WarioWare fans who were eager for the series to finally return this year had to settle for a best-of compilation on the ageing Nintendo 3DS. But WarioWare Gold, is more than just a greatest-hits remaster. It actually had a lot of effort put into it, its lead developer explained to Kotaku.
“We basically redrew the art for all the microgames and reprogrammed them from scratch,” the game’s director, Goro Abe, said in an email interview with Kotaku. “A lot of the games that look unchanged at first glance actually have a lot of changes upon comparison.”
Gold consists of 300 microgames that originally appeared in WarioWare games that date back to the 2003 Game Boy Advance original as well as sequels and spin-offs that appeared on the GBA, Nintendo DS, Wii, and Wii U.
The main WarioWare games each contained more than 200 microgames, little interactive bits that give players only a few seconds to, say, hammer down a nail, guide a piece of food through a digestive tract or pull out the Master Sword in a snippet from The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.
The microgames are by default thrown at the player rapidly and randomly in a comedic contest of developer creativity and player reflexes. The whole schtick is engineered, in the lore of the games, by the cheapskate Wario, who is trying to make good money with games people burn through quickly.
In Gold, Wario is hosting a gaming tournament called the Wario Bowl which consists of people playing through these microgames in an effort he is sure will make him some “easy money.” (Video game history is oddly abundant with games about the business of making games, and the WarioWare series is Nintendo’s own cackling send-up of the process.)
Almost all of the microgames in Gold were plucked by Abe’s team from the earlier games. “There are over 1,100 in total if you include everything from Smooth Moves, D.I.Y., and Game & Wario,” he said.
“I surveyed the staff to determine which games from these titles we should polish. Then, I ranked all of the microgames according to elements like which ones are appreciated by the staff through the survey, which ones have rules that are easy to understand, and which ones don’t feel old when played now.”
Games making the cut in Gold include The Brush-Off (in which the player rapidly brushes a child’s teeth), Mole (in which one counts moles on a person’s face), Stalled Out (in which the player finds an open bathroom stall for a character who’s really got to go), and Mars Jars (in which the player tries to keep two little space-people from being trapped in a giant overturned glass).
The old microgames weren’t just ported over but instead reworked with more elaborate art and often more gameplay variables.
The iconic nose-picking game, Gold Digger, for example, returns from the original WarioWare, now with more types of noses to pick and some fake-out moments involving nose-piercings or a chomping mouth.
Other games were changed to create connections between them that didn’t exist before. “The same couple appears in Hookin’ Up, Love Tester, Rocky Reunion, Tearful Reunion, and Long Lost Love,” Abe said, noting a tweak that affects all those games, which originally appeared across four WarioWare releases.
“We tried creating a drama between a man and woman that spans several microgames.”
Regarding a microgame involving a person fending off hurled balls and rocks, Abe said that the “character in Self-Defence was young in Twisted, but has since gotten older and become a master (though he’s still doing the same thing).”
The fan-run Mario Wiki lists a river of other changes, many of which sound as suitably ridiculous as anything WarioWare-related should. Consider the changes noted for a game called Doggy Door: “The dog is replaced by a horse, the satellite is now a blimp, and the clouds are added to the background.”
While the Wii U’s Game & Wario was very weird, and developed by the same team, it was not technically a WarioWare game. It did, however, feature a mini-game in which one of the series’ recurring characters, 9-Volt tries to sneak in some WarioWare microgames in his bedroom without his mother, who expects him to be asleep, catching him.
That mode, called Gamer in the Wii U release, returns in modified form in Gold. (It had also been adapted into a stage for Smash Bros. on Wii U.)
“Sneaky Gamer in this edition is not a port of Gamer from Game & Wario,” Abe said. “but rather a new version that’s been balanced differently to increase the number of patterns controlling where the mother appears.”
Players must go through a series of mini-games while remaining vigilant for the mum’s potential appearances and quickly press two shoulder buttons to tuck 9-Volt under the covers before he’s caught. She might suddenly open his bedroom door, appear outside his window, or even materialise in his TV.
Just before release, some people noticed that 9-Volt’s bedroom, which used to include Nintendo’s flop of a portable gaming machine, the Virtual Boy, now instead contains Nintendo’s flop of a console, the Wii U.
“The subtle changes to the layout of the room was a message from the development team that this isn’t exactly the same game as Gamer,” Abe said, though he denied there was any hidden meaning (come on, really?). “One of those changes just so happens to include removing the Virtual Boy. Our intention was not to convey that the Virtual Boy is too old, or that we are now in the era of the Wii U.”
“Still,” he added, “if 9-Volt were using that Wii U to stealthily play the Game & Wario version of Gamer in his room, that’d be layers on layers complexity.”
Some of the biggest innovations in Gold are in its challenges, which are variations on the rapid-fire WarioWare microgame onslaught. One, called Cruise Controls, alters the speed of microgames based on how the player tilts the 3DS. Split Screen puts a new microgame on the 3DS’ top screen as soon as the player finishes one on the bottom screen, then puts a new one on the top as soon as the bottom one is cleared, ad infinitum until you fail. It makes the traditional WarioWare tempo even faster.
“We’ve wanted to try Split Screen mode ever since Nintendo DS came out with two screens,” Abe said, but noted that it was too taxing for that older Nintendo hardware. He pointed to the tougher “ultra” version of Split Screen, that uses the widest variety of microgames, as a favourite. “I believe this to be the current apex of instant action,” he said.
“I challenge you to try and master this mode.” The highest score reached by the developers, Abe said, is 119 points. Abe’s own high score is 60. My high score is 27.
For all the work that went into WarioWare Gold, it still left some of the most hardcore fans disappointed with its unlockable extras. That may seem greedy, but the grumbling on some dedicated WarioWare forums makes sense given that earlier releases, especially the motion-sensitive WarioWare Twisted, were stuffed with unlockable, interactive extras.
Some of Gold’s rewards for clearing the returning microgames do include mini-games like the catchy pumpkin-shooting game Pumpkin Panic and the suitably peculiar Metroid-with-cats mash-up Mewtroid 2: Return of Sameow. Others include cutscenes to which players can add their own voice acting, but they also include less-interesting content, like more than 30 phone messages and more than 10 interactive alarm clocks. A lot of it has been classified by fans as filler.
“When Twisted came out, games using the gyro sensor were still rare at the time, so we were really into adding toy-like unlockables that made use of those controls,” Abe said, specifically responding to my comparison of Twisted’s unlockable abundance.
“Some of them were pretty much just slightly revised experimental programs. But now, touch and gyro controls are no longer that novel. They’re used in a lot of unique apps that have been released on smartphones. That’s why we didn’t really feel it was necessary to make any for this version of WarioWare.”
“Plus, by the final stage of development, the programmers are pouring their energy into tweaking the main playable aspects of the game, like microgames, challenge modes, and mini-games, so we ended up with a higher proportion of prizes that have low programming overhead, like records and other things to read,” he said.
Another large set of unlockable items that don’t do very much is a collection of 3D models of previous Nintendo consoles, handhelds, and other products, including many that precede the company’s video game days. Abe says these were included as a way to teach people new to the series some Nintendo history.
“In the future,” he said, “if there’s new technology on new hardware that we can use in a new WarioWare title, then we’ll probably prep more unlockables with unique and interactive mechanics.”
The future of WarioWare in general is unclear. Before Gold there hadn’t been a microgame-filled release since 2009’s WarioWare DIY, and we hadn’t even had a spin-off since 2013’s Game & Wario.
The work put into Gold is impressive, but only Nintendo knows if it’ll serve as a teaser to a proper new release or if it’ll simply be a very well-polished presentation of so much of what made WarioWare great so many years ago.