Release Date: 05/03/07
Wario is a pretty likeable rogue, even though he's basically a crook, a cheat and all-round selfish scumbag. But his dismissive wit is actually quite endearing, and, mostly thanks to the sublime Made in Wario for the Game Boy Advance and its subsequent sequels, he's got some great games to backup his mischievous persona. It's here that Wario returns to his old platforming ways from the Game Boy, though, and initial impressions hint at a classic merging of Wario Land-style gameplay, mixed in with some new DS touch-screenery.
As storylines go, the Wario series has some of the daftest of them all, but the one in Wario: Master of Disguise is particularly nonsensical. Wario designs a helmet contraption that enables him to leap into a TV show, called "The Silver Zephyr", whereby he plans to steal the limelight (as well as the riches, of course) from the show's protagonist. The key to all this lies in a special wand which, when powered up by special gem stones, grants its user the ability to don any of eight of costumes instantly - a useful tool for stealing treasure. It's a little reminiscent of (for those who remember them) Capcom's excellent Magical Quest games for the Super Nintendo, where changing costumes allowed Mickey to defeat certain enemies or gain access to otherwise inaccessible locations. The themes of the levels tread familiar territory (a lava level and haunted house are included), but there's a certain charm in the sprite-based animation and background details.
Although ostensibly your average platform game, Master of Disguise attempts to integrate touch-screen additions and things at first feel a little unconventional for it. Wario walks, runs and ducks with the D-pad (alternatively, the four face buttons on the other side can be used for lefties) with "Up" making him jump, leaving your other hand free to draw symbols on the screen that instantly change the costumes of our garlic-chomping chum, and also open treasure chests and doors. It's quite a crude control method, but necessary, as the main focus is centred on these disguise makeovers and studying which ability can solve a given situation. These special powers are introduced to the player in quick succession, but a handy tutorial can later be recalled should you forget anything. The range of abilities and, in particular, the way in which almost all are called upon in one especially taxing level is praiseworthy.
As one might expect, some costumes are more useful and practical than others. Thief Wario is the default outfit, allowing Wario to jump high and bash enemies with his shoulder barge attack. More valuable is Cosmic Wario, with his elongated, floaty space jump and a laser that can fire in any direction the player taps the screen, useful for activating switches and shooting foes. The most ingenious transformation comes with Arty Wario, who can create blocks from thin air simply by drawing a square on the touch-screen (a la Looney Tunes), an escape door to the last save point, or even hearts to replenish his health. Others are less useful, or used sparingly, including the Wario submarine suit (used in underwater levels) and Sparky Wario's electrified form, which is only really used to navigate darkened areas.
Genius Wario can scan the surroundings for hidden passageways and doors - so similar to Samus' scan visor from Super Metroid, it's almost certainly paying homage to the Super Nintendo classic. In fact, the Metroid likeness can be taken a little further, because many levels mimic the search-and-explore mechanic, and learning to discover which weapons or suits help gain access to new areas. One stage towards the end of the game seems to knowingly borrow various background details from Metroid Fusion, too.
The similarities end there though, because often the problem with Master of Disguise is its insistence on repetition, and many elements it introduces lose their appeal quickly. Example. Wario has to complete a simple mini-game before he can collect the rewards inside the various chests dotted around each stage. (These constitute a sizable chunk of the game, it's worth adding.) At first, these come as a pleasant surprise, a welcome reprieve from the main game; but their inclusion - unlike those found in the Made in Wario series - are ultimately tedious and cynical. Not only will you have seen all of them after only the first few stages (there can be no more than a dozen in total), they completely lack charisma, and, worst still, are repeated over and over on every stage. Whether it's having to memorise the shades of a picture and touch-in the missing colours, or solving mazes and slide puzzles - all are too easy and dull. Fail the challenge? No problem, because there's no penalty in store - the developers correctly assuming that having to re-attempt the challenge is punishment enough.
There is acceptable variety in disguises, but it's a shame that the stylus is essentially used for this alone, and not more was made of, for example, activating details in the backgrounds or wiping out enemies rather than simply jumping on their heads. Searching for clues on one level in order to answer questions set by a pharaoh is one of the game's highlights, but there aren't enough variations like this elsewhere. The drawn-out story also lumbers on after a while, (which Wario himself concedes is boring him) and with interludes before, during and after an episode, they only serve to compound matters.
Sitting next to Wario's modified TV remote on the coffee table is a notebook which stores all manner of details on enemies, boss characters and treasures encountered in the game. While the game has a lot of nice ideas, its doubtful most players will have the persistence to see them all. Wario's a greedy so-and-so, and he goes to a lot of trouble to get what he wants. Master of Disguise is an enjoyable diversion which some will enjoy, but you have to question whether Wario's elaborate scheme was really worth bothering with in the first place.