Perhaps no other Nintendo handheld console has been more overlooked than Game Boy Advance. (Well, except that one, but even Nintendo virtually ignores its existence outside of rare in-game references.) It’s not surprising that GBA, sandwiched between Game Boy Color and Nintendo DS, would be the forgotten middle child – especially when you take into account the terrible screen quality of the original model, which, coincidentally, makes it the perfect device for watching Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. But in retrospect, the console’s library stands the test of time, from the greatest Metroid ever made to Capcom’s brilliant take on The Legend of Zelda to Camelot’s cult classic JRPG Golden Sun. And no title stands out quite like Wario Land 4.
Originally released exactly 20 years ago today, Wario Land 4 is an absolutely bonkers 2D platformer brimming with creativity. While we won’t be able to break down the game quite as thoroughly as this 769-page critical analysis, we do have a few things to say about its lasting appeal.
After finishing the tutorial, the player can travel to one of the four main passages in any order. Each of the game’s passages contains four puzzle-packed levels and a boss. Much like its two predecessors, Wario Land 4 shines in its transformations. Unlike other platformers where the hero uses power-ups, Wario uses what might be called power-downs. Wario’s body is cartoonishly impaired – he might be set on fire or squashed flat as a pancake – which allows the player to access secrets and navigate the level’s varied terrain.
Then there are the pink areas: rooms where Wario can solve puzzles by tossing around Mad Scienstein to collect optional treasure. These help break up the pace and test the player’s ingenuity and knowledge of the game’s mechanics. Plus, the accompanying music is ridiculously chill. As one commenter wrote: “If this played in (an) elevator I would never get off.”
About that. The music. Composed by Ryoji Yoshitomi, the game’s soundtrack incorporates a range of genres including pop, soul, country, and ambient music, plus the unique squelchy beats synonymous with Wario Land. Yoshitomi also experimented with using vocals as background music. The voice samples have a strange quality to them, likely due to the GBA’s hardware limitations. The console lacks a sound chip, so sound is processed by the CPU, which in this case benefits the game’s overall goofy and surreal atmosphere. Basically, the music is wonderfully weird and totally Wario.
The Art Design
With the release of Nintendo 64 in 1996, Nintendo would move toward 3D game design and away from pixel art for its home consoles. Thankfully, the 32-bit GBA games were home to some of the finest sprites ever created, and Wario Land 4 has some of the best. Period. Take a look at the final boss and see for yourself! Not to mention, Keyzer is the coolest bird-ghost-key ever created in human history! Sure, he may not have much competition, but he’s still the best.
And it’s not just the sprites themselves – but the amazing art direction. Each of the game’s passages offers spellbinding level themes sparkling with imagination. There’s the pretty and pastel Wildflower Fields; the murky and sludgy Toxic Landfill; Pinball Zone, which, believe it or not, is a level stylized like a pinball machine; and the unforgettable Doodle Woods, where drawings come to life while you’re chased by a floating pig painter in an area that looks like a Super Mario Bros. level would after consuming one too many Super Mushrooms.
We imagine Wario Land 4 will soon be playable in the Louvre.
Before Nintendo went through a number of cycles merging and restructuring its development divisions, it was easier to track and appreciate each individual team’s distinct design philosophy. Nintendo R&D1 was Nintendo’s oldest development team and definitely one of the company’s most artistically successful and interesting.
R&D1 games were always a bit kooky – after all, they created this loony series. But perhaps the developer’s finest trick was its “reward” to the player who gathered the game’s optional CD collectibles hidden in every level. You might assume collecting these CDs would unlock the song for their respective level. You would be wrong. Instead, each CD earns you a sound clip of noise, accompanied by random images of unsettling toys, developers in Wario cosplay, and their dogs or something. We love it. Absolutely love it. And we’re pretty sure you will, too.
How to Play This Masterpiece
If you’re one of the 12 people who bought the underrated Wii U, you’re in luck! Wario Land 4 is available on the Virtual Console. Or, if you happen to have an old GBA lying around (or an Ambassador 3DS), you could buy it secondhand. Otherwise, we’ll just have to hope Nintendo makes the game more accessible. Too many classics are locked in the vault, leaving it up to fans to find other ways to access them. In a way, though, hunting down treasure is very Wario, so you could consider it practice for the game proper.
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