would go on to arguably redefine gaming for generations to come. Much like its subsequent sequels, the first Street Fighter was built around punching, kicking, blocking and sometimes lobbing fireballs at your diverse cast of opponents including punks and gangster kickboxers in one-on-one battles.
Perhaps the most significant difference in the game compared to its future iterations, besides a relative lack of polish and limited move sets, was that the single player game could only be played in the form of one main character – in this case, series staple Ryu.
Along came Street Fighter 2
With the advent of the Super Nintendo, the template for the modern beat-em-up was set in stone with the blockbuster success of Street fighter 2: The World Warrior.
The arcade port was instantly iconic with a driving soundtrack, bright colourful environments and much tighter gameplay built around a player learning how to manipulate the controller to perform complex special moves and combos in order to overcome either human or computer opponents.
Perhaps most central to the game’s success was that the player could now select – at least initially – one of eight different fighters intended to represent different fighting styles and ethnic stereotypes from across the world.
Each of these characters, aside arguably American bathrobe-wearing martial arts expert Ken, has unique abilities and powers. They also handled differently with regard to movement speed and ability to hurl themselves through the air.
Part of the game’s challenge and replay ability was in mastering and finding out which character’s best suited the play style and aggression of an individual player.
These features are now common in game design – specifically for online multiplayer titles – whether in the different beat em up series that followed Street Fighter 2 or first person squad titles such as Overwatch.
It’s a he, Wario
One series that has traditionally not opted to focus on the dynamics of a having range of playable characters and the different ways they can be used to beat a game has been Nintendo’s WarioWare.
First launched on the Gameboy Advance in 2003 before being ported over to the Nintendo Gamecube home console later that same year, the series defied easy description upon its release.
In fact, efforts to succinctly sum up the game series even decades later can still prove challenging.
WarioWare is built on the premise of playing so-called ‘microgames’, ideally against other human players. These microgames occur mostly in a randomised order and at increasing levels of speed that can make even an inane three second challenge appear to be a feat of superhuman reaction.
Often the challenges in the game are built around timing and rhythm games, usually with some absurd setting or purpose. This can include keeping a spotlight on the titular character as he tries to escape you, jumping hurdles or removing some errant arm hair from a statue.
It is a series about doing both inane and profane things with Nintendo characters both old and new, all at an increasingly frenetic pace. This can lead to a microgame where you just have to push a single button to catch a carbon rod falling through the air. At certain points and speed, this challenge can go from being an easy to complete formality to a true multiplayer contest of skill and instinct.
A varied cast of characters
The WarioWare series has long relied on a cast of cutesy and obscure characters, but their inclusion was largely to create a visual means of identifying and breaking up the microgames into different styles or genres such as sport, cuisine, sci-fi or disco!
Of course, very few successful gaming series can afford to stand still. By the launch of ‘WarioWare: Get It Together!’ in 2021 therefore, developers sought to shake-up the series with the chance to now select different playable characters. This choice can have a drastic impact on how a player is able to handle and navigate each new microgame -whether it involves counting the number of runners on a track, or violently breaking free from a trashbag.
Wario for instance is equipped with a jet pack that allows him to reach any part of a screen. True to form, this also allows him to slam carelessly at great speed into objects or people to achieve their games. However, the lack of precision in his attacks can make it hard to perform more precise actions or strike at targets above or below him.
Other characters such as ninjas can leap great heats or cling to floors or ceilings, but have no projectiles to instantly get at far away targets. Others such 9-volt – “the skateboarding school kid” with serious DJ-ing and yoyo skills – moves constantly left and right and cannot stop other than to briefly fire a yoyo up in the air to grab or attack things. This character is well suited to some microgames, but can be very hard to utilise as these tasks get quicker and more intense.
Over characters can fire projectiles across the screen, but have much more restricted movement that can make other microgames intensely challenging under pressure.
Success in the game is just as much about getting a decent mix of players with abilities that complement a gamer’s play style, as it is about learning each new microgame.
This is a big change for a game series built on learning to adapt to repetition with split second timing and thinking.
Jeff Grubb, in a review of the latest game for Venturebeat, said WarioWare has retained its reputation as an oddity of the videogame world, with the latest game having a particularly strong appeal for single players more than multiplayers.
Mr Grubb said he found the new mechanical twist of different playable characters being not so much a revolutionary step forward for the series, but he ultimately welcomed the change regardless
He said, “I also am finding myself going back to the game — even in solo play. Get It Together has a mode called Wario Cup where you pick five characters and try to survive as many microgames as possible. The longer you go, the higher you will end up on the leaderboards where you can compare yourself against friends and the rest of the world.”
“Wisely, the game also takes into account the difficulty of each character. So if you complete a stage as the relentlessly skateboarding 9-Volt, you’ll get a score bonus. This should encourage many players to build teams using the more challenging characters. And going back to this mode to compete against friends has made me like the game even more.”
Ryan Gilliam, in a review for Polygon, argued that the added complexity of introducing different characters with unique abilities and playstyles detracted from the simple appeal of the WarioWare series as a whole.
Mr Gilliam found that some of the characters with more limited or restricted controls, such as 9-Volt, were more often unsuitable for him to succeed at the various microgames as opposed to other characters.
In this sense, the choice of different playing styles for him detracted from the chaotic and competitive nature of WarioWare as a series.
He said, “Get It Together! adds too many steps to the WarioWare process, and the result is a more detrimental form of chaos than I’ve come to expect from this series. I’m now assessing which microgame I’m playing, remembering the character I’m controlling, mapping that character’s play style to the microgame in question, and fumbling my way to eventual defeat. In many cases, I circumvent the microgame’s intended solution entirely.”
“WarioWare has always succeeded because it’s weird and easy to pick up. WarioWare: Get It Together! is loaded with the same silly charm, charisma, and random nonsense as the rest of the series. Tonally, it’s exactly what I want from the Wario branch of Nintendo. But Get It Together! gets in its own way, and mitigates one of the series’ best features: simplicity.”
One player’s yoyo is another’s burden.
A necessary end to simplicity?
Arguably, gaming as a whole is built on the concept of a player learning the skill sets of game, and then somehow making personal choices and strategies in order to achieve their goal, despite their own or a character’s limitations.
WarioWare: Get It Together! encapsulates this idea of personal choice and thinking on the spot to create a slightly new experience that arguably still relies on split second thinking from a player.
There is certainly an appeal in putting together a squad of different WarioWare characters to try and mix up both the challenge and different solutions to solving its diverse collection of skills, action and puzzle microgames.
It is a choice that is clearly not for everyone, and just as how giving a player multiple ways to tackle and overcome a game’s challenges, there is perhaps also a danger it can undermine the simple appeal and challenge of more beloved games. Getting the balance right can clearly be easier said than done.
The sometimes painful cost of innovation and moving forward perhaps!