The banality of evil.
Being a hero can be kind of a drag. You’ve always got to play by the rules, do what people tell you to, and sacrifice yourself for the ‘greater good’. It seems like every time you turn on your game console, you’re asked to rescue some princess or save some village or otherwise help out your fellow man. But sometimes, you just want to blow off all your obligations, stuff your pockets full of phat lewt, and skip town. And when you’re in one of those moods, there’s nobody better to turn to than our favorite anti-hero, Wario, who stars in Nintendo’s latest offering for the DS, Wario: Master of Disguise.
Now, most platform games start with villains kidnapping your family or burning your town to the ground or something. In Wario’s world, however, our adventure begins with our antagonistic protagonist sitting on his oversized butt in his messy apartment, watching TV and trying to dream up ways of getting rich without actually doing any work. Now that’s my kind of hero.
Flipping channels, he comes across a show called the Silver Zephyr, featuring a world-class thief who zips around the world, stealing valuable treasures. Witnessing this dashing burglar, Wario has an inspiration. Now, you might think that he would be inspired to go out into the world and start stealing treasures himself. But, no. Instead, he is inspired to run into his workroom, invent a device that will transport him into the television show, and steal the Silver Zephyr’s thunder. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but hey.
As Wario dives into his TV screen (putting the idiot in ‘Idiot Box’), he bonks the Silver Zephyr on the head, causing him to drop his talking magic wand, Goodstyle. Did I mention that this isn’t going to be making any sense? Goodstyle apparently has about as much loyalty as the cast of Survivor: All Stars
, and the moment he lands in Wario’s sweaty hands he spills all the beans about how he’s helped his previous owner filch treasures around the world.
It turns out that Goodstyle is the true master of the disguise, as he can whip up an assortment of costumes for any occasion. From Genius to Dragon, Astronaut to Artist, Goodstyle can turn you into whatever you need to be. The mechanics of these transformations is a good, innovative use of the DS’s Touch Screen. To switch between one costume and another, you simply draw the appropriate symbol on your character on the screen. To become the dragon, you draw your tail coming out behind you; for the Astronaut, you quickly scribble the space helmet over your head. Most characters have an attack or special move that is also controlled with the stylus. The Artist conjures up blocks out of thin air, the Thief has a powerful shoulder attack, the Astronaut has a ray gun, and so on.
The main challenge of the game is to find the right combination of disguises that will help you get through each room. For example, you might start as the Artist and create a block, switch to the Thief, whose improved physical abilities allow you to jump from the block to a higher level, and then switch to the Dragon to burn through a nearby obstacle. The concept is fun, and the Artist’s blocks are particularly interesting, as they allow you to affect areas that you yourself can’t reach. I can’t tell you how long it took me to figure out that I could flip that switch in the room behind the wall by dropping a block on it, which then opened the door to let me in.
In practice, however, the costume switching can be frustrating. The game isn’t always good at recognizing what you’re trying to do with the stylus, so it will frequently misinterpret your scribbling, making you execute five or six useless attacks when you’re really trying to change into your artist disguise. This can be especially maddening in big battles. When the level boss is bearing down and you need to change into the Astronaut to shoot him, only to find yourself as the Sea Captain whose only power is swimming, you’re up a creek without a ray gun.
Unlike previous Wario-themed games, however, Master of Disguise is much more about puzzles than about monsters. Every time you find a treasure chest, you must complete a mini-game to score the prize inside. Most are straightforward, such as threading a dot through a maze or squashing a bunch of cockroaches that swarm Galaga-style across your screen. Some are more unusual, like matching falling objects to the correct receptacle, so that the diamond goes into the treasure chest, the garlic goes into the mouth, and the, um, steaming pile of excrement goes into the toilet. Yes, you heard me right. Believe me, you do not want to mess that one up.
For the most part, the games are excruciatingly easy. While they do get harder as the game progresses, they don’t really provide much of a challenge, and with the same eight mini-games repeating level after level, you’ll begin to make up your own rules just to keep yourself interested.
The graphics are really nothing special. Like other DS games produced by Nintendo, they never seem to break out of the old Game Boy Advance mold. Yes, the color is sharper and the resolution is higher, but we’re still seeing the same flat backgrounds and weakly animated characters. The music and sounds are likewise average, although there are a few sound bytes for Wario that keep things interesting.
Discovering and learning to use the different disguises keeps Wario: Master of Disguise exciting for a few levels. But once the novelty wears off, there’s really nothing to keep you interested in the game. And then you’re back to saving maidens from evil dragons to pass the time.