To the horror of many, WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$ is now a legal adult and is old enough to vote in the United States. While you ponder your rapidly increasing age, I want to ponder the influence and quality of this original WarioWare title. With the Nintendo Switch entry, WarioWare: Get It Together!, just over a month away, I thought it would be fun to return to where it all began. Or, in my case, experience Mega Microgame$ for the first time, as I hadn’t played it prior to this week.
My personal introduction to WarioWare came with its DSiWare digital title, WarioWare: Snapped! This game was not very good. Its reliance on the DSi’s camera and budget scale made it rather forgettable. While I had plenty of fun with it on Christmas day, as it came bundled in with the DSi that I had been begging my parents for incessantly, I quickly dropped it. The WarioWare game that truly caught my fancy came the following year. WarioWare D.I.Y., like Mario Paint before it and Super Mario Maker afterward, was a Nintendo-themed foray into creation software.
Upon reading about it in Nintendo Power magazine, I was immediately smitten with the concept of making my own microgames. So, I spent a lot of hours making a lot of junk in D.I.Y. This led to me becoming captivated by Wario’s world (not to be confused with the GameCube platformer, Wario World). I later reconnected to this latent love with the 3DS compilation title, WarioWare Gold. And, that love was once again revived by the announcement of the new Switch title. Before that game’s launch though, I wanted to go back to the Game Boy Advance inception of this zany series.
the weird streets of diamond city
Having now sunk some time into this original game, I can confidently say that it’s great now and would’ve been even better in 2003. That’s when Wario and company’s misadventures began, and this first outing received a very warm reception. Sporting a Metacritic average of 89 and many outlet-specific accolades, Nintendo had clearly stumbled upon something very special. I certainly agree, as this game has such a specific charm which perfectly complements its eclectic microgame selection and gameplay loop.
While the microgames lie at the heart of WarioWare’s appeal, I think that it’s the zaniness of the cast and scenarios which make this series so endearing. Wario has always been peculiar, but WarioWare surrounded him with a cast that’s even odder. I love this game’s sense of humor. It evokes Earthbound for me through the bizarre situations WarioWare presents the player with. Throughout Mega Microgame$‘ (very) short campaign, you’ll be introduced to all of Wario’s friends, from the Nintendo-loving 9-Volt to the cat and dog duo, Dribble and Spitz, who run a taxi service.
The story sends you on a little mission with each, and every adventure is arguably more bizarre than the last. Mona probably has my favorite, where you find yourself in a high-speed chase with Diamond City police. To escape, you have to clear microgames so that your monkey sidekick can successfully toss banana peels at the pursuit cars to spin them out. That’s pretty strange and definitely illegal. But nothing can compete with the weirdness Dr. Crygor’s stage, where the bumbling scientist drinks one of his experiments which makes him sick and sends him to the bathroom, where he promptly overflows his toilet. That’s literally the conceit for his chapter of the campaign.
If these two vignettes didn’t spell it out, WarioWare has a peculiar sense of humor. Sometimes it’s childish, sometimes it’s slapstick, and others it’s downright indescribable. This is why I find WarioWare so magnetic. These characters are all visually iconic and their mini storylines are unforgettable. This wackiness was unique back in 2003, and it remains timeless today.
But, if you thought that these scenarios were wacky, well they’re just the tip of the insane iceberg that is WarioWare. After all, the microgames themselves are far from strait-laced either. Each character is accompanied by their own batch of microgames that are very loosely themed around that person. The more overt throughline is just that they’re all damn eclectic. The motifs of the microgames are kind of tied together the way that random things in your house’s junk drawer are. They’re all housed in the same place, which gives these seemingly unrelated things a sense of cohesion.
If it weren’t for that common structure, basically every microgame would feel like a total non-sequitur. And again, this is so endearing to me. Sometimes you’ll be picking a nose or frying an egg. Sometimes you’ll be playing a Nintendo-themed microgame… or a Nintendo-themed microgame that Wario ripped off and inserted himself into. Sometimes you’ll be fending off ninjas or battling aliens. Or other times, you’ll just be taking pictures of birds or eating fruit. Since these games go by so quickly, Nintendo had to generate a ton of them. This necessity for volume enabled this range of ideas.
At this point, I should probably stop and explain just what a microgame is for all two of you who still don’t know. And that’s fine! Back when Mega Microgame$ released, you probably would’ve been in the majority. Even today, I’m not personally familiar with any other series that accomplishes what WarioWare does with its microgames. You can basically think of these as mini minigames, usually taking just two or three seconds each and focusing on a very simple task.
Now, I’m not much of a minigame fan, so it would appear strange that I really love microgames, which are effectively even more scaled back minigames. And the truth is, any individual microgame isn’t necessarily that great. There are some standouts, like Paper Plane (which would eventually become a standalone DSiWare title that I played the hell out of), but they’re largely inconsequential. What makes microgames so fun, and WarioWare so clever, is the way that they’re all bound together.
the warioware effect
The real appeal is clearing dozens of microgames back to back to back. Each microgame is just another opportunity to raise your score further. While this may seem like an overly simple loop, considering that microgames never get mechanically tougher than a well-timed button or D-Pad press, getting a high score is serious business. At key intervals, the speed at which the games are presented gets faster. Then it gets faster. And it keeps getting faster, and then you panic, and then you miss a microgame, and then you lose a life, and then you’re tossed into the next, and then all you can think about is trying to save your run. It’s chaos. And, this chaos is heightened when you’re playing two seconds of an F-Zero race and then suddenly trying to land a fat, bathing suit-clad Wario on a pool floaty.
But buried in that chaos is a sort of Zen state. It’s a lot like when you’re playing Tetris at a really high speed and you’re reaching the top of the board. You just get it. You tune right into the frequency of the game, get wrapped up in the sights and sounds, and play through it. The outside world fades away. WarioWare is the same, so it scratches that same itch for me as Tetris itself. It’s something of an “if you know, you know” moment, because you really have to experience it firsthand. But, when you’re on the verge of a new high score as microgames are flying past you left and right, you can easily get lost in the vibe of it all.
still fun in 2021?
This vibe applies to the whole series, but its everlasting appeal is owed to Mega Microgame$. And to that point, this GBA original is still a worthwhile pickup even today. Getting to blast through these incredible scenarios with this unforgettable cast is definitely enjoyable. It’s a really distilled look at what this series is and why it works so well. However, it’s comparatively light on content, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that this is the first entry. Because of that though, I might recommend you pick up a copy of WarioWare Gold to really get hooked on the series.
This was a post-Switch 3DS release that compiled the best mini-games from across the series into one cartridge. It’s also packed with bonus content. To the fair, the GBA version is too, and it actually has a set of versus minigames that can be played by multiple people with only one system. It’s very clever! However, it still pales in comparison to what Gold offers since that’s a definitive collection of WarioWare’s past.
Still, WarioWare: Mega Microgame$ is worth your time, if only to get a quick hit of microgame fun and a better appreciation for the franchise’s roots. I did enjoy my time with it, especially since I got it for just $7 on the Wii U eShop. Another score for Virtual Console! That said, after gaining a new insight into where WarioWare began, I was left with a desire to redownload Gold instead of playing the GBA title more. Every praise I’ve given this release translates obviously to Gold, just on a greater scale.
However, it’s hard to argue with that Wii U price point, and the sheer brilliance of this package. I mean, what a way to kick off a new IP! I can only image how endlessly replayable this would’ve been back in the day. In bite-sized chunks, it’s the epitome of handheld perfection. To that point, I have almost no qualms with Mega Microgame$ outside of the fact that it just feels quaint when compared to what came after. As a first crack at this formula though, it’s completely timeless. I can’t wait to see how this franchise is further expanded upon in WarioWare’s next chapter on Nintendo Switch.