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WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$: 20th anniversary

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first WarioWare game: WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$. It contains a huge variety of extremely short games played at increasingly breakneck speeds. This game worked for me for two reasons: I like high-score chasing and old NES games, and this has both. In a way it's the predecessor of NES Remix.

WarioWare, Inc. contains a huge number of minigames, served up at random and in very rapid succession. At first, each game lasts about five seconds, but the speed ramps up quickly. Most of the games are reflex-based. The instruction for each game is a simple imperative: pick! Eat! Dodge! Squash! Jump! Often you just have to press the A button at the right time; other times you have to press it a certain number of times before time runs out. For example, keep tapping A to eat a fruit; stop the cursor at the right moment; press A immediately after a stimulus, such as a cat closing its eyes. Some use the d-pad rather than the A button, and a few use both. For example, rub a spoon with ↑ and ↓ or slice a piece of meat by alternating ← and →. Whac-a-mole requires you to press the direction corresponding with the popped-up mole. Other games involve dodging, tracing a path, lining things up, navigating, matching, counting, memorization, and so on. There are over 200 games, so I won't try to describe every type here!
The microgames are divided into a menu of batches or stages, beginning with Wario's intro games. Each batch has around 20 different games served up in a semi-randomized order. The games become progressively more challenging as well as faster. For example, squashing one Goomba becomes two, then three. Things move faster, and targets become smaller or more numerous. You keep playing until you run through your four lives, then receive a score equal to the number of games you played minus one.

Making high scores is an important part of WarioWare, Inc. For each stage, your top three scores are recorded. A boss fight appears at regular intervals (such as every 20th game). These are much more elaborate than the regular games, though they still take less than a minute. For example, one boss fight is a simplified version of Punch-Out!! Another requires moving a laser to destroy asteroids shot by a space ship, then destroying the ship. The first time you defeat a boss, you complete the stage and go back to the menu with the next batch(es) unlocked. When you replay a stage, the boss fight becomes a check-point. Clearing it successfully earns you an extra life (to a maximum of four). Then it's back to the action, but at a higher difficulty level.
After each boss fight there's an intermission screen.

The minigames are the heart of WarioWare, Inc., but its "soul", so to speak, may be the silly, irreverent themes and characters. It almost feels like a collection of internet memes. A notable example is the game that requires you to press A when a moving finger is aligned with a nostril! The themes are complemented by a zany cast of characters that exude late 90s/early 00's energy (complete with flip-phones). They remind me of old Cartoon Network shows like Powerpuff Girls or Dexter's Laboratory. There's the disco-dancing, afro-sporting Jimmy, Dr. Crygor who needs to use the toilet, the retro-game fanboy 9-Volt, the alien Orbulon, Kat the ninja girl, and others. A silly cut-scene begins each stage, and when you complete it the first time, an epilogue plays depicting that character joining the others at a gelateria. Each stage has its own framing device, with a unique border, music, and way of representing your four lives. For example, Orbulon's stage features a view screen and dancing aliens for lives. Dr. Crygor's games take place around a flushing toilet, with TP rolls for lives! Kat's stage has the best music. It's the only one with vocals, as a woman sings hauntingly in Japanese to match the ninja setting.
The retro games are my favorites. 9-Volt's roster includes The Legend of ZeldaWild Guman, Balloon Fight (the Balloon Trip mode), Donkey Kong, F-Zero, Super Mario Bros., Hogan's Alley, the fly game from Mario Paint, Ice ClimberDr. Mario, Urban Champion, and Metroid. There are also games based on old peripherals and toys like the Ultra Hand, R.O.B., and the Famicom keyboard! Some games are inspired by older arcade games, like Sheriff, Asteroids, and Gradius. Naturally, there are sports games, too, such as basketball, baseball, tennis, and soccer. Individually, no game is amazing, but they all come together in a blitz of reflex-testing chaos mixed with off-beat humor. The game is ridiculous, but it works.
There are several unlockable extra modes. While I haven't tried the two-player games (which are done on a single GBA, or controller if you're playing on Wii U or Switch), I got hooked on Dr. Wario. This is just the Dr. Mario scaled down for the GBA's smaller screen, with a Dr. Wario sprite and only one music track (Chill). I was happy to see the fly-swatting game from Mario Paint playable in its entirety (albeit without a mouse).

I prefer longer games, like Metroid, Zelda, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy, but these microgames are the other side of the coin. You can load up WarioWare, Inc., play a stage or two, and then be done a few minutes later. How long you want to play is up to you. Unlocking all the levels takes a few hours, but beyond that, there's nothing to do except try to set better records. You can even play an individual game over and over (again with four lives), and try to set a record on it. Given that the game has 213 microgames in total, that's a lot of records to shoot for. The replay value is immense.

I can see two reasons a person might not like WarioWare, Inc. The main one is if you dislike reflex games. That's the whole thing, so it would be a non-starter. The other would be if you are turned off by the stupid humor. As long as these aren't issues for you, I recommend this game!

Grade: A-
Linked Review
"While the microgames on offer may be simple affairs, the way in which they are used to form a frantic, fast–paced and above all challenging experience is something truly special."
— Martin Watts, NintendoLife, 9/10


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