Yet ’nother case o’ popular opinion contrasting my own, & ’nother wherein I could ne’er read much o’ a reason given for why the popular game is so great. It’s simply entered into popular canon that Wario: Master of Disguise was a bad game, for unexplained reasons, while Wario Land: Shake It! is underrated. ( In the market — which one should ne’er be so silly as to use as a yardstick for quality, since the market isn’t e’en consistent, the minimum criteria for a logical measurement, as EarthBound’s rocket from an infamous flop to 1 o’ the most-bought Virtual Console games proves — neither was successful ).
There is 1 fundamental divergence ’tween me & most o’ the people who talk ’bout these things online that may ’splain it: I’m quite fond o’ creativity, while most people online seem to want to spend mo’ money on the same game with the most minimal o’ changes.
Indeed, what I loved most ’bout the Wario Land series was how much it switched things up. Wario Land II wasn’t ’fraid to completely o’erhaul physics & general gameplay, turning the series from an awkward copy o’ classic Mario to its own puzzle platformer with a focus on exploration & puzzle-solving o’er action ( which is good, as the physics for all the 1st Wario Lands, including the 1st, weren’t good for fast-paced action, being wonky & bumpy as all hell ). Wario Land 3 made up its own cool key & treasure gimmick that made it sort o’ a hybrid o’ Super Mario 64 & Super Metroid; Wario Land 4 gave you freedom to play through worlds in any order, added multiple collectibles per level, changing the nature o’ what “beating” a level meant, & gave full emphasis to what that guy who wrote that pretentious book ’bout it called “folded design”, which was used quite a bit already in Wario Land 3 & in 1 level in Wario Land II.
Wario: Master of Disguise, which as a kid I always considered to be ’nother Wario Land game & was confused why they didn’t just call it “Wario Land 5”, furthers that trend by replacing the Wario Land II – 4 status effects with disguises which you collect throughout the game & put on & use through the touch screen. For instance, you draw a circle round Wario’s head to turn him into a space man who can shoot lasers @ where you touch the screen; you can turn Wario into a painter by drawing a box with a line through it o’er him & draw things onto the screen, including hearts to reheal yourself, blocks to reach certain places or push switches, & li’l walking dookies that appear if you try drawing anything else. This last 1 seems like a silly li’l joke to patch up any unforeseen uses o’ this tool, but it’s actually used in a clever puzzle boss who has a phase that turns their head into a toilet & must drop a dookie in to attack it. It’s clever ’cause it challenges you to rethink a mechanic that seems like just a patch or an easter egg that has no game significance into a useful game mechanic — a “Magikarp Power”, as they call it in the mean streets, chili dog.
Contrast that with Wario Land: Shake It!, which heavily copies Wario Land 4, but without the clever design that made Wario Land 4 great. While every Wario game before it had a unique core level mechanic, — find the exit, complete some goal using status effects, get the key & chest using status effects, hit the switch & return to the start using status effects, get to the boss room using disguises — Wario Land: Shake It!’s mostly just Wario Land 4’s “return to the start using status effects” ’gain, but with less emphasis on status effects & nothing interesting to replace status effects. Whereas Wario: Master of Disguise has its clever disguises, Wario Land: Shake It! has a litany o’ well-worn platformer cliches controlled through motion controls: swinging on vines, shooting cannons, conveyor belts with switches, submarine controls, things that make you go fast like Sonic. Most o’ these have been used many times by Donkey Kong Country games — & in much better ways, too ( face it: Wario Land: Shake It! couldn’t come close to competing with Donkey Kong Country Returns ).
Now, Master of Disguise needed touch controls for its gimmick. The only way you could draw a circle round Wario’s head would be to move a cursor with a control pad, & that would be wretched. Using button combinations or a select screen would sap any fun out o’ it. Meanwhile, Wario Land: Shake It! doesn’t need motion controls for anything it has. We know this ’cause, as I established, every mechanic it has was taken from games that didn’t have motion controls. Games have had aiming cannons with buttons for years, & they were mo’ accurate & less wobbly; having to slam the Wiimote down to do some earthquake move is annoying & the Wii’s typical use o’ motion control simply as a simple button.
Don’t get me started on the submarine, which falls into the classic case o’ fake difficulty in easy games through limiting you by making you cumbersomely slow. Contra’s known for being a hardcore game with true difficulty, & yet it didn’t need to slow you down; Super Meat Boy made the main character1 move swiftly, making the game feel action-packed, while still making the game challenging. It amuses me that a much easier game felt the need to fake difficulty through bad physics when much harder games for those who want high difficulty didn’t feel the need to do such. All it does is make the former just as easy, just less fun, while the latter attain both difficulty, & fun & games that don’t do such, like Master of Disguise2, are both easy & fun. Shake It! gave something up & gained nothing.
In general, the Wii’s motion controls were inferior to the DS’s touch controls ( which ’splains why touch controls are the standard for mobile devices, while motion controls are still rightfully treated as a gimmick; e’en the Switch still has touch controls for basic menu manipulation, but only uses motion controls as a rare supplement for some games3 ). Wario Land: Shake It! suffers from this. But then, to be fair, Wario Land: Shake It! might’ve been better if it actually made a game mechanic ’hind its motion controls as Master of Disguise did; ’stead, it just slaps on motion controls onto a bootleg Wario Land 4.
The only notable innovation Shake It! makes are the extra level challenges, which are lame & annoying & it’d be a cold day in hell before I e’er bother to try them. They involve dumb shit like “don’t touch some random block” in a level that happens to have that block fall down on you from offscreen. Most levels have a challenge wherein you must get to the end within a certain time limit, which requires going a certain path that you won’t know till you go through it. It’s just a ’scuse to make you play the same level repeatedly till you memorize the level & don’t get gotchaed, like many games o’ the Wii era ( looking @ you, Donkey Kong Country Returns ). That would be fine if the levels were short & sweet, like a good action game ( like Super Meat Boy ) would have, but they’re not: they’re rather long levels that clearly expect you to explore, & yet punish you for making li’l mistakes, which you’d naturally do in exploring, since the whole point o’ exploring is trying things out & seeing what happens. This is yet ’nother example in this gaming era ( looking @ Super Mario Galaxy ) in which developers couldn’t see what made action platformers like Super Meat Boy good with their short, pixel-perfect expectations & what made puzzle platformers like Wario Land 3 good with their complex levels that expected you to explore & try things out without punishing you & making you redo entire levels ’cause something fell on you from offscreen.
To be fair, Wario Land 4 had this problem sometimes, such as a collectible in “Doodle Woods”, which gave you 1 chance to time your jumps just right while rolling unstoppably through some platforms. However, those were scarce & oft only important on Super Hard difficulty. On the other hand, a’least Wario Land: Shake It! gave you a checkpoint right before unlocking the exit, unlike Wario Land 4, so a’least you could just kill yourself if you screwed up the 2nd half. But then, this creates the conundrum that a game that leads you to intentionally kill yourself so you can accomplish something is probably a badly designed game. @ the very least, Wario: Master of Disguise ( nor Super Meat Boy, which outright gave you a suicide button ) ne’er had this problem ’cause they understood what genre they were trying to be.
People praise Shake It! for aesthetic & writing reasons, which is shallow & baffling. Though I like Shake It!’s cutscene animation, I find its attempt to use hand-drawn animation in gameplay looks stiff & awkward. This is usually the case with these attempts, as the stiff genericism o’ programming doesn’t work with the fluidity & spontaneity o’ good animation. To this day, I still usually find video game graphics that look like video game graphics look better than attempts to make video games look like animated cartoons, & Master of Disguise vs. Shake It! is no exception.
While people praise Shake It! for its music, I prefer Master of Disguise’s. Shake It! has good variety & better instrumentation ( being on a mo’ powerful console ), but many o’ its melodies are forgettable. Some o’ the jazzier songs, like “Gurgle Gulch”, “Mt. Lava Lava”, & “Glittertown”, sounded somewhat catchy; but most o’ the songs sound like cliché soundtrack music. “Wreck Train”, which also has a lazily stupid name, sounds so trite, it must’ve been stolen, same goes for “Derailed Express” & “Bad Manor”, which also has an awful name. A few o’ the songs seem to remix “Greenhorn Forest” from Wario World, but unfortunately don’t do so with the energy that makes that song so fun.
Many will surely disagree, but I found the melodies to songs such as “Cannoli’s Theme”, & the remix, his e’en better boss battle theme, to be mo’ memorable, & in the latter case, exciting. “Head Honcho Carpaccio” & “Terrormisu” ( way to be a spoiler, song name ), other boss themes, also sounds mo’ exciting & energetic than anything Shake It! had. The final level theme, “Allergia Gardens”, is also memorable & has a nice mix o’ sadness & excitement to work well with a final level. The final level o’ Shake It! is “Bad Manor”, which I’ve already established is utterly forgettable.
To be fair, Master of Disguise had some forgettable songs, too. The song for its own spooky mansion level, “Blowhole Castle” ( which is a better name for a level than either o’ Shake It!’s & has a much mo’ memorable boss ) is as bland as the 2 songs in Shake It!. “Poobah the Pharaoh’s Pyramid” is generic desert music.
& Master of Disguise does have what Shake It! doesn’t have: absolutely obnoxious songs. Listen to this delicious file selection music. The minigame music can also get annoying after the 20th time you’ve heard it.
Wario Land: Shake It!’s level themes are as generic as its level design: it’s the same grasslands, volcanos, caves, & lakes as every platformer, with a casino or train level thrown in. E’en the pirate ship level wasn’t memorable — probably ’cause ’twas a tutorial. Master of Disguise had some generic level themes, like the aforementioned pyramid, but it also had museum, a cruise ship, a laboratory, & a mushroom-filled sunset garden that sort o’ reminds me o’ “Angel Island Zone” from Sonic 3, which are much mo’ exotic for platformers.
People praise Wario Land: Shake It! for bringing back Cap’n Syrup, but ignore the way they messed with her characterization & how insignificant she is to the game. Rather than fighting directly gainst Wario, as in all previous games, she acts sweetly toward him, — e’en calling him handsome @ some points, which doesn’t fit her previous characterization @ all — all for a twist it, ironically, ripped off from Master of Disguise. Indeed, Cap’n Syrup’s new characterization in general is a rip-off o’ Master of Disguise’s Tiramisu, ’cept Tiramisu’s makes sense, since she’s a new character whose whole character is established this way, whereas Cap’n Syrup’s personality is changed to fit this new character’s personality. It’s worse written, a rip-off, & a letdown: ¿wouldn’t it have been better if you actually fought gainst Cap’n Syrup ’stead o’ some generic monster villain? Or hell, if they were going to make Cap’n Syrup a hero ( a’least temporarily ), they should’ve let you play as her.
She’s the only character you could maybe call interesting. The villain, as mentioned, is a generic monster. The princess & other characters you save are just cute creatures. Honestly, I can barely remember any o’ them.
To be fair, Wario Land 4 didn’t have — actually, Wario Land 4 had that cool cat & that hilarious prospector, so I take that back: e’en Wario Land 4 had better character design than Shake It! & was a far superior game in… every other respect that makes Shake It!’s blatant attempt to copy it that much mo’ pathetic.
In addition to Tiramisu, who also tries to suck up to Wario to ( try to, a’least ) backstab him in the end, Master of Disguise has 2 other antagonists, Count Cannoli, a Victorian-style chap in a dark cape & cartoonishly long top hat who was the original owner o’ the wand, using it to pull off his clever gentleman-thief stunts on his TV show, & who’s now bitter that Wario has stolen his wand that gives him his disguise powers & who tries to take it back from you throughout the game, & Carpaccio, a smug pretty boy with shining shades who likes to snap his fingers & who also tries to steal the wand. There’s a twist ‘mong these 2 & the wand @ the end, but you can look that up yourself if you’re interested in such spoilers. They’re not exactly Shakespearean… actually, now that I think ’bout it, Shakespeare wrote some caricature characters, so maybe they are. OK, they’re not exactly Tolstoyan; but they’re a’least memorable to the point that I wished they’d bring them back into ’nother game.
Master of Disguise’s enemies also have far mo’ character than Shake It!’s, who look like Wario Land II rejects. Nothing Shake It! has will e’er come close to “Buffy the Dolphin”, a buff dolphin with phat pex & a speedo who flexes his muscles to shoot electric balls out o’ his armpits; “Blow Globe”, a giant water ball with an eyepatch worthy o’ a James Bond villain who, ’pon being shot to death with lasers, turns into a water drop that can feed beanstalks to make them grow; or “Puffy the Dolphin”, a dolphin with an afro that shoots dangerous fur balls @ you.
Ironically for me, Master of Disguise has mo’ writing; but its writing actually isn’t that bad, & is better than Shake It!’s. Shake It!’s just a bland story o’ rescuing a princess from a villain, while collecting money; Master of Disguise has Wario make a device that puts him in a TV & becomes a superhero after stealing some famous guy named Cannoli’s wand &, in his quest to collect money, gets embroiled in a mythic plot while trying to avoid falling to Cannoli’s revenge to take back his wand, laced with allusions to The Scarlet Pimpernel & Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar.
But the best writing in Master of Disguise is its treasure flavor text, which you can read when looking through the treasures in the menu. ¡What a collection o’ fascinating microstories o’ Hemingway-level succinctness!
Take, for example, the epic story o’ the “Infield Diamond Dirt”:
Infield dirt from a minor league baseball field. Drenched with the tears and sweat of disappointed players, it is rumored that eating this dirt will make your favorite team win the pennant.
Or how ’bout the tragic story o’ the “Scones of Sadness”:
These scones were baked with loving care for that special someone…who ended up being allergic to scones. How very tragic.
Or the fascinating story o’ the “Brilliant Bug”:
A weirdly beautiful bug that glows in 16,777,216 colors. If you stare at it, it shows the color you wish most to see. If you stare too long, you go color-blind.
( Note that 16,777,216 isn’t a random # they pulled out o’ their bums, but the # o’ colors in 24-bit color spaces common on computers. )
Or the “Crazy Delicious Bamboo”:
This is the tastiest bamboo you’ve ever had. Even the panda, mightiest and most cold-hearted of all creatures, will weep with delight when he samples it.
E’en if you don’t play this game, I recommend reading all the treasure descriptions, which I think might be the best part o’ the game.
Granted, neither game is perfect. Master of Disguise’s controls can get wonky. So the game works with people o’ both hands, the 4 face buttons do the same thing as the control pad; & thus up is jump, as well as the way to climb a ladder. This can lead to conflicts when trying to jump near ladders or trying to grab ladders while jumping. It can also make jumping while moving wonky, since you need to hit but up & left or right. I don’t see why they couldn’t make L & R be jump, since they’re not used for anything else. This gets particularly frustrating in the parts where the game forces you to race places. Thankfully, the vast majority o’ that is postgame & most o’ the game is puzzle platforming, where such wonky controls & physics are mo’ tolerable.
Shake It!, meanwhile, despite heavily ripping off Wario Land 4, makes its controls & physics worse. ¿What genius decided to make it so you can’t duck while charge-attacking to slide under alcoves? It took me a while to figure out why ground pounding half the time didn’t register till I realized you have to completely let go o’ left or right & just press down to ground pound in the air, a flaw also not present in Wario Land 4.
In short, Shake It!’s fatal flaw is its attempt to copy Wario Land 4 too much, as opposed to Master of Disguise’s wise decision to do its own thing. Shake It! simply couldn’t come close to Wario Land 4, & this futile attempt only left Shake It! as a redundant haphazard bootleg, while Master of Disguise a’least had some independent quality that made it useful for someone who wants something different. You could compare them to Yoshi’s Story vs. Yoshi’s Island DS. People generally rightfully prefer the former to the latter ’cause for all its shortcomings a’least the former was its own game, whereas Yoshi’s Island DS was inferior to a 2nd playthrough o’ the original Yoshi’s Island in every way.
This was a common pattern o’ the Wii & 3DS generation, sadly — probably inspired by the success o’ New Super Mario Bros. From New Super Mario Bros. to Donkey Kong Country Returns to New Yoshi’s Island to A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo was obsessed with trying to relive their former success with inferior bootlegs that only emphasized what has-beens they were. It’s clear that Wario Land: Shake It! fit that pattern: ’twas essentially “New Wario Land 4”, & unsurprisingly, Nintendo fans with eat it up for that same reason. Like I said, I haven’t heard any reason for why Shake It! is s’posedly good other than that it has Cap’n Syrup ’gain & that it’s yet ’nother Wario Land game. That these s’posed fans o’ Wario Land forgot that a big part o’ what made the Wario Land series stand out was that each game felt like its own game. Nowadays, no one tolerates that in games: a new game needs to be a carbon copy o’ its predecessor like any non-art product so coddled middle-class nerds don’t have to do something slightly outside o’ their soulless routine.
Wario Land’s a particularly potent example ’cause its era allowed for mo’ kookie but obscure gems. You know, I always got annoyed when people complained ’bout how there were no 2D Mario games ’tween Yoshi’s Island & New Super Mario Bros. ¿What ’bout Mario vs. Donkey Kong? “That’s not a classic Mario game”. What they mean is, “That’s not a bootleg”. This is ’cause back then, for the most part, the idea o’ just making a copy o’ an ol’ classic was rarer, & rightfully criticized when it happened. This was when people rightfully bashed Capcom for puking out Mega Man after Mega Man. Now people whine asking for Mega Man 11, ignoring the fact that only the 1st 3 Mega Man games were any good. I can only imagine how much worse the world would be if Capcom hadn’t made Mega Man X ’cause it wasn’t a “classic Mega Man” game or didn’t make Wario Land II ’cause it wasn’t a “classic Wario Land game” or Wario Land 3 ’cause it wasn’t a “classic Wario Land II” game, & so on.
So despite Wario Land games being some o’ my favorites, I’m going to disagree with those calling for ’nother Wario Land game. My request, ’stead, is, “Nintendo, please give me a new Wario game — & surprise me”.