All too often, I snobbishly feel just a little bit too mature and intellectual for this gaming lark—although clearly not so much that I avoid using the word "lark." I mean, was Resident Evil 4 more than just a glorified, exhaustive shooting gallery? Is San Andreas the industry's conception of a mature, sophisticated narrative? Frankly, the number of videogames that compel me to reflect upon them intellectually (as opposed to just critically) is worryingly small.
But then there's WarioWare. Released in 2003, this marvel of improbable modern game design—a relentlessly fast paced collection of over 200 bizarre, 3 to 5 second "microgames" with controls usually limited to about two buttons each—was a timely showcase for the pure, kinetic joy of play, the one indisputable and unassailably fun aspect of videogames. And I was just as susceptible as the next snob.
With WarioWare: Twisted! , the series' fourth incarnation, I've lowered my haughty defenses all over again; initially because of the familiar, but still delectable anti-aesthetic visual style, and then, more sustainedly, thanks to the sparkling new gadget that utterly transforms this sequel. It's hard to think of a game more suited to exploiting the fun of a gyroscope sensor—the built-in motion sensor that detects rotations of the GameBoy Advance—than WarioWare, so kinetic and physical were its mini-games even when they merely involved single button presses. Nevertheless, the implementation is spot-on, from the pinpoint responsiveness to the gentle and satisfying rumble that accompanies every significant turn.
One of the beauties of the gyro sensor is that, unlike console-based gimmick ventures like EyeToy and GameTrak, it doesn't require any obtrusive or complex player-calibration; wherever you're holding the GBA when a game starts is the "normal" position from which to start spinning/twisting/turning/shaking. A crucially simple and accessible system, and yet still one that holds delightful semi-strategic possibilities for attaining high scores—like trying to nail a huge ski jump by turning the GBA a whole 360 degrees (or more) to gain speed before you reach the launching ramp.
Idiot-proof (it warns players not to turn themselves around whilst playing) and idiot-making (you will giggle and grin within one minute of play), WarioWare's twisted genius has never been so aptly realized. The early stages are as funny as they are frenetic—I can't have been the only one to stupidly shake my head at the same time as I did the GBA—and the fact that much of the "action" is sometimes hard to see due to the moving screen only adds to the party feel, which ironically the conservative exponents of the so-called "party" genre (Mario Party, My Street) have never managed to nail so beautifully.
Having become a full-blown franchise now, the freshness of the first game's presentation has dissipated a little and maybe none of the levels are quite so memorable and affecting as the unforgettable Dribble & Spitz or Kat & Ana vignette's from the original. But it's still a joy to be kept guessing at when and how the next set of games will be framed (even if it's insanely random, as in the Mona Pizza stage) and the addition of interactive moments to the story introductions is a cute touch. Besides, that hilarious patchwork presentation, with each game still looking like it was sketched up by a completely different person (and not necessarily an artist), remains intact and directly invigorates the game with its crazy, taboo-breaking variety.
The game's themselves easily match those of the original for purity and invention, being as they are perfectly distilled packets of cause and effect gameplay. Tight, abstract little tests with lighting fast responsiveness that are totally fair, unlike the attitude of lesser party games that are quite willing to peddle out the most banal gameplay scenarios in the hope that multiple players will somehow enliven the experience for themselves, and won't worry that winning and losing are often rendered completely random, devalued concepts as a result. The game certainly does have its fair share of banal scenarios (picking a nose returns in style), but the fun doesn't come from their knockabout randomness. No, WarioWare is deadly serious and strict in its absurdities, and the fact that (in later stages) the game can become such a hardcore test of twitch reactions only enhances and prolongs the fun.
Take the trouble to think laterally for a moment, and there are flaws. The mini-games are incredibly easy by their very nature, and simply upping the speed at which they're thrown at the player is a fairly cheap (if effective) design methodology. Even worse, the gyro sensor ends up lassoing the game to the same endlessly, unavoidably repetitive controller movements.
And what of the infamous brevity? WarioWare has tried to solve its longevity issues by incorporating an extensive library of unlockable "doodads"—indeed, one of the unlockable categories is called just that—and these souvenirs, like the games themselves, range erratically from simple and silly to simple and sublime. Whilst the strongest (Ski Jumping) can offer even more addictive high score challenges than in the previous games, the weakest (and probably the majority) are almost painfully pointless, and even the stupid quirkiness of being able to unlock an interactive protractor or a snow globe wears thin almost instantly.
But conventional gaming wisdom holds little sway here; this is unashamedly a toy, a gimmick, a plaything, and it contemptibly betters practically every one of its dour peers for all round entertainment value. As such, WarioWare deserves to be seen as one of the most significant status symbol games of this generation. Just as ICO and Rez championed a supposedly art house conception of gaming to the detriment of their marketability, Twisted! presents the game-buying public with a very clear and probing question: What do you want from a game?
Those who shirk from buying Twisted! because of its quirky production values, one-track design and, crucially, its short core lifespan are those whose preoccupation with value for money and dependable purchases is slowly sapping game design of its freedom and gaming of its ability to showcase the broadest and most experientially distinct body of work of any popular medium. It is telling that it takes a company the size of Nintendo to go out on a limb with this kind of project, and when they scream (via. Wario) "Buy it now and make me rich!" from Twisted!' s back cover, it's hard not to detect some sort of industry-wide yearning on behalf of every designer who wishes people would do just that, so that one day they too might be allowed to make a game like this.