Released: 2 May 2012
Originally Released: 21 March 2000
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Game Boy Color
After his debut in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (ibid, 1992) Mario’s dastardly doppelgänger, Wario, quickly usurped Nintendo’s portly plumber as the face of Mario’s handheld sub-series. After the critical and commercial success of Wario Land II (ibid, 1998), Wario’s adventures continued on the Game Boy Color, a long-awaited colour upgrade to Nintendo’s popular handheld console. Wario Land 3 continued the tradition of expanding upon its predecessors, featuring far more emphasis on backtracking, exploration, and experimentation and would be the last in the series to release before Nintendo released the technically-superior Game Boy Advance console. Still, Wario Land 3 was a much-lauded success upon release and was eventually brought to the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console some twelve years after its debut, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.
After Wario’s plane crash lands in a dense forest, he stumbles upon a mysterious cave and is sucked into a magical music box . An enigmatic hidden figure beseeches Wario to find five other music boxes to free him from his imprisonment and, excited at the prospect of finding more rare treasure, Wario dutifully sets out to satiate his lust for riches.
Like its predecessors, Wario Land 3 is a sidescrolling action/platformer in which players take control of Wario, Mario’s mischievous and greedy lookalike. As in Wario Land II, Wario is functionally immortal; though he takes significant knockback from enemy attacks, he cannot ever be killed and faces no consequences for being attacked except being knocked from a platform or into another hazard. As a result, the player never needs to worry about replenishing Wario’s health or lives or being penalised for being attacked as long as they are patient enough to climb back up to where they were when they were knocked back.
Wario begins the game noticeably less capable than in previous titles; he can still jump (shocking, I know!) and can barge into enemies with a shoulder charge but he can no longer pick up enemies and throw them…at least, not from the start. Instead, Wario must find power-ups in coloured treasure chests hidden throughout the game’s many levels to reacquire many of his usual skills, such as the butt stomp and the ability to pick up and throw enemies. Wario can, however, still roll into a ball when pressing down on a slope or coming off a zip-line to pass through narrow passageways.
The main objective of the game is to visit each of the twenty-five levels found at each compass point on the overworld; each one contains four coloured keys and four chests of the same colour which house treasures, power-ups, and key items. Wario must collect each one to open up new areas of the overworld and progress further; this means that each level must be revisited multiple times with Wario’s new abilities and new areas opened up with the treasures and each compass point will only be fully accessible once all treasures have been collected.
This makes the game much bigger and more confusing than even its predecessor, which featured branching story paths depending on the choices you made during gameplay; here, you constantly have to backtrack to old levels in order to open up new ones and, sometimes, key items will affect multiple levels at once. Thankfully, Wario can return to the mysterious figure in the Temple at any point for a hint on which level to go to, though it’s up to the player to figure out what’s changed in that level or which of Wario’s new abilities needs to be used to progress. The game’s overworld is split between the four compass points (North, South, East, and West) and Wario can quickly travel to each one by pressing the “Select” button on the overworld. From here you can also check on which treasures you have acquired, reactivate key items to remind yourself of where to go, and, eventually, trigger the game’s day and night cycle (which, otherwise, automatically switches to one or the other every time you finish a level, with the time of day also affecting the levels in certain ways).
Within each level, you can also find a number of Coins, including eight large Musical Coins; unlike previous games, though, the amount of Coins you have doesn’t affect the game’s ending and Wario’s capacity is capped at 999 Coins. Instead, Wario uses Coins to play a number of hidden golf mini games found in each level, which is necessary to open previously blocked paths and find more keys and chests. The golf mini games help to break up the gameplay a bit but is needlessly frustrating when you first play it since you’re not really given any direction on what to do. Basically, by moving the screen to the right, you can see where Wario’s shot will land on the field; you need to press A and then quickly press it again when the slider reaches a power level high enough to avoid getting stuck in water, lava, or the rough grass and then quickly press it again when it hits the blue area of the slider to take your shot. You get four shots at hitting the Para-Goom and, if you fail to sink it in the goal, you’ll have to pay some more Coins to try again. When I first played this, I was frustrated by the finicky controls and vague directions but, once you play it a couple of times, it’s not so hard to get the timing down and the 3DS’s save state feature really helps speed the process up.
As in the previous game, Wario can still change forms when hit with certain attacks; these will briefly alter Wario in strange and amusing ways to help him break through previously impassable blocks, reach higher areas, or pass through small spaces and figuring out how to use these different transformations (or “Reactions”, as the game calls them) is key to finding all the keys, chests, and Musical Coins. When in a level, you can also save your progress at any time, see which keys you currently hold, which chests you’ve opened, how many Musical Coins you’ve collected, and even return to the overworld map all with an appreciated ease.
Compared to the last two Wario Land games, Wario Land 3 is much more difficult and time consuming; thanks to the abundance of backtracking and vague hints, it can be very difficult to know where you need to go and what you need to do. Thus, you are encouraged to experiment; if you see something blocking your path, try using all of Wario’s abilities as some will affect the obstacle or possibly even destroy it. When exploring a level for the first time, try to take note of your surroundings and out of reach areas as you may need to return later with different abilities to access these parts of the level, and be sure to visit the Temple if you ever forget the levels your key items have affected or opened up. For the most part, though, I found Wario Land 3 best played in short bursts of about an hour or so tackling each level in turn as they opened up or changed rather than trying to slog through it in extended sittings, which may have contributed to my more annoying experiences with the game as it never seemed to end.
Graphics and Sound:
Wario Land 3 was easily the best looking entry in the series at that point; thanks to being made exclusively for the Game Boy Color, the game is full of bright, vibrant colours that really pop out at you. While Wario is actually a little more subdued in his colouration, appearing almost monochrome, this actually helps him to stand out against the colourful backgrounds and, as you’d expect, he’s full of life and character, falling asleep if left idle for too long and scratching his butt when left halfway up a ladder.
There is a lot of level variety on offer in Wario Land 3; each compass point of the map is home to at least six different levels and, rather than each compass point having a fixed theme, every level looks different and has different gimmicks contained within. You’ll explore standard platforming levels such as forests, deserts, volcanoes, and ice levels but also explore ruins, swamps, towns, castles, and caves. Each one has at least two different colour palettes thanks to the day/night cycle and, though they start off relatively small and restrictive, each one is quite large, with many different layers and areas to explore as you gain new abilities and affect the overworld.
Wario Land 3 has a bit more emphasis on story this time around, with short cutscenes playing whenever Wario acquires a new item to show how it has affected the overworld map. When you find new power-ups, a short tutorial will play showing you how to use Wario’s new ability (which can be revisited at any time from the pause menu) and there are a few instances of dialogue, primarily from the hidden figure, to relay the game’s simple plot. As you’d expect from a Mario/Wario title, the soundtrack is suitably chirpy and catchy, though I can’t say that it really made much of a lasting impression on me.
Enemies and Bosses:
Since the game’s plot does not involve the Black Sugar Gang this time around, you’re faced with a whole slew of all-new enemies, many of which behave very similar to those from the last two games. Accordingly, you’ll come across spear-wielding Spearhead’s who will prick you with their sharp weapons, Para-Gooms who descend from the air and shield themselves with spiked umbrellas, puffer fish-like Haridamas which sprout spikes when they get close, and annoying birds that fly across the screen and stun you but can make for a boost to higher areas if you can time your jump correctly.
You’ll also come up against a bunch of enemies that will change Wario’s form with their attacks or abilities; Appleby and Doughnuteers throw delicious apples and doughnuts your way, Fire Robota’s spout flames, Hammer-bots relentlessly try to squash you with their giant hammers, floating jellyfish try to sting you, and Zombies constantly spring out when it’s most inconvenient to hurl their heads at you. For the most part, these enemies are placed in or near areas where you’ll need the accompanying Reaction to progress further but, equally as often, they’re simply placed to be annoying so if you don’t need a specific transformation be sure to avoid them.
Wario has a tough battle ahead of him this time around as he must battle eleven different bosses in his quest for the five magical boxes; because of the nature of the game, though, it’s entirely possible to battle these bosses out of order depending on what abilities you have and key items you’ve found, which can mix up subsequent playthroughs of the game. With the exception of the final boss, each of Wario Land 3’s bosses requires three hits to defeat and, like in the last game, each one will expel you from the boss arena if you get hit or mess up, changes up their attack patterns as the fight progresses, and requires quite a bit of skill on your part to defeat. The Doll Boy, for example, sits atop a totem pole tossing hammers at you; you must avoid these and destroy his totem pole to bring him down to ground level then frantically avoid his hammer swings to jump on his head and finish him off with a shoulder barge. Similarly, Wormwould pops out of the ground to spit rocks at you that will send you tumbling off the platform if they hit you so you need to use your ground pound on his head before he gets the chance.
Each boss is unique and requires different strategies to get around their attacks; Wolfenboss has to be knocked out of the air by ricocheting a Kuri at the right angle, for example, while Mudee is fought while you’re clinging to a net and requires you to time a ground pound onto its body while avoiding its spiked tail. Anonster, meanwhile, can only be brought down to ground level by throwing its own web balls up at it, which can be tricky because it’s hard to judge the angle of your throw.
Some bosses are more unique and frustrating than others, though: Jamano plunges the arena into darkness, forcing you to quickly navigate around the small area hitting four skulls to bring the exorcising light and Wario needs to avoid Helio’s infectious stings and ground pound a pump to inflate and explode the boss. Easily the two most frustrating bosses, for me, though were Pesce and Shoot; Pesce, a weird rat/piranha hybrid, can only be defeated by poisoning it with mouldy cheese but it’s really tricky to time the dropping of the cheese so the damn thing actually eats it. Shoot is similar to Dunk from Wario Land II in that you must beat him at a ball-based game, in this case football. You need to avoid being squashed by Shoot but it’s not made clear exactly how you’re supposed to smash him into the goal; the easiest way I found was to lure him near to the goal (but not too near) and then barge him when he’s bouncing in the air as I could never get him into the goal when the goalie was stunned by a ground pound.
After finding all five musical boxes, Wario returns to the hidden figure, who reveals himself to be a demonic clown entity and the game’s final boss. This is the only time in the game that you can get a game over as Wario will instantly be defeated if the clown grabs a hold of him. You need to jump over, or duck under, his hands and stun his fists with a ground pound and then jump and throw the fist into the clown’s face four times to win. Honestly, the most difficult part of this boss was getting the timing of my attacks and jumps right as his fists swing at you pretty fast and it’s easy to lose your grip on the stunned hand if you’re not fast enough.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned before, Wario can acquire upgrades for his abilities and relearn classic skills from various treasure boxes. This includes an upgrade to his shoulder attack and ground pound to break through tougher blocks, being able to charge up an enemy before throwing it to throw it higher and further, the ability to swim (and then swim through currents), smashing objects from below, and performing a high jump by pressing up and jump at the same time.
Wario also assumes a number of different forms upon being hit with certain attacks or encountering certain hazards. Many of these return from Wario Land II, such as Fat Wario (who destroy enemies by touching them and can smash through special blocks), Fire Wario (who, after running around with his butt on fire for a while, eventfully becomes engulfed in flames to break through special blocks), Flat Wario (who is small enough to squeeze through tiny gaps but extremely difficult to control, with the game forcing you to desperately try and float him through gaps in vertical areas), Zombie Wario (who passes through thin platforms when jumping on them), and Puffy Wario (who relentlessly float upwards until he hits a ceiling or block).
You can also become Ice Skatin’ Wario when frozen (more of a hindrance than a help), Snowball and Ball o’ String Wario to become an unstoppable ball and break through special blocks, Bouncy Wario (helpful to reach high areas but difficult to control), Bubble Wario (which can let you pass through directional currents to reach goodies but is often just an annoying hazard), Invisible Wario to get past Seeing-eye Doors, and Vampire Wario. This last one is pretty cool as you become a Dracula-type figure and can turn into a vampire bat by pressing B and fly up to new areas but, since this latter mechanic is the only useful thing about this Reaction, I’m not sure why Wario doesn’t just become a bat by default.
There are one hundred treasures to find in Wario Land 3; you’ll need all of Wario’s abilities and certain key items to find them all as some are not only hidden in previous levels but also in hidden levels on the overworld map. Thankfully, you don’t need to find them all to complete the game and you don’t get a different ending for having them all but collecting all one hundred does unlock a time attack mode. There are also, as mentioned, eight large Musical Coins to be found in each level; collecting all of these opens up a fourth golf mini game if you just can’t get enough of that particular gem. Of course, if you’re playing the 3DS version of the game, you can also make liberate, unapologetic use of the save state system to make the game a little easier on yourself.
Wario Land 3 really surprised me; I kind of expected the series to get a bit simpler as it progressed but, if anything, the Land sub-series just got bigger and more ambitious as it went on. This is easily the biggest of this sub-series both in terms of graphics and its scope which is great for a classic handheld title and I can’t fault the game for being packed full of content but…man, is this a long, convoluted game. Wario Land 3 really kicked my ass as I went into it expecting quick, easy, pick-up-and-play gameplay and was, instead, forced to constantly backtrack and explore all over the game’s vast overworld and numerous levels. This was great for expanding the depth and range of the sub-series and makes for an addictive and engaging handheld experience; I tried to limit my play time to short bursts of a few hours or so but often found myself getting sucked into the game as I tried to track down one more treasure chest or unlock one more level for my next session.
Have you ever played Wario Land 3 before? How did you find it compared to the other Wario Land videogames? Were you a fan of how big the game was and its emphasis on backtracking and exploration or did you find it maybe to be a bit too ambitious for its own good? What are your thoughts on Wario as a character and his wacky sub-series? Would you like to see more of him and his unique gameplay mechanics or do you think he’s better suited as a side character relegated to mini games? Whatever thoughts you have on Wario and Wario Land 3, feel free to drop a comment below.