A year before New Super Mario Bros Wii made 2D platformers popular on consoles again, a 2D masterpiece had already been delivered to the system. That masterpiece is Wario Land: The Shake Dimension, also known as Wario Land: Shake It in the USA. That’s right, Wario beat Mario to the punch on this one. Unfortunately, corruption in the Mario Media meant this game was somewhat overlooked, and I’ve only just had the pleasure of playing it. It’s a little strange how this game came about. 2008 was a time where everyone was splurging over 3D worlds, motion controls, demanding HD graphics, and even Wario himself was cashing in on the mini-game craze. The heavens just opened up and decided it was time for some serious platforming in 4:3 aspect ratio. Wario Land: The Shake Dimension is the first Wario Land game to hit a home console, and Wario’s fat arse lands on the Wii with quite a thump. Shake Dimension is an extremely polished 2D platformer that excels in all areas, with great art, amazing music, fantastic gameplay and genius level design. I’ve recently finished it and feel like I’ve come out of the experience enriched with garlic breath and a full tummy.
From the opening cutscene I knew this was going to be a special game. It presents an epic story scenario with extremely high quality animation handled by Japanese anime studio Production I.G (also known for Tales Of series cutscenes). Something serious is going down in the Shake Dimension, but Wario doesn’t give a fuck. At least, not until he finds out there’s treasure involved. It’s refreshing to see Wario out of his business attire, and just being his fat lazy self at home. When the gameplay starts the graphical detail of Wario does not suffer a single bit, Wario is super detailed and lively. Wario is completely hand-drawn in the game with 2000 frames drawn for over 200 actions. He is disgusting, unsettling, and this game captures all that in glorious detail. The animation is so well done that Wario feels alive, with his mustache flapping and belly bouncing proudly when he lands from a high jump. He looks like he could burp or fart at any moment. The story isn’t important throughout the game and there are no cutscenes or interruptions between levels, but I still found the intro significant. This is the most expressive characterisation of Wario I’ve ever experienced and it makes the game charming from the very start.
This game is structured quite differently to a regular 2D platformer, with no real “finish line”, instead giving you a cute little Merfle to save at the end of each level. Don’t worry, Wario isn’t sentimental. He just needs to grab it and get the hell out of there. After finding the Merfle, you best remember how you came through the level, because Wario has to race back to the start with a time limit. Sirens go off and doors and panels open up to allow alternate paths back to the start of the level. It’s almost like there are 2 levels in 1, because the approach is so different on the way back. Enemies get in the way, certain heights can’t be reached, and new paths open up. Despite the intensity, there’s almost no danger of running out of time. You get a couple of minutes and there’s a checkpoint right before the siren just in case you get lost. If you are looking for trouble in these segments, there’s lots of money and treasure to be found in these alternate paths, and not much time to get them. The game strikes a pretty satisfying balance with the challenge at the end of each level.
90% of the game however, you’re just chilling out and enjoying the sights like a regular platforming hero. Wario only has so much energy and can take his time if he feels like it. The game is played with a single sideways Wii Remote, emulating a NES controller like many Wii platformers and VC games to come. Wario’s movement isn’t too complex but it’s surprising how much you can do. Outside a standard jump and charge attack, you can lie on your belly and flop around with the jump button. It’s so hilarious to see Wario flop around like a fish. It’s not just for show either, as you can use belly jumps to slide into cracks in the walls. Absolutely brilliant.
You can also pick up enemies or objects and throw them across the screen, like how Yoshi would throw an egg. The other option you have when holding an object… is to SHAKE IT! Shaking the Wiimote will shake garlic out of enemies, money out of bags, or you can just do it for fun because strangling an enemy looks hilarious. There’s no complicated method to it, just shake. It works every single time. if you’re not holding anything, Wario will do a huge pound on the ground that can knock objects loose and stun enemies. I’m pretty sure he farts at the same time.
The Wiimote’s motion is also used to interact with objects and control vehicles like Wario’s glorious Subwarine. You have to tilt up and down to turn it, and hold up and down on the dpad to go forwards and backwards. Sounds tricky but I found it very accurate and great fun, and the water stages themselves are great. There are various objects in the levels like canons and wheel carts that use simple tilting, and it’s also how you aim when throwing objects. The axis has a very forgiving window and there’s nothing too complicated, but just enough to make the game feel unique and add a few interesting things into the level design.
Each level has it’s own set of “missions” which give you a few things to aim for outside a normal playthrough. They are optional but I found great enjoyment in pursuing them. Whether it’s collecting a certain amount of money, running back to the start in a certain amount of time, or bouncing on enemies in a certain way, they are all cleverly designed to help you extract the most gameplay out of each level. Normally I wouldn’t be hugely excited about “achievement” style nonsense, but this game is designed so openly and structured exactly for this purpose. It’s a good reason to explore, and Wario can’t turn down more treasure right? In addition to the Missions, each level has 3 “Treasures” that are just random objects with hilarious names. It’s fun to track them down just to read the descriptions for things like the Hot Dog and Fossilised Drum Stick. Truly precious objects that must be cherished.
The music in this game is outstanding and really embraces videogame strengths with phat Mega Drive style bass lines and melodies full of hype. The variety is impressive, and every level surprised me with different kind of compositions. It’s wacky in the Wario sense, but also strangely melodic and epic at the most inappropriate times. It successfully creates a surreal sense that Wario is traveling in a bizarre place he doesn’t really belong, and The Shake Dimension is exactly that. If you want some tracks to check out, I recommend It’s-all Mine for a journey of self-discovery inside Wario’s ego, Just Plains for an upbeat party inside Wario’s tummy, and Creep Blue Sea for a soothing fart at the bottom of the ocean, bubbles and all. There are far too many to name and the music even changes in the second part of each level. The soundtrack is a great reason to play the game and it made me happy to discover this new world.
Wario Land: The Shake Dimension is legitimately one of the best platformers I’ve played. I’m currently going for 100% and awesome little details in the levels are still surprising me. I’m shocked and delighted this game even exists. I recommend it to anyone who loves Wario, or 2D platforming with challenging twists. The core game isn’t that difficult but the challenge is there if you want it, I also need to give a shout-out to the awesome creative boss fights. Wario isn’t really as satisfying to control as someone like Yoshi or Donkey Kong, but he wouldn’t be Wario if he was agile and energetic. The level design is contained for his abilities and it works. You can just jump around on your belly and still have a good time. The game is developed by Good-Feel who went on to make Kirby’s Epic Yarn (which I’m about to play), and they are about to release Yoshi’s Woolly World for Wii U. My hype for that has shot through the roof after playing Shake Dimension. After that, let’s hope Wario doesn’t get left out in the cold for too long. This is a great game to check out if you haven’t played it, and the Wario Land series in general has a fantastic brand of unique gameplay you can’t find anywhere else. Now excuse me, I’ve been holding in a fart for this entire writeup. Ah yeah, that’s good. Smells like gameplay.