Years ago, June 23, 1996 to be exact, I had the first taste of what would become my number one game series. As a birthday present that year, l had received a yellow Game Boy Pocket, Game and Watch Gallery, and most importantly, Wario Land. Ah yes, it was a wonderful little title. I have completed it 100% twice since then. I've also played and beaten every other Wario platformer to have come out since, all but one. Wario Land 3 has eluded me over the years. Something about not starting out with all of Wario's moves has always put me off. Well, I've finally come around to beating this title, and here's what I think. (I promise, this is an unbiased review. Ahem)
Here's the story. Wario crashes his plane, gets himself stuck in an alternate world, has to work his way out by helping a big mysterious guy, and, well, yeah, it's a Nintendo game. Nothing you really haven't seen before, nothing to really worry about. Wario Land games are all about solving platform based puzzles and finding hidden treasures. Wario Land 3 is no different.
Each world has four treasures to find, or essentially four different ways to complete each level. It's not unlike Super Mario 64 in that way. Certain treasures give you new abilities, such as the ground pound and throw. It's necessary to collect those treasures and gain those abilities in order to proceed through the game. There are twenty-five levels split among four worlds. There's a lot of backtracking in this game, but it's never too tedious because in addition to new abilities, certain treasures will alter levels you've already seen. For example, at one point, you find magic beans which grow giant beanstalks in specific levels. You can climb those beanstalks and find entirely new areas of these levels you have already explored.
Wario Land 3 is a Game Boy Color exclusive title, and it shows. It's a clear step above Wario Land II, with more colors, better animation, foreground background layers, and a fully featured, fully colored overworld. Wario himself has a nice, bold sprite, but unfortunately lacks any color outside of his skin. Wario Land II added a touch of yellow to his hat and shirt, and it's a wonder why they removed that here. Not a huge issue, but just a tad bit distracting. All the enemies, however, are nice and colorful, as are the levels themselves. This is one of the few Game Boy Color games that is a step above what we saw on the NES; it's really an 8-bit visual treat. The final boss could pass for an early 16-bit game.
The music follows the standard Super Mario World method. A main theme which every other song is based on. The main theme, featured in the first level "Out of the Woods", is catchy and fun. So much so that I find myself playing that level more than others just to hear it. It sounds like a Wario game, and really, that's all one can ask for.
It should really go without saying that this game has solid, responsive controls. It feels exactly as Wario Land II does. The A button jumps, the B button is for the classic shoulder dash. A and down on the D-pad performs the ground pound. All standard. As mentioned earlier in the review, you have to collect treasures in order to gain all your moves and abilities from previous Wario Land games. This works like a Metroid title. This was initially my reason for disliking this game, but then it became clear why this is not a bad thing. The core of Metroid is seeing a goal, and seeking out a solution in order to attain said goal. Usually, that works through gaining a new piece of equipment. Wario Land 3 works exactly like that. You'll find obstacles that you just cannot get past, and you must complete other levels and then backtrack in order to get past those obstacles. It's very different than the other Wario Land games, where you depend on observation and ingenuity to collect treasures and beat the game. This has grown on me. There's a certain rewarding feeling once you gain a new ability that allows you to complete something you couldn't beforehand.
One thing that returns in full form from Wario Land II is Wario's crazy transformations. As with the other Wario Land titles, you'll need to transform in order to solve certain puzzles. For instance, you'll need to catch Wario on fire in order to break through flame blocks. Other times, you'll become invisible so that you can get through special doors that will close if Wario is visible. Other transformations are obstacles themselves. For example, angry polar bears will freeze Wario, sending him sliding away and making you have to climb back up to where you need to be. All in all, there are 14 different transformations in Wario Land 3. You cannot die in Wario Land 3. These transformations replace that. Rather than loose a heart or money (as you did in Wario Land II), you're forced out of the area you're in, usually causing you to have to travel through the level again to regain where you were at. It's a fresh idea that I wouldn't mind seeing again in a Wario game. It's unique and really gives an identity to this franchise. It's a shame the later games removed this.
There are 10 bosses in this game, not including the final boss, Rudy the Clown. It takes three hits to kill each boss. Most can be defeated in one or two tries, and I find this is one of the game's shortcomings. Rudy, the main antagonist, was quite possibly the easiest final boss I've ever played against. Especially compared to the final fight in Wario Land Shake It.
Certain levels feature mini-game blocks. These blocks hinder Wario's ability to proceed through a level, and you must find and beat a mini-game to remove the block. There's only one mini-game: a golf game. It's a nice little break from the action, and a clear foreshadowing to Wario's mini-game future. Different mini-games besides golf would have been nice.
All in all, Wario Land 3 really pulls through as a unique twist on the regular Wario Land formula. It's a game that grew on me, and really, that's the point. The more you play, the deeper it gets. As a Wario Land title, it emphasizes the puzzles over the platforming, where the previous 3 were more focused on the platforming. This is the game that completely pulls away from it's Super Mario Land roots, and establishes the Wario Land series as a thinking man's platformer. It's not as well known as Yoshi's Island or Donkey Kong Country, not as loved as Kirby Super Star or Super Metroid, and it's just not as good as Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros 3, but it's a damn fine game that I would recommend for any serious Nintendo gamer. It has everything you want, with very few flaws. Better bosses, perhaps some more diverse environments, more mini-games, and you'd have yourself an A+ game. As it is, this is just an A title. Go find a cart, or wait till it eventually hits the 3DS Virtual Console. Check it out!
Personally, I started off enjoying this title (after the first confusing half hour or so), but then it kind of wore on me. I felt the backtracking for new keys and things wasn't always very rewarding, and when you combine that with backtracking smaller portions for getting hit, it makes things more tedious. For instance, the swimming sections where you have to avoid bubbles or be forced to repeat everything. There's just kind of a lot of retracing due to getting hit, and it ends up being LESS forgiving than a death system because of you only getting one "hit" before repeating the section (that and the stages are much less linear than your typical platformer).
I thought Wario Land 2 really hit a good balance with this aspect, as did Shake It. I may have to do what you did, though, and give the game another shot (played it and WL2 back-to-back for the first time a couple years ago, but didn't finish this one).
I also paced myself this time around. As soon as I felt frustrated by the game, I'd sit it down and come back another day. Usually, as soon as I'd come back, I'd beat whatever I was hung up on immediately. I'd over-think things if I played this too long.
The only games in the series that I've played are SML3, Wario Land 4 and Shake It!, and I dig the way these games are similar but not at all the same to the Mario games. I hope this comes to the VC in the future because I really want to give it a shot. Thanks for the review!
Great review. Ah, I haven't played this game in years, and I sold my GBC cart a long time ago. A perfect candidate for a VC release, no doubt!
I can definitely appreciate how the the game adds variety by significantly altering the levels you're playing based on the treasures you collect. Reminds me of Shake It when you have to race back to the start of each level with a very different path to take than before.
Good comparison to the Metroid style of gameplay. I think this is the only Wario Land to feature Wario having to earn his new moves and abilities? I also thought the "Wario is invincible" mechanic gave this a unique take on the traditional platformer. I'm interested in playing the WL games all over again and seeing how they evolved as we went from SML3 to Shake It on the Wii.