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CONSOLE: Virtual Boy DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 27, 1995 GENRE: Platformer
// review by Jeff

Love is Wario.

What is a Virtual Boy? A miserable pile of secrets!

Well, not really — it's no secret that the Virtual Boy was a flat-out flop. Consumers had a lot to complain about. Its awkward shape made for an uncomfortable playing posture. Its library was extremely meager and could be held in one hand. The fact that playing its games in unattractive bright red and black would give you headaches after less than half an hour probably didn't help its image, either. Yep, it was an ill-advised machine that probably shouldn't have made it out of the laboratory. At least, not without a HAZMAT suit.

But not all of its meager library was completely foul. Amongst the rubble were a handful of decent titles. (Considering that you literally could hold the entire library of Virtual Boy games in your hand, that's a feat.) Out of all of them, it's pretty safe to declare that Virtual Boy Wario Land is the absolute best of the bunch. It's a shame it was only released on a highly-rejected console, because there's a pretty good Wario gem hidden within!

Wario is his greedy self, as usual. During a trip to the Amazon—no, wait, sorry, the AWAZON... way to flip that M around, clever— Wario spotted a few plump and juicy masked characters hauling treasure around. Naturally, it was his prerogative to steal it for himself. He followed them into their cavernous headquarters, only to fall prey to a trap door. Wario soon finds himself deep underground in some sort of Peruvian temple of sorts. He now has to navigate his way out, all the while seeking precious coinage and other trinkets. Of course, exacting revenge on those masked beasts isn't out of the question, either.

If you've played the original Wario Land for Game Boy, then much of the game will be familiar. With solid controls, our quirky hero has similar platforming habits to his single Game Boy counterpart game at the time. Beyond typical platforming moves, Wario has a powerful dash and butt-stomp for cracking into susceptible walls and floors. He also can use special novelty caps for special abilities. Finding a Bull Helmet gives his dash and stomp some extra oomph. Wearing the Dragon Hat allows Wario to breathe flames, while the Eagle Hat dons the power of flight. New to this game: if you combine the Dragon and the Eagle caps, Wario will win the King Dragon Hat, the ultimate cap that combines most of the powers of its sources! Who wouldn't want to be the king dragon?

Each platforming stage has two basic goals, one of which is optional. The first is necessary: find the key that unlocks the elevator at the end so you can progress upward toward the next level and the surface again. Provided you actually look around, the key shouldn't be too hard to find. It's the other item, the hidden treasure, that is typically more well-cached, the doorway often behind breakable blocks. There's nothing wrong with avoiding it, except that by not collecting all of the treasures, you are severing the game's second quest: the same levels but with different item locations and 200% more spikes. And that's what everybody wants, right? More spikes? Riiiiight?


Play this, and you'll be seeing red in no time!

With a twenty-minute timer in place per stage, there isn't much concern about speeding through the game, Despite the levels not being particularly lengthy anyhow, however, there's still a feeling of ennui that sets in after a while. Luckily, the potential boredom is sliced every once in a while by a boss battle, one that utilizes the 3D factor of the Virtual Boy, in situations where Wario may be scooting around in the foreground, but a boss may try to attack you from afar before approaching. The battle strategies are typically pretty simple and easily accomplished. Only the final boss will give you a rough time, if only because its weak spot is hard to reach. As well, between levels, you can play a couple of mini-games to try and earn more treasurely goods... provided you're willing to gamble with what you already have.

We do need to talk about how the game looks, and before we get started, we MUST address the elephant in the room: yes, it's red and black. Being a primo Virtual Boy title, it'll be hard on the eyes no matter what. We can't avoid it. That being said, if you actually look at the intricate details, you'll see that Virtual Boy Wario Land is actually a rather well-done game. The spritework is nice, despite some rather simple enemy designs. The larger bosses are more interesting to look at, again despite having major detail. The final boss will drill its visage into your brain immediately with its notable nasal protuberance. But the big draw to this is its use of the "3D" hardware, having smaller-scope parallax backgrounds that Wario can hop to, making him look farther away and giving the perception of depth. This is used all throughout the game, especially in boss battles where you may be required to hop between the background and foreground layers. It's used pretty frequently, and the effect works pretty well.

Furthermore, as this game is on the Virtual Boy, its music will be limited by the quote-unquote "Virtual Sound Unit". The soundtrack is very laden with deep staticky basslines and poppy kicks, all with a circus-style comical vibe. That's typical fare for a Wario game, which is a relatively light-hearted series anyhow.

With swift controls and decent graphics that won't make a grown man cry, not to mention classic platforming pizazz, Virtual Boy Wario Land is probably your best bet when selecting your first game for that beloved red console. Too bad it's not as though you can peek onto a Virtual Console and get it for cheap. And it won't be at your local GameStop in the bargain bin. In other words, serious collectors will be the only ones getting their hands on this cart. It's a shame, though, because Wario's one and only virtual adventure was pretty good.


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