Wario: Master of Disguise

Of all the characters in the Mario franchise, excluding Mr. Mario himself, none has seen as much publicity as the flatulent, kleptomaniac Wario. It's strange that even though there is a cute princess, a charming dino-something, and a lanky, probably jealous brother, Wario has been the only character explored to seemingly no end. His original role was that of the antagonist and final boss in Super Mario Land 2 as far back as the original Game Boy. Since then he's occasionally played the villain, been a playable character in almost every Mario spin-off title, inspired the WarioWare series' collection of minigames, and even sometimes taken the leading role upon himself in his own series of platforming titles.

Wario has been playing the role of the hero, or probably better stated the anti-hero for years, but in his most recent adventure Wario: Master of Disguise, Nintendo has seen fit to shake things up a little bit. Not content with delivering another 2.5D side-scrolling platformer that is a virtual recreation of the New Super Mario Bros., Nintendo is jumping backwards into a full 2D setting, and instead of minimal touchscreen support, they're relying on it almost primarily. An altogether different game from anything Wario has been a part of before, this adventure is more Kirby: Canvas Curse than it is Mario Bros., and that is something to be excited about it.

Although the game style may be unique and new for Wario, that doesn't mean he isn't still up to the same dirty tricks. He starts the adventure by stealing a magical wand from a crazy magician type, and then off he goes to recover some ancient tablets. The story isn't exactly War and Peace, but the developers seemed to enjoy it, so expect the occasional cutscene to develop characters and plot. Wario's focus, as it has always been, is on collecting the treasure chests littered around the world. The chests in this game are special in that opening them triggers a minigame, ala' WarioWare. Even more touchscreen functionality is contained within the minigames, and they're a nice addition in adding depth to a platform title.

Platforming itself goes a little haywire in Master of Disguise, as Wario uses his newfound wand to transform into some new and interesting costumes. Simple stylus gestures like triangles and circles activate Wario's new line of clothing, and costumes can vary from a spacesuit to a dragon outfit and beyond. Each costume has its own abilities, such as the spacesuit, which allows Wario to jump in a floaty, zero gravity manner, and use a laser gun to shoot down platforms and enemies. There are eight costumes in all, including the standard thief Wario, and each has unique stylus-driven gameplay elements. Literally every action in Wario: Master of Disguise is performed by the stylus. Even jumping, normally mapped to a button, has been moved to the D-pad, so one hand is always free to contain the stylus. Lefties can also take note; the movement control is reversed for those unable to cope with the standard button layout.

Making it through the game requires exploring the world, which is divided in a level-by-level setting. Gamers are free to backtrack to previously defeated levels, as the acquisition of a new costume might allow for the discovery of treasure that was unable to attain before. There are also some interesting and creative bosses littered throughout gameplay, which should make for some enjoyably stressful moments as players try to quick-change their outfit to suit the needed setting.

Nintendo has Wario: Master of Disguise currently slated for an early March release, and there isn't anything to suggest the game won't be making its date. There hasn't been too much press circulating about this title, so it might be coming in under the radar until Nintendo sounds the horns and trumpets. Anyone lusting for a new 2D platformer should keep an eye out for our review of this unique title in the weeks ahead.