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Wario Land II: A rich puzzle platformer

I adored Wario Land as a kid but never played Wario Land II because by 1998 I had moved on from such childish activities as playing Nintendo games. Boy, did I miss out! Wario Land II is a rich puzzle platformer, featuring an astonishing 51 levels. Originally released on the Game Boy (except in Japan, weirdly), it was re-released for the Game Boy Color the following year.

The first Wario Land game was technically part of the Super Mario Land series and played similarly to Super Mario Land 2. Wario received Mario-style power-ups in the form of hats. Wario Land II is quite different: Wario is now, in his own words, "immortal." He can't be damaged by enemies, and there are no pits. When he gets his by a normal enemy, such as a goom, he is bounced backwards and loses several coins. There are no power-ups, but the attacks of certain enemies temporarily change Wario's bodily form.

While these cartoonish transformations are depicted as negative, they let him go places and do things he can't normally. When he gets hit by a hammer, he becomes bouncy like a spring. When a penguin throws a ball at him, he moves like he's drunk (they throw beers in the Japanese version). When he is set aflame, he runs back and forth then turns into a flame himself (which can destroy certain blocks). Little chef creatures toss slices of cake into his mouth, making him extremely fat and heavy. In this form he can crush certain blocks beneath him. Other enemies freeze him (which has no upside), turn him into a zombie, inflate him like a balloon, make him small yet high-jumping, and flatten him into a fluttering feather-like shape. All of these transformations have their uses in navigating the maze-like stages.

With no timer, lives, or possibility of dying, the levels are more like puzzles. Stages feature multiple levels and doors connecting disparate sections. Quite a few levels use switches that make blocks appear/disappear or other such things. However, there are no brain-melting enigmas. The way you need to use transformations is always obvious. If Wario destroys the enemy you need for the transformation, you can direct him through a door and then go back, causing the enemies to respawn. Importantly, destroyed blocks do not reappear.

Wario can swim, jump (press ↑ for extra height), ground-pound, shoulder-slam, pick up and throw enemies, and crouch like in the previous game. In addition, he can power-throw enemies (hold down B), roll down a hill like a ball, smashing blocks (push ↓), and (as I learned only during the final stage!) slide under ledges (press ↓ while shoulder-slamming).

Stages are full of coins. A lot of the fun in the game comes from collecting as many as you can, rather than trying to rush to the exit as fast as possible. Secret areas often contain big coins worth ten. Shoulder-smashing an enemy occasionally yields a silver coin worth 100 coins! As in the first game, your overall coin total is tracked, strictly for bragging rights. I'm up to over 9,000 (but the tracker can accommodate 99,999!).

Each stage contains a door that leads to a quick-reflex observation game. This is the beginning of Wario's long-standing association with mini-games. Most of these doors are easy to find, though some are a bit out of the way. In this mini-game, you are shown one of eight monster faces, then eight corresponding panels are briefly revealed. If you pick the panel that showed the matching face, you win that level's treasure. Playing the game on easy mode (where you are given at least a full second to examine the eight panels) costs 200 coins. Normal mode gives you less than a second for 100 coins. I can usually get it at normal. Hard mode requires a very quick eye but only costs 50 coins.

Each of the ten worlds ends with a boss fight. Three of them are against Captain Syrup, the villain from the first game, whose gang of pirates has stolen Wario's treasure. In one boss fight, Syrup has been captured, and after Wario beats the boss, he unceremoniously shoulder-smashes Syrup off the screen. Since Wario can't be hurt, getting hit forces him off the screen, so he has to restart. That can get annoying. There is great variety in the boss fights. The most memorable is a basketball game in which Wario and the boss try to transform the other into a ball to toss into a hoop! First to three baskets wins!
As one expects from a Mario/Wario game, the levels are expertly designed, unique, and fun. There are many different environments, such as water, factory, forest, castle, basement, haunted house, urban, and train. The large variety of transformations in the game means that each type is used in only a few stages. I never got bored of any of them.

The difficulty level of the game is perfect; I liked that secrets are easy to find. Usually it just involves looking around, jumping around, and trying to shoulder-smash walls and floors to see if they are breakable. The alternative exits are the hardest things to find. (I looked up some of them, though I just needed to do more random smashing.)

After finding the exit door (or defeating the end-of-world boss), there is another mini-game. A 3x3 grid of panels are slowly revealed, creating the shape of a single-digit number. The more panels are revealed, the more coins you pay. After five panels have been revealed, you can always logically deduce which number it must be; if you're willing to take 50-50 odds, you can save a few coins, but if you get it wrong, you'll have to redo the entire level, which is not worth it. The reward for this game is a piece of a treasure map.
If you get all 50 treasures and all 50 pieces of the map, you unlock the 51st stage (the "really final chapter"). This stage has a bizarre environment, with ears and eyes and circular blocks instead of floors and walls. It looks like Wario has gone inside the body of a giant or something creepy. It's a "time attack" challenge, meaning your elapsed time is shown at the bottom of the screen. Each segment of this level uses a different, expert platforming technique. It's nothing "kaizo," but it is challenging by the standards of the game it's in. (It took me 27 minutes to beat; this guy beat it in under four minutes.) Whenever you make a mistake, you have to redo that segment from the beginning. It's honestly a great way to conclude the game and an excellent treat for people who put in the time to get all 50 treasures.
The "really final chapter" is weird-looking and hard.
When you unlock the "really final chapter," you also unlock a Simon Says mini-game called Flagman. It uses the d-pad, then the A and B buttons as well (if you can get that far!). It costs 100 coins each time you play. You get three lives. Flagman was a 1980 Game & Watch game.

Wario Land II doesn't use a world map but a chart. You aren't shown the chart (which also shows which treasures and map pieces you have) until you beat the game. Each world is made up of five stages. There are five standard worlds and five hidden worlds. Five stages contain a secret exit (like in Super Mario Land 2 and Wario Land) that sends you into an alternative world. For example, in the very first level, if you don't move Wario at all and let him sleep through the alarm clock, the stage ends and he is taken to an alternative world 1. Four of these worlds lead to alternate game ends! The alternative world 1, for example, goes to an ending! Fifty stages is so many for a Game Boy game. Super Mario Land 2 has 32 levels, and Wario Land 40. And they don't have alternate endings.

Wario Land II has good graphics. The transformations look cool. The cast of enemies, as in Wario Land, is small and unremarkable. A goom standing on another goom in a robe creates a wizard-like creature, which is funny. It's not a traditional action game, so the enemies are not the focus. The music is off-beat like in the first game, and I'm still not a fan. I do like the theme of the water levels, however, and a few other stages, too. The secret 51st stage has probably the best music in the game! A slight downside of the game is that it doesn't use save slots. You can clear the save data to start over.

I got hooked on Wario Land II fast and knew I'd be finishing all the stages. This is a must-play game for the Game Boy (or Game Boy Color). I look forward to playing Wario Land 3 next year for its 25th anniversary!

Grade: A
Linked Review
"All the unique new gameplay features help flesh the series out and turn it into a wildly different, yet still equally entertaining game."
— Marcel van Duyn, Nintendo Life, 9/10


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