Wario World

The world was first introduced to Wario, the “anti-Mario” as the villain of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on the Game Boy in 1992. He would then go on to star in his own series of Mario Land spin-offs – Wario Land which released on the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance, respectively. Wario also appeared as a playable character in games like Mario Kart or Mario Party, but it wouldn’t be until 2003 that he would star in his own adventure on a Nintendo home console.

Wario World was first released in June 2003 on the GameCube and was developed by Treasure, the studio behind games such as Gunstar Heroes, Sin and Punishment and Radiant Silvergun. The game begins with Wario sitting inside his castle, pleased with the riches he has accumulated. Suddenly, the evil Black Jewel is awakened after being stolen by a greedy treasure hunter and transforms the castle entirely and the riches located inside become a legion of enemy monsters. The titular antihero then embarks on a quest to put a stop to the Black Jewel and restore his humble abode to its former state. Wario must navigate his way through four worlds, each consisting of two stages and a final boss fight.

credit: MarioWiki

I played a small portion of Wario World shortly after its release, but for one reason or another had never made much progress. I was curious to return to the game and evaluate my experience in 2022. Having finished it recently, I can say I’m actually a bit upset I didn’t play more of the game back then. It’s a delight to play and has held up very well for something released nearly two decades ago. 

One of the very first things I noticed when starting up Wario World again was how the controls still feel remarkably nice for a game released in 2003. GameCube games haven’t suffered the ravages of time to the same extent of many N64 games, but can still feel dated by today’s standards. As with most other Nintendo platformers, Wario’s movement sits right in the middle ground between feeling too heavy and too floaty. I still find it interesting how I spent so many years playing games with exclusively inverted camera controls. It’s a little jarring going back to early 2000’s games after spending some many years with games where inverted controls are an afterthought(thanks, Halo).  

While the primary gameplay mechanic of comparable GameCube games like Super Mario Sunshine or Luigi’s Mansion centers around a particular item – F.L.U.D.D. or PolterGust 3000, Wario World takes advantage of Wario’s greater level of physicality than the brothers Mario, making the game a much more straightforward action/platformer as the garlic-breathed antihero can punch, grab and slam enemies. Some advanced maneuvers such as the spinning piledriver or screw attack-esque Corkscrew Conk will need to be utitlized in order to reach certain areas of a stage. The red jewels needed to complete a level can be found in underground treasure rooms; some consisting of little more than stone pillars to pulverize or platforms to ascend, and others require you to traverse a sprawling expanse of 3D platforms very similar to the ones found in Mario Sunshine. I’m reasonably confindent in saying I felt the camera controls in Wario World are noticeably better than Sunshine, making these sections less nerve-wracking.  

credit: MarioWiki

I was also pretty impressed with the boss fights in Wario World, each one of them feeling innovative and enjoyable. There was only a couple boss fights that presented any significant challenge – one being my battle against Red Brief – J., this being (just about)entirely due to the fact I hadn’t grasped the fight “gimmick” just yet. I was able to knock the Speedo-clad bull into the liquid-hot magma by doing a ground pound on the metal platform where the fight took place. I don’t know if I’d call Wario World a “difficult” game, especially when compared to some of Treasure’s other games(Hello, Radiant Silvergun). It’s a very approachable action/platformer, but certainly ratchets up the difficulty in the later levels. One thing that makes Wario World much more forgiving than other Treasure games is the ability to purchase a continue whenever your health is depleted; it can also be acquired by eating bulbs of garlic dispensed by vending machines in each level. Garlic and continues are purchased using the gold coins scattered across the levels and dropped by defeated enemies. I accumulated plenty of gold coins throughout my time in the game, so I never really felt I was in danger of running out of continues – this could be considered a pro or con, depending on the person playing.    

 The significant interest/demand in GameCube games the past few years can be easily attributed to the inevitable wave of nostalgia for something around 20 years ago – hell, I’m writing this while listening to music from Majora’s Mask, but combined with the perceived “failure” of Nintendo’s adorable little hexadron has resulted in many games becoming hard to find…as well as quite pricey, almost unreasonably so. This is unfortunate for games like Wario World(or Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, F-Zero: GX, Metroid Prime 2…I could go on) as it is an excellent game that could should have reached a bigger audience. The biggest criticism of Wario World at the time was concerning the game’s length(6-10 hours) and that perhaps it wasn’t “unique enough” to stand out against other first-party Nintendo GameCube games…again, like Mario Sunshine or Luigi’s Mansion. Wario World is a very approachable action/platformer, but can still provide enough of a challenge to keep longtime fans of the genre engaged. A solid game and heartily recommended…   

Thanks for reading!

credit: MarioWiki

Gunstar Heroes – Treasure’s Debut Gem

As someone who grew up loving the many side-scrolling shoot em’ ups released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis during the golden age of games in the 90’s, Gunstar Heroes may be my absolute favorite. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were playing this on my Genesis and I still dust off my old cartridge and play it from time to time.

Gunstar Heroes was released in September 1993 for the Sega Genesis and was very well received by all the gaming magazines of the time(remember gaming magazines? 😁). The gameplay is similar to the side scrolling shooters popular at the time, like the Contra or Metal Slug games. You play as either Red or Blue, two siblings in the Gunstar family that has taken up fighting the evil Colonel Red (who does NOT wear red) has set out to acquire four gemstones to resurrect a powerful android – Golden Silver and control the galaxy…you know…the usual stuff.

When you choose your character you also select which fire mode you want to use – Free or Fixed. Free fire mode is what I have always preferred as you can run and gun through the levels rather than Fixed fire mode where you have to remain stationary to fire your weapon. You also choose one of four weapon types – Force, Flame, Chaser, or Lightning. Force is the closest to a typical machine gun with a faster fire rate(think Contra). Flame is a short-range but powerful flamethrower-type weapon. Chaser fires homing ammunition( F.Y.I – essentially the SAME as the Seeker fire mode you can use in Cuphead I was pleased to discover). Finally, the Lightning weapon fires laser beams that can shoot through enemies and barriers. One of my favorite aspects of Gunstar Heroes was the ability to combine weapon types; you can combine two of the same type of ammo the make a bigger more powerful version of the weapon such as two Flame types will create an even larger flamethrower or two Lightning types combined together create a steady short-range “blade” which looks conspicuously like a Lightsaber. My favorite pairing however, was the Force and Chaser types combined for a devastating homing machine gun effect which can be a HUGE advantage, as in typical shoot em’ up fashion the action on screen gets pretty chaotic( doubly so playing co-op).

Black’s Dice Palace forces you to roll a die to make your way through the level

Each of the first four levels can be played in any order and has a different boss fight at the end. You can pick from fighting your way through a jungle area( again…similar to Contra) and fight the boss, Pink to taking on Orange(who ironically is wearing GREEN military fatigues) and pursuing him on his flying base in an interesting level that begins climbing to the top of a tower chasing Orange as the screen scrolls vertically ending with a battle with Orange on the wing of a helicopter. You can also choose from playing your way through what is essentially a “board game” level as you have to roll the dice to advance to the corresponding spaces until you make your way to the end where you battle the boss, Black in what still remains one of the more unique AND at times, frustrating levels in a video game as a kid. (Another side note: this is just about note for note the SAME idea at the end of Cuphead playing your way to the DiceMaster at the end of the level…hmmm) Lastly, is probably my favorite level of the game in taking on Green( noticing a particular trend with everyone’s name?) – another member of the Gunstar family whose mind has been under the control and has been aiding the Emperor. The level takes place in an underground mining tunnel in which you ride in a small mine cart that can travel on either top or bottom path on screen while fighting waves of enemies before confronting Green who pilots the mech – Seven Force( think Tony Stark with Transformers). This is the most memorable boss battle of the game. Green can shift Seven Force into any one of…you guessed it…SEVEN different “Forces” – Soldier, Tiger, Blaster, Tail, Urchin, Eagle, or Crab. Once you defeat one of the first four stage bosses, you receive another one of the four gemstones. The next level finds you fighting your way through wave after wave…after wave of enemies to confront Colonel Red and rescue your sister Yellow, who has been kidnapped. This is pretty easily the most explosions I had seen on screen playing a video game to that time, possibly to this day, that’s how frantic the action gets during the game. The frame rate during this level gets slowed down to almost a crawl if playing co-op. After making your way through what seems like an endless amount of enemies before confronting Colonel Red who holds Yellow hostage, forcing you to hand over the gemstones before you battle the colonel’s right-hand man – Smash Daisaku who is dressed EXACTLY like M. Bison from the Street Fighter games and appears several times throughout the prior levels. After Smash Daisaku is defeated, the Gunstars chase Colonel Red who has set out to land his flying fortress on a small moon where Golden Silver is imprisoned. The next level takes place in space and has you piloting a small ship to shoot your way through the fortress’ defenses and stop the colonel. The setting of this level is from a top-down camera angle and plays similar to Xevious or the R-Type games and includes once again, a battle with Green and Seven Force in open space. The proceeding and final level of the game you catch up with Colonel Red, but not before he resurrects Golden Silver to be promptly destroyed by the android and initiates a battle between the Gunstars and Golden Silver before ultimately being destroyed.

Battling the brainwashed Green and Seven Force in the underground mine level

Gunstar Heroes was released as developer Treasure’s debut effort in 1993. Treasure was founded by devs working at Konami that had grown restless with Konami’s insistence on releasing sequel after sequel for their biggest IPs like the Castlevania, Contra, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games and wanted to focus their efforts on making a more original title. Treasure was formed in 1992 and decided they wanted to utilize the Sega Genesis’ powerful( at the time) Motorola 68000 microprocessor. Treasure showed an incredible amount of imagination and absurd humor in Gunstar Heroes, and also in later releases like Sin and Punishment, Ikaruga, and Dynamite Headdy( another Genesis game I loved as a kid).

The boss battle against Orange takes place on the wings of an aircraft

There was a sequel to Gunstar Heroes release on the Game Boy Advance in 2005 titled – Gunstar Super Heroes that received critical praise. I very regretfully, never picked up a copy for the GBA and now is a bit of a rarity for the handheld console. As for the original, I absolutely LOVE this game and have recommended it endlessly to anyone who would listen since I received it as a birthday present not knowing the incredible game I was about to play. I still feel that while the game received numerous accolades from gaming media it still is not as well known as games like Contra or Metal Slug, which is an astounding shame. The game has since seen a port for the Sega Game Gear as well as being released as part of the Sega Genesis Classics compilations. The Sega Forever version was also released in 2017 to play on mobile devices.

That does it for this week! Has anyone else out there played Gunstar Heroes or any other Treasure games? What are some games that you absolutely LOVE and feel are criminally unknown to the majority of gamers?

Keep on playing…