Wario Land 4: Breaking Convention / GAMESD
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Wario Land 4: Breaking Convention / GAMESD


This week Warioware Gold arrives in stores. A curated collection of the best microgames
in the franchise all on one platform. It’s a walk through a series that’s all
about breaking down the conventions of video games; presenting you with a small idea and
a simple execution and doing this hundreds of times in the space of eight seconds each. But today I want to go a little further back
than Warioware to a time where Wario was breaking the conventions of Platform games. Mostly because I already did a video about
Warioware nearly this time last year… look there’s a link for it in the corner! But also because I really want to talk about
a game that I don’t think gets the love it deserves. One that I would put above any 2D Super Mario
game and would rank alongside Yoshi’s Island as one of Nintendo’s finest. Wario Land 4 was developed by Nintendo’s
Research and Development 1; the team behind the Metroid series and the later Warioware
games. It was released in 2001 as a launch window
title for the Gameboy Advance. Both of these facts go towards what makes
the title special, not to mention the fact that it’s the fourth title in the franchise
and the final to be released on a portable platform. Over the course of this video I want to dig
into what makes Wario Land 4 fantastic. I’ll start by exploring the series as a
whole and how it lead to this game, breaking down its base elements as well as how it’d
influence the tone of the future Warioware games. So with that out of the way; I’m GamesD
– and this is a look at Wario Land 4. Who or what is Wario? First a question has to be asked; Who or What
is Wario? To give a technical definition; Wario is a
character that was introduced in 1992 as the antagonist and Final Boss of Super Mario Land
2. Wario’s name is a portmanteau of the Japanese
word for Bad and Nintendo’s most recognisable Mascot: Mario. As his name suggests, he is a perversion of
Mario’s qualities. He’s an overweight gremlin with an obsession
for Treasure. He’s a bully that uses his immense strength
and weight as his means of offense. His design exaggerates Mario’s to the point
he is a parody of the prestigious plumber. He also lacks any of the dignity that Nintendo
affords their Main Mascot; He’s rude, crude and routinely clowned on by his designers. Which is why he was the perfect candidate
for his own franchise. Because at the time of Super Mario Land 2s
release, the template of a 2D Super Mario game was set in stone. Super Mario World had standardised the elements
that would be carried over into any future 2D title and ultimately were in the New Super
Mario Brothers series. Each game follows the formula of reaching
the flagpole at the end of an obstacle course. It’s presented in a side-scrolling manner
that can move horizontally, vertically or automatically moves for you. Enemies and Traps and Progression are designed
around Mario’s performing his most notable feature; Jumping. And finally their aesthetic is clean, colourful
and cute. The Wario Land games however could be an avenue
for the developers behind the Super Mario Land titles to buck these trends. And buck they did. So what is Wario? Well over the course of three Gameboy titles
the definition goes a little like this. Wario Land is a series of puzzle platformers. That prefix is important because it changed
the intention of level design and objective design from the Mario series. Levels aren’t tackled by the player in a
linear fashion; instead they’re exploratory sandboxes where progression forward is obfuscated
or even broken up into smaller pieces. There are no bottomless pits or auto-scrolling
sections – just dead-ends and traps that may even lead to other opportunities. It’s a little like the inbetween of Mario
and Metroid in that respect. Wario Land 3 is the most apt example of this
design. Each level contains four hidden keys for four
hidden chests. How you reach a key and then its corresponding
chest is the challenge of each scenario. As you unlock each chest, you will change
the world map in a significant fashion. Maybe you open the way ahead to a new level,
change an old level or add another ability to Wario’s repertoire. These in turn open new paths to new keys and
new chests and the cycle repeats. Could these games have worked with Mario as
the protagonist? Perhaps… but I think Wario’s qualities
are what inspired the developers to move towards this design. He’s an overweight gremlin with an obsession
for Treasure. So by that account he’s more likely to scrub
through a level to find treasure where he can. Treasure is something you’re likely to hide
in chests and so a challenge can be finding them and figuring out how to open them. He’s a bully that uses his immense strength
and weight as his means of offense. So levels and enemies can be designed to take
advantage of his immense strength and weight. Whether it’s breakable blocks that obscure
the way ahead or even enemies that put up more of a defense to the usual bop on the
head. He’s rude, crude and routinely clowned on
by his designers. Well… yeah. Wario’s versatility is a product of the
developers being more confident to challenge his character design. Perhaps the most obvious example of this are
Wario’s transformations. In the second game onwards, certain enemies
or environmental hazards cause Wario to go through a grotesque body shock that bring
with them new abilities. These are a twist on the traditional Super
Mario power ups; they’re not an additive improvement – they are a change. If you set him on fire he can burn though
special blocks. If you blow him up he can float to the ceiling. If you made him overweight he can smash through
the floor. All of these elements can come together to
inform a Wario scenario. In that case; What is Wario Land 4? Well Wario Land 4 is the natural advancement
on these ideas. Levels are non-linear and exploratory. There is one key and four chests to find per
level in order to progress ahead to the next. You use all of Wario’s Offensive Options
and Transformation abilities to hit those objectives… as well as accumulate as much
treasure as you can along the way. The world map is simplified and instead is
comprised of four zones with four levels a piece that need to be completed in a linear
fashion towards a boss. The defeat of each boss then opens the way
ahead to the final level and then the final boss. The thing is; finding all four chests or a
key aren’t enough to kick you out of a level as was the case in the original Wario Land
games. Which is where it’s break from its own conventions
comes into play. This is the Frog Switch. Every Level has one. It could be anywhere from near the start,
towards a logical end point or hidden somewhere off the beaten path. But you should always find it. Why? Well, it’s the only way you can escape a
level. But the moment you activate it; Wario Land
4 transforms into an anxiety inducing nightmare. Suddenly a level that you’ve had to explore
and examine for minutes is crumbling all around you. The background layer warps and distorts. The music turns into a terrifying electronic
track. Do you remember where you came from? In fact can you return that way? The Frog Switch doesn’t just kick up a countdown;
it may also change level geometry by blocking or opening new paths. In some cases it may even change a level identity
entirely; turning a lava zone into an ice field, shuffling open doors in a hotel or
waking up a ghost who steals your key as you try to escape. The developers even mess with your expectations
by hiding chests and even the key behind frog blocked areas – so you have to put yourself
in danger in order to fully complete a level. It’s this split between slow and steady
exploration and full speed escape that gives Wario Land 4 a taste unlike any other game
in its series. It’s like the two big set-pieces of a Metroid
Game in under a minute… which I guess isn’t a strange comparison considering that the
developers behind the Wario games are responsible for the Metroid series… they even reused
Wario Land 4’s engine for Metroid Fusion. Just a cool fact I wanted to put in the script…
even if it has kind of slowed everything down. Uhh. Wario’s moveset is the perfect problem solver
for these kind of challenges. His heavyweight offense is a perfect fit for
non-linear exploration as it was in the previous games. Carrying over is Wario’s most iconic attack;
a shoulder barge that takes out enemies from the front. It can also smash through walls like he’s
a glass jug full of Kool-Aid. Then there’s the ground pound that smashes
through floor tiles, shakes the level or takes out hard headed enemies. If you knock an enemy on their head you can
pick them up and use them as a thrown projectile. This goes too for this cheeky rock and this
absolute pearl. Then there’s little contextual movements
like rolling down hills; turning Wario into a one-unit high bowling ball that smashes
through blocks you’re usually too tall to reach. In fact it sort of reminds me of the Metroid
games with the morph ball and… oh right, not again. New to the series is a momentum driven barge
attack. Holding either the Left or Right GBA Shoulder
Buttons, Wario breaks into a head first sprint that wipes out small enemies and blocks. Give it a wide enough birth without epidement
and it charges up to break heavier obstacles as he becomes an unstoppable juggernaut. This kind of time dependent charge even applies
to throws and ground pound. The run is a compliment to the fast-thinking
action you have to endure during the countdown sections. When all you want to do is power back to where
you came from without a care, this is the perfect ability to do so. And thanks to the GBA’s design, you never
have to lift your thumbs from the face buttons or d-pad while holding the shoulders to sprint. Actually, now I mention it; let’s talk about
why this is the perfect Gameboy Advance game. The Gameboy Advance like its predecessor was
a pocket sized adaptation of a classic Nintendo system; in this case advancing to the Super
Nintendo’s relative specifications. Many developers saw this as an opportunity
to do straight ports of classic SNES titles to the GBA. Nintendo themselves sort to adapt Super Mario
World and Yoshi’s Island to the system with small control amendments, as well as the Super
Mario All Star adaptations of Brothers 2 and 3. But a minority of developers saw the opportunity
to apply 10 years of learning since the SNES and some lessons they had learnt from the
dawn of the 3D age to have games that were on the absolute cutting edge of what 2D could
achieve. Wario Land 4 is the poster boy of this line
of thinking. The character himself doesn’t just have
extra detail in his look but also his animation. Even his standing still has shifts and changes
as he breathes and blinks. His movement has a squash and stretch fitting
of his heavyweight and his body even distorts when he picks up speed or puts his force into
a particular body part. Compared to the rather clinical look of Super
Mario in his 2D titles, Wario is a character that extrudes charm while doing very little. His enemies and especially the bosses also
benefit from this graphical shift. They’re gross. They dribble and crease. They have wrinkles and detail that you only
really see in Nintendo’s more mature titles like Met…uhhhh. The world of Wario Land 4 doesn’t just come
in the familiar shades of snow, lava and jungle levels. The developers played with more offbeat ideas
like a Board Game, Domino Run and Pinball Table with fitting aesthetics and mechanics. Even how they look and how they sound is nothing
quite like Nintendo had done before. Where Yoshi’s Island aimed for a consistent
hand-drawn look, Wario shifts through different art directions like Faux-3D, cartoonish and
even photo references for its background elements. The soundtrack is just as eclectic using the
kind of sample based audio that carries on the offbeat spirit of Earthbound. All of this set the tone for what the developer
would eventually build on with the Warioware series; a game that shifts through styles
and tone nearly every eight seconds. It uses what was once cutting edge technology
and brings it up to date and shows that the Gameboy Advance wasn’t just a Super Nintendo
in your pocket. The game will take anywhere between two to
three hours to complete. It clocks in at just under 20 levels in total;
far less than any of the previous Wario titles or even any other Mario game. But in my opinion, it goes to show that the
game has no bum notes. It is all killer and no filler. The high-score driven nature of its level
design also encourages replayability. Because it’s not just how quick you can
complete a level but also how much treasure you can accumulate while you’re there. It is a Wario game after all. Short and Sweet is what Wario excels at. After all you only have to look at the Warioware
games for how they can make an idea work with nothing but a prompt and eight seconds to
execute on it. Why I’d rank it above Super Mario World
is that there’s no repetition to its cleverness. By establishing a very simple set of rules
early on, it allows the levels to take on whatever shape or scenario design the developers
want. Even by breaking Mario conventions, it replaces
them with something far more interesting. The side-scrolling presentation is only an
interface for the kind of objective driven level design more in line with something like
Super Mario 64. The traditional flag pole has been turned
from a simple congratulations for completing the obstacle course into a panic inducing
climax that recontextualizes the entire level. Progression isn’t just about reaching the
end either. There’s chests and keys to consider to open
the way ahead. And to get those you’re not just going to
be jumping. You’ll be barging, ground pounding, running
head first into walls. You’ll be turning into a bat or getting
flattened into a disk to reach them. And the aesthetic definitely isn’t clean,
colourful and cute. It’s weird, wild and utterly gorgeous. There hasn’t been anything quite like Wario
Land 4 since. Much like the every game after Yoshi’s Island;
each successor has been far from successful in emulating the charm of what made their
predecessors work. But anomaly is what made them work. After all, without Super Mario there would
be no Wario. And without titles like Donkey Kong and Super
Mario Brothers breaking convention, Videogames definitely wouldn’t look the same. So here’s to Wario Land 4; an ode to breaking
convention.

50 Comments

  • MML's Commentaries

    I think I need to go back and revisit Wario Land 4. I always go back and forth as to whether I prefer WL3's more open structure or WL4's more arcade-influenced level setup with the crazy frog switches and timer. I also really love Shake It (I think it's called The Shake Dimension in your region), but I think we can all agree that it's just a worse version of WL4 when it comes down to it. Nothing has the zaniness of WL4 outside of WarioWare. Fantastic video my man!

  • zwalada

    How is it possible? I haven't played this game for 17 years and I didn't hear anything talking about it in 17 years. I started playing it agen 2 days ago and now this?

  • pikminman13

    The series begs for another installment. I like Warioware, but I think this is the underrated one of the pair. What makes Wario great is how it use a system gimmick and always does something good with it. While this was more present in Warioware, Shake It!/The Shake Dimension managed to add in a system gimmick that made good use of what it was and didn't feel super awkward. 4 is definitely one of my favorites though, even though there are only 6ish games.

  • HeavyEyed

    Guess I got a new series to play through. I love the idea of flipping mario conventions on their head for a weird and whacky platformer something I’ve been needing that’s actually done well for a long ass time.

  • The MidBoss

    This was a fantastic video! I loved Wario Land 3 and 4 and have always been sad the games didn't get as much appreciation as they deserved. Really loved the analytical nature of the video. Definitely sub worthy. Hopefully one day we'll get a Wario World 5/6 one day! (There was that one spiritual successor on the wii after all!)

    I'm a whole bunch smaller than you, but if I find the time to grow a bit, I'd love to hopefully collaborate sometime in the future; keep putting out great content!

  • J A

    I was here since you had only 200 subs and seeing you grow this much has been quite the ride. Keep improving man! I can’t wait to see how much farther you go every day

  • Amy Zee

    Two things to note:
    – There is a secret S-Hard mode. Get 10,000 coins in each level in Hard mode and complete the final boss to unlock it. Another reason to get those coins!
    – If you want a really in-depth level-by-level analysis of the game, you can buy a book about it here: https://danielprimed.com/warioland4/ I didn't write it, but it's a really good read.

  • Spamjim 0211

    Awesome video! You deserve a lot more subscribers! I also love Wario Land 4, definitely one of the best games made by Nintendo

  • Purposeless Rabbitholes

    Christ in heaven, how do you only have 1.2K subscribers? I watched this whole thing and came to channel assuming I’d see 100K minimum. What a buttery-smooth video.

  • Game Score Fanfare

    Yesss I remember playing both WL3 and WL4 growing up. I forgot all about them, thank you for reminding me!

    On a side note, I hope you find the time and energy to keep releasing videos in the future. Yours are some of my favourite on the website and they just keep getting better and better. This is easily one of your best – the analysis, the graphics, the pacing, the laughs, it's all fantastic.

  • LambHoot RH

    YO James, freaking, the way you frame things, like, it's amazing. The frog switch in this video was the perfect example. The way you introduced the frog switch and its effects, your writing, your delivery, your editing, it all just comes together and makes it super easy for a viewer to understand what you're trying to get it.

    Like, as someone who kinda rarely has experience with games I'm watching videos about, it's kind of a pain when someone glances over some sort of tacit knowledge they have about a feature, but you use every bit you can to get across exactly what this potentially foreign concept is and why its important to the video.

    Like, boi.

    And bless up thanks for this podcast, got something new to listen to at work aaaaaay

  • SoloWatcher86

    Yes! Finally this game gets some attention. I’ve played 1 and 4 and shake it. 2 and 3 Never struck me. 1 benefits from gameplay linearity in having a better designed backgrounds

  • InflatedEgo

    Fun fact: Beating the game on higher difficulties affects the car wario drives in the credits. On hard he will drive a silver pick up truck and on very hard he drives a futuristic car

  • James M

    Thank you for this video. Funnily enough I’ve been replaying the game over the last month, and just finished it on super hard mode today. Something I thought I never would accomplish back in the early 2000s. In a way this only goes to prove its timelessness – by the time you do attempt super hard mode, you’re familiar enough with the game to make it a fair challenge. It really is a special game – and definitely a product of its time given Nintendo R&D 1 hasn’t been restructured.

  • vDom

    I genuinely believe that it might be the most underrated game of all time. No one ever talks about it. It's so polished, so offbeat and so charming that it became a classic in my eyes instantly. I can only hope that it "does and Earthbound" and becomes a cult classic. If this game was released now by maybe an indy developer, everyone would rave about it, I firmly believe that.

    Great video by the way, you earned a new sub, keep it up!

  • Archipelago Adventure

    Great video, dude. Wario Land 4 is such an underrated gem, and it's sad, because IMO (as a platformer "connoisseur"), it's one of the best sidescrollers of all time. Which is why the fan game I'm working on is directly inspired by it.

    Keep up the good work, and God bless 🙂

  • The Mighty Silverback

    Man the production value on your videos are top notch, I'm sure it takes you a lot of time, but keep at it and it'll pay of for sure!

  • Will's Mediocre Gaming Channel

    So I'm pretty annoyed. I only just found out about this, and I had to scroll at the bottom of my subscription list to found it.
    I loved this game as a kid, and I loved your video about it! Brought back tons of memories. I just wish it had been recommended to me by YouTube, and on time! This work deserves love.
    Also, had no idea about the Metroid thing, fun to look back and compare now.

    And can we take a minute to talk about the music in this game? Not just how it was done how you mentioned, but just out chilled out and groovy it is, compared to anything Nintendo had done at this point (afaik). Reminds me of the menu music for Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

    P.S.: Didn't realise the game was so short though. It probably took me ages as a kid…

  • TheNewRaven2702

    Mate I played this game more than any other game when I was a kid.
    And now I speedrun it, just because in my opinion it's the perfect platformer
    Also how do you have 1.5 k subs the video was awesome and you should feel awesome for making it !
    Cheers mate keep it up 🙂

  • KenY2Ken

    Wario Land 4 is so good, I was never really a Mario fan growing up but I had WL4 and absolutely adored it. Great video man!

  • Tom Soar

    A well written video. Maybe my 2nd favourite game ever (just below Devil May Cry3), every aspect is great & unique! I just bought a gameboy advance sp mostly just for this 💗

  • ShyGuyXXL

    I see (or hear, rather) that you're using the uncompressed version of the WL4 soundtrack that Weario made. You should give him credit for that. 😉 I also helped out with it a bit. 😛

  • Jin Kazaze

    One of my favorite game ever, it's so unique and creative, both visually and music-wise. And the level design is one of the best of any platformer, it combines exploration and platforming so well.

  • SuperGameBoy

    I Hate WarioWare But I Love WarioLand, WarioLand Is Nintendo's Best Series In My Opinion. The WarioLand Games Still Have This Sense Of Adventure And Mystery, But WarioWare Does Not! It Makes No Sense In My Opinion.

  • an idiot named Pen

    I really hope the wario land series makes a return, it was nothing like any other Nintendo series. And that's what made it great.

  • Undead Demon4

    I used to have a Choose your own adventure book based off the game

    I think it's somewhere under my bed now or lost

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