Wario Land II – Game Boy Color
Platform: Game Boy Color
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date (NA): February 10, 1999
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Story time kids!
Oh, I know you came here for a review but have a little patience. The review is right around the corner.
I think from my assessment of Wario Land, one could easily infer I couldn’t get enough of the game as a child – an obsession I carried with me as I stepped into the semblance of adulthood I currently occupy. So it would come as no surprise to learn I purchased (or was given, rather) Wario Land II right after it came out.
When the Game Boy Color was released only three launch titles were available, and my main man was in the bunch. I rounded up my clear Game Boy Pocket with a select few Game Boy games and bid them all farewell as they went towards the new Game Boy Color. And what game did I pick up? Why, none other than Wario Land II.
To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I took it for a spin and did not like it one bit. This was in no way, shape, or form the Wario Land I had loved so.
It wasn’t long before I returned it. And that was that.
Years later after playing Wario Land 4 and securing Wario Land 3 into my prized collection, I regretted my hasty judgment upon the second one. I went on a hunt and fortuitously scored another copy of Wario Land II…only it was the Game Boy version. So…yeah, there’s the Game Boy Color release and the regular Game Boy release.
The game I played, obviously, was the Game Boy original copy. But for screencap purposes – to add a little luster to this review – I played the Color version on an emulator. I mean, just look at how pretty this game is in glorious color…
So there’s a good place to start. Some elements are borrowed from the previous game – notably, a couple enemies and the basic musical theme – but otherwise Wario Land II is given a complete graphical overhaul.
But how do you improve upon such a fine-looking game? I remember the sequel being kind of ugly, and when I first turned on my Game Boy the tint of preconceived notions hadn’t fully worn off yet.
Wario’s ugly, sure, but graphically this game scores very high. Our protagonist is even more cartoony and expressive than he was before, with frames of animation that left me quite impressed. I didn’t think you could improve on the first, but I guess I was wrong. In fact, after playing Wario Land II, I realized – despite the first one looking so good – Wario was a little stiff in his debut title. I still think Wario Land looks amazing (and in some ways better), but everything is much more fluid this time around. You can really live out the story through his reactions and emotions, as simple as they might be. The only thing I find odd is his arm when he charges. It’s all bulbousy and out of place.
Speaking of story, this game is broken into a series of chapters, with cute cutscenes scored by fun, jaunty music that carry the plot along. Your missions are fairly cut and dry, dressed up in objectives that play into the narrative. For the most part, you either have to reach a door, ram a specific object, or fight a boss. But even still, because of the cutscenes and story progression, Wario Land II takes you on a little adventure with some fun boss battles along the way. You even have an innovative fight or two, like the basketball showdown with Dunk the Bunny.
Innovative is the key word here. I hated this game as a child because it was so…different. I love it now because it’s so…different.
Not only is Wario Land II’s gameplay highly distinct from Wario Land, it set the tone for the rest of the series, which is one like nothing I’ve played before. It’s as if the Wario Land series was an outlet for Nintendo creatives to really experiment. And the results are phenomenal.
One of my biggest gripes with Wario Land II as a kid was the removal of your vulnerability in favor of an array of wacky Wario “conditions.” While I still love experiencing his transformation into tiny gremlin form and back, I do appreciate what they did here. All of the unfortunate mishaps befalling poor Wario not only change your abilities and controls but send the Wario franchise into a world of its own.
As for the lack of health measures, the creators finally realized Wario is an indestructible beast whose only true weakness lies in his wallet. So in Wario Land II he loses coins in lieu of taking damage.
What a novel concept!
But how does one make a game challenging when your protagonist cannot be harmed?
It calls for intricate level design and puzzles. You’ll really have to learn all of Wario’s abilities and the game’s mechanics to maximize your gains. Our favorite antihero is packed with a whole slew of fresh moves in Wario Land II, from charging your throws, to rolling, to the ground pound you only had as Bull Wario in the first game.
Hidden pathways are everywhere, encouraging you to explore all corners, and plenty of entrances will require you to put on your thinking cap.
Timing is also factored into the challenge. Even though you cannot die, you will face several cleverly designed trials you’ll be forced to repeat over and over until you succeed. It can be aggravating, yes. Very much so. But in the end it’s worth it.
So, this is how they make a game difficult without lives or a health bar. Does it mean they succeeded? Well…
Yes and no. Wario Land II is actually pretty easy at first. Some puzzles might require you to think outside of the box, but all in all you’ll figure out where to go and what to do without much effort. This doesn’t mean the game’s unenjoyable. Or short.
It’s quite long, actually. Levels will take you some time, especially since you have numerous paths to choose. I never felt like I was too lost, but there was plenty to explore. And I had a lot of fun. It’s addicting to wander around and gather the most coins you possibly can.
You heard me right. Greed is once again encouraged, and it feels oh so good. Though this time, it’s more for currency than an ending determinant.
You’ll need coins to play mini-games. There are only two kinds throughout most of Wario Land II, but they’re a lot of fun.
Within each level, you’ll have to find the door leading to the matching game, which requires a quick eye. Victory gives you a bizarre treasure. After completing a stage, you play another game where you must guess the correct number on the screen. 50 coins to reveal a panel, and if you guess correct you earn a piece of a fine portrait. The rules for this one change in the second half of the game.
There’s definitely incentive here. You have objectives and you are compelled to rack up as much of a fortune as you can. The length of the levels will give you plenty to do, and to top it off you’re given a TON of levels. Once you beat the final boss you’ll notice you’ve only completed 50% of the game. That’s right. There’s an entire half a game left. And let me tell you…remember how I said Wario Land II is easy at first? This is where the game really kicks off.
You’re given diverging paths, which are kind of like alternate endings you might find on DVDs. One example is in the first level (**SPOILER ALERT**) where the alarm is buzzing and you’re supposed to get out of bed. If you don’t wake Wario, the bad guys carry him off and the story is now about returning to your kingdom instead of recovering your treasure from Syrup Castle.
Because of the different endings you do have to sit through the credits about five or so times, which is a pain in the ass, but the second half is where the real fun begins. And 100% completion (this includes all treasures and revealing the entire portrait) gives you a Simon Says-like mini-game and the “Really Final Chapter.”
The Really Final Chapter is weird.
And it sucks.
It takes all the skills you’ve been practicing up to this point and puts them to the test. And it’s not fun at all. Really, it’s the most aggravating trial I think I ever went through. Just avoid it. 100% is enough. It was so tedious and stressful I was ready to bring the “nerd rating” down to zero. Of course, after I allowed myself to cool down and return to my senses, I realized I was being ridiculous.
The Really Final Chapter tracks your time, and it actually took me nearly 50 minutes. I did beat the final boss, and let me tell you this – I dunno how I did it. I think my fingers took over and a god of fate smiled upon me or something, but it was the most satisfying accomplishment in my video game career. You can give it a shot if you think you’re up for it but just remember…
…you’ve been warned.
(Sorry, no screenshots. You’ll have to take my word on this one because I ain’t going for 100% completion twice)
Music? The majority of the tracks are variations of the main theme from Wario Land though the compositions are taken much further this time. I will note, each “condition” has its own tune, which I enjoy a lot. Overall it’s solid, like in the first game.
Wario Land II is just so damn clever, charming, and fun. It’s not overly difficult, but it gives you a lot to do. It’s a game where 100% completion is totally doable and highly satisfying. If there’s anything Wario Land II has taught me, it’s that a game doesn’t need to require a ton of skill or risk to be fun and enjoyable.
Bravo to you, Wario Land II. I salute you!
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