To say that Nintendo has taken the belief that slow and steady wins the race to heart with the software trajectory of the Wii U would perhaps be one of the great understatements of the year. The console, the pioneering platform of the current generation (PS4 and XBox One will soon join its ranks), was released nearly seven months ago, yet there hasn’t been an A-1 title to speak of that fully utilizes both the system’s graphical prowess and the technical capabilities of its unique gamepad. The pack-in title with the deluxe edition of the Wii U, Nintendo Land, hinted at the type of potentially splendid mini-game/multiplayer enthrallment the device could deliver, and is still in regular rotation in the homes of many early purchasers of Nintendo’s new-age gizmo. Game & Wario, the latest entry in the very strange yet comparatively successful WarioWare series, aims to dethrone Nintendo Land as the Wii U party game of choice, but due to sloppy execution in both presentation and core gameplay mechanics across almost all of its 16 digitized vignettes, the end result is a pixelated manifestation of an opportunity ignored.
It’s telling that much of Game & Wario was initially conceived as a customary demonstrative package of some of the Wii U’s snazziest features, and was at first planned to be preinstalled on its hard drive. Much of it feels stylistically remiss and conceptually par-baked. Smooth development was hampered with apparent misdirection, stretched out and later unpunctually slapped with the Wario label, giving Intelligent Systems the excuse to go crazy with the content, as Wario-themed endeavors often rely on their off-the-wall tone and frenzied overture to attain the desired effect. Even if previous WarioWare efforts weren’t all that visionary, they nonetheless managed to provide a significant amount of replay value that took quite awhile to begin the process of subsiding. Only a fraction of Game & Wario’s 16 mini-games (12 single-player, 4 multiplayer-only), each spotlighting an anchor WarioWare character, are noteworthy, and the rest can be filed as fundamentally counterproductive attempts to find resourceful uses for the peripheral interplay between the screen of the Wii U’s GamePad and your television set.
Of the heavily imbalanced batch, “Gamer” implements the best usage of the Wii U’s dual-panorama coaction, having players assume the role of avid Nintendo fanboy 9-Volt as he plays a number of 8-bit microgames on his treasured handheld under the covers. It’s past the youngster’s curfew, and his mother, 5-Volt, continually bursts into the bedroom, hollering at you to go to sleep. The goal is, naturally, to not get caught for as long as possible. The GamePad’s display is host to a collection of diverting microgames, and the happenings in 9-Volt’s room occur on the TV monitor. The exhibited synergy is utterly simplistic yet rather ingenious, sensibly and effectively leading your focal points astray while evoking nostalgia. (Seriously, what prepubescent gamer didn’t spend late nights beneath blankets with their Game Boy?) The most durable WarioWare exploits, such as “Gamer,” rack the brain, but do so in a way that’s inexplicably addictive, stopping short of crossing the line into controller-breaking frustration. “Pirates” and “Taxi” are also examples of this kind of inspired cleverness: The former is a feverish rhythm game that uses the GamePad as a sort of shield to deflect incoming directional indicators ordered by a mad Captain Wario, while the latter has easily distracted dog-and-cat cabbies Dribble and Spitz starring in a kinetic drive down Route 56. “Taxi” is the less inventive of the two, having a first-person windshield perspective on the GamePad and a map on the TV screen, but it decidedly has the least amount of diminishing returns, repeatedly offering a high degree of dynamism even in its preliminary stages.
While these three minigames are enjoyable, their inventiveness doesn’t carry over to the remainder of Game & Wario. The worst offenders in the single-player bracket are chronically dull, requiring only a few minutes to master and hardly tapping into Wii U’s brimming reserve of versatile functionality; their unimaginative names basically discloses all you need to know. In “Arrow” you shoot arrows, in “Bowling” you bowl, in “Design” you draw, in “Ski” you ski, and in “Shutter” you take pictures, nothing more. Trudging through each is snooze-worthy from the outset, and it doesn’t help that Game & Wario’s sights and sounds exude an overwhelming air of flash-cartoon shabbiness.
In the multiplayer department, the only red-letter enterprise is “Fruit,” an occasionally amusing whodunnit that has one player selecting a thief among a crowd of wandering citizens, periodically pulling off discreet apple swindlings, while the other players try to figure out who the culprit is. “Disco” is a dance game, but it lacks the finesse of the similarly-styled “Pirates,” “Sketch” is essentially a low-rent rip-off of Pictionary, and “Islands” is perhaps the laziest addition to the compendium, a half-assed take on the darts/marbles/horseshoes dynamic where players launch blockish Fronks at spinning scoreboards, knocking opponents off as they go in a lifeless contest that eventually boils down to who can stay interested the longest. Not much is worse in a modern minigame collection than the bane of instant redundancy emboldened by substandard visuals, and Game & Wario, unfortunately, sinks to that level in its primitive phases and seldom makes a forceful effort to systematically compensate for its laundry list of weaknesses.