I've talked about this game to death so it only makes sense to go ahead and review it! Growing up, Wario was perhaps my favorite video game character, even more so than Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Crash, etc. It seemed like back in the late 90s and early-mid 2000s every game in the Wario series was innovative and completely different from the others in the franchise.
Wario Land 3 took up so many hours on my Game Boy Color when it came out, and when I got the Game Boy Advance for Christmas, I got this game as well and remember enjoying it a ton.
For most of my life I had placed Wario Land 4 a little below Wario Land 3. Like a lot of people I loved it but felt it didn't offer as much content as Wario Land 3.
A few years ago I decided to play both games again. I still enjoy Wario Land 3 a lot, but must admit the amount of backtracking and level objectives could be confusing and downright overwhelming the further you got in the game. But something clicked with Wario Land 4. Again it was a game I already really liked, but at a time where I was still in college and didn't have enough time to track in 3-5 hours of gameplay per day, WL4 suddenly started to appeal to me a lot more.
The game is a more traditional, straightforward 2D platformer, and you actually have a heart meter this time, so you can actually die in this game (aka get sent back to the level entrance). Fear not, because it actually is really hard to die in this one. Completing every stage on its own is pretty easy.
The real challenge, however, is similar to the one in Yoshi's Story: Collecting all the goodies and achieving the maximum high score is one that'll require more time but is ultimately very rewarding. In this game, your scores actually count as currency as well, being used to play mini games which reward you coins used to buy items that can be used to take a fraction of the boss' health before you start fighting it!!!!! It's an innovative concept that pays off perfectly, and encourages you to go get high scores in each level.
Speaking of which, every single one of the levels has a completely different background, musical theme, and gimmicks right out the door. There's a stage similar to a board game where you have to "roll the dice" to land on icons that can help you unlock new areas and give you different transformations used to access said areas. Another one starts off in a fiery volcano, but the second half becomes a frozen tundra, changing the gameplay mechanics entirely.
The lack of repetitive level and background design keeps each level fresh, and since this is a straightforward platformer you're able to access everything a level has to offer on the first try. Another gimmick the game offers is the use of a frog timer you use to reactivate the warp you entered in. After collecting all four pieces of a diamond in each level, you must also collect a key and step on the frog timer.
This puts pressure on the player to get to the end of the level before time runs out, and while on paper this may seem stressful and cause worries of tedium due to the backtracking, rest assured Nintendo did the impossible and made backtracking in this game fun. New areas open up as you hit the timer, being used not only for a shortcut but also to find items you need to unlock new levels. It racks up the intensity but never racks up the frustration, making getting to the end of the level satisfying as hell.
When it comes to levels, the surreal humor and creativity on the level design give this game a lot of personality. The controls are sensationally good, providing consistent responsiveness while also offering a charging shoulder move and an even more powerful shoulder charge! Wario moves smoothly and making jumps in this game is extremely easy. Certain enemies can produce larger coins and scores by ground pounding the ground to change them to a certain color, and the move itself can be used to flip enemies upside down and break through a bunch of obstacles at once!
Each level is big enough that you can explore every nook and cranny but small enough that you'll never get lost. Enemies can also be thrown, allowing you to pick up coins and even reveal secret entrances to bonus levels, which require you to solve fun, rapidly quick puzzles in order to get various treasures. The boss fights are pretty tough but never discouraging, and you can purchase items that can erase a fraction of their health right before you fight them.
Graphically, this game looks exactly like a Super Nintendo title with more modern polishes. As stated the backgrounds and levels all look different and extremely imaginative. The music is extremely bizarre but gives the game its share of personality and charm, and there's even extra music (Re: even weirder) you find by collecting CD treasure chests hidden in each level. The sound effects are also satisfying and hilarious too.
Finally, do not believe the complaints that this game is too short or doesn't have at much replay value as it should. Not only can you get multiple endings (depending on how quickly you beat bosses in the game), but there are two difficulty settings, with the hard mode swapping the locations of the treasures to mix things up. Beating the game even unlocks an additional Super Hard Mode, racking up the challenge for more hardcore gamers!
At the end of the day, this is probably my favorite Game Boy Advance title of all time. The game perfectly combines the exploration of previous Wario Land titles with the arcade action of platformers like Super Mario Bros or Crash Bandicoot. There's plenty of hidden areas to discover in each level, and I've found something new on every playthrough. The game as a whole is just so much fun to play, and there seems to be an endless amount of creativity and variety throughout each level.
Few games get eternally imprinted in my mind, and this is one of those games. It seems like everything in this game is done right, taking away the tedious nature some aspects of the previous Wario games had while being far from a garden variety 2D platformer. It's a highly original, highly entertaining portable masterpiece, and as far as I'm concerned it may just be one of the ten best games I've ever played.
My enthusiasm towards this game isn't based on nostalgia even though I played this as a kid. It feels even more fun today than it was back in 2001, I'm dead serious. The game has a share of extremely minor issues, but I don't think any of them are worth mentioning. I'm also not convinced you need to play previous Wario games in order to get this, you can just skip to this one. It's that freaking good. Buy it, play it, and never look back.
FINAL GRADE: A+
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