February 26th, 2011
I can’t wait until I finish this set of posts on enemies, because after this the writing will be more analysis-driven instead of introduction-heavy formalities. That’s not to discount the few ounces of analysis that I’m dropping as I go, but later I’ll be able to write more freely without having to provide too much context for each game element. In any case, because of the enormous slew of enemies in Wario Land 4, I’ll be spreading my coverage of enemies into 2 articles.
All of the land enemies in Wario Land 4 exhibit the same basic properties, so rather than repeat myself, it’s better to cover the basics. All land enemies in the game:
- Have several states: neutral, knocked and paralysed.
- Have weak spots and most have offensive spots.
- Attacking the weak spot defeats the enemy.
- Touching the offensive spot will hurt Wario, make him lose a heart, some coins and recoil.
- Touching a weak spot of an enemy will bump both Wario and the enemy. The enemy will go into a knocked state. Wario will drop anything he is carrying. The enemy will change direction.
- Bumping an enemy into a wall will make them flip and be paralysed.
- Jumping on or up into an enemy’s weak spot will flip them over and they’ll be paralysed where Wario can then pick them up or freely attack them.
- All enemies will walk back and forth along a platform or the ground until they reach an end point (the end of the platform or the end of a screen) and then turn around.
- The more dangerous enemies will move faster, shortening the player’s reaction time
Also, it’s worth adding that the main purpose of the enemies is to get the player using the jump and attack mechanics. Most enemies in the game can be beaten with any combination of these 2 mechanics.
I also need to say a few things about water enemies also:
Above ground, moving vertically is inherently limited due to gravity. The enemies therefore only need to have routine AIs of walking back and forth, left to right. And actually, that’s quite okay because there’s enough difficulty in trying to jump over them thanks to gravity which the player must contend with. In water though the player has much more control of 2D space as they can move anywhere they want vertically with only minimal resistance from Wario’s float. In water, basic walk left to right AI patterns are clearly not as effective as they are on land as the player can just float around enemies. So, most enemies in water have more sophisticated AI than those on land or they are at least faster moving. They’ll move in rectangular formations, charge at Wario very quickly or try to catch him unaware.
Marumen (Purple, Red)
Purpose: To let the player play around with enemy units without consequence
Drops: Purple: Small heart and 2x small coins (20), Red: Small heart and red coin (50)
Marumen are the first enemies that Wario approaches in the game. They’re nothing but harmless fodder that store coins and are useful for pegging into walls or at other creatures. By smash attacking the ground next to them, Marumen will change their colour from purple to red vice versa. In their red state Marumen drop more coins. This feature gives Marumen a second layer of interaction. Marumen are rare, if not absent, in the hard and super hard difficulties.
Spearmen (Yellow, Blue, Red)
Purpose: To provide minimal harmful resistance to Wario on ground areas
Drops: Yellow: Small heart and 1x small coin (10), Blue: Small heart and 1x red coin (50), Red: Small heart and 1x silver coin (100)
Tactic: Attack from behind or above when they’re not shielding
Spearmen are next in line after the Marumen. Unlike Marumen they can harm Wario with their spear. Their spears only point in the direction they’re facing, leaving 2 spots open for attack (head and back). Like the Marumen, Spearmen come in different flavours that the player can alternate by smash attacking the ground next to them. The differences are:
Yellow: Just walks to the end of a room or platform then turns around.
Blue: Same as above, but will temporarily spin spear, defending their head area, after getting up from being knocked over, changing direction or switching from another colour.
Red: Same as above, but will raise spear and run towards Wario when he’s nearby.
Purpose: Turn Wario into Puffy Wario, provide horizontal resistance by transforming Wario into a state that limits horizontal movement
Tactic: Wait for them to swoop and jump attack them while they’re down. Throw a projectile.
Beezleys are bees with stingers on their hinds which float above ground and swoop down on Wario to attack. When swooping, Beezleys will swoop all the way down to one unit above the ground area. This means that Wario can avoid their attacks simply by crouching. Beezleys can also catch their stingers on flowers. It is possible for the player to jump into them when they swoop. Doing so will bump them and they’ll retreat to a higher area. As they swoop they’ll make a buzzing noise to warn the player. To defeat Beezleys you should attack jump them while they’re swooping or throw a projectile at them.
Purpose: Make avoiding Beezleys more difficult
Drops: Small heart and 1x Small coin (10)
In Wildflower Fields at least, those projectiles will be the caterpillar-like Imomushi. These creatures are even weaker than Marumen as they walk at a slower pace. Imomushis complement the Beezley design very well. For a Beezley to be effective, the player must be more than one unit high and not moving around too much, ie. in their neutral state and limited by space. To overcome Imomushis, the player can: jump over or attack them. Further, if the player attempts to avoid by crouching, touching a Imomushi will make them recoil (Imomushis blend well into the background, making it easy to accidentally run into them). Jumping, attacking or recoiling in response to a Imomushi all put the player in states where they’re at least more than one unit high, thereby making them more susceptible to Beezley attacks.
Purpose: Get the player to smash attack, make the player more observant of influences outside the area of play
Drops: Small heart and 1x Red coin (50)
Tactic: Smash attack them to ground level and then attack from above or behind.
Moguramen are mole-like creatures with a drill mask on their face which live underground. They walk horizontally, digging up spike balls that fly up behind them into the above ground area where Wario is located. Smash attacking the ground will send Moguramens up to the ground floor where they are vulnerable. Their offensive spot is the drill on their face (however, when paralysed their drill will no longer hurt Wario). When above ground they are effectively the same as yellow Spearmen as their protruding offensive end is one unit high as are the spears carried by Spearmen.
Purpose: Fill the 2D space in water and give horizontal contrary motion
Drops: Small heart and 1x Small coin (10)
Tactic: Attack belly from below or from the side
Goggley-Blades are fish which swim in rectangular formations. Their offensive spot is the blade on their head and their weak point is their belly. Once they catch sight of Wario they’ll charge towards him in a vertical or horizontal line (depending on how they’re currently swimming at the time). Avoiding is then simply a case of swimming out of range from that single linear line. Be careful though as they move rather fast.
As they move in a rectangular formation, most of their charges will be horizontal, forcing Wario to stop horizontal movement and dodge by moving along the vertical axis. Thus giving horizontal contrary motion. You can defeat Goggley-Blades by swimming into their bellies from the side or underneath. Goggley-Blades move around so much and have path-finding AI as the player too has more manoeuvrability under water.
Purpose: Horizontal contrary motion
Drops: 1x Red coin (50) and 1x Silver coin (100)
Tactic: When walking, attack from behind or front. When charging attack from above or behind.
Totsumen are creatures that wear masks with a pointed tip on the top (their offensive spot). They have 2 states: walking and charging. When walking their tip points upwards (making their front and back weak spots) and when charging their tips point towards whichever direction Wario is facing (making their top and back areas weak spots). Each state gives the player a different way to interact with the Totsumen. When charging they will charge until they hit a wall, regardless of whether or not they fall of a platform. Totsumen change into their charging state as soon as they see Wario in front of them, so it’s practically impossible to hit them from the front on unless you dash attack. Totsumen are often put together in packs, creating tricky situations where they’re in a mix of states, so jumping to avoid one Totsumen can make the player vulnerable to touching the pointed tips of the walking Totsumen.
Purpose: Turn Wario into Fat Wario, slow down Wario’s movement
Ringosukī are supposedly monkeys. They throw out apples to Wario which turn him into Fat Wario if he touches one. The apples are thrown out at an arc, so oftentimes Wario will need to jump to reach it, subsequently falling back to earth as Fat Wario and causing a quake. Like Beezleys, they don’t cause any harm and can be defeated quiet easily. Ringosukīs are usually placed in levels in one of 2 ways: to facilitate a necessary Fat Wario transformation, or to slow Wario’s movement. The latter sees Ringosukīs placed on raised platforms away from easy access. In these cases their apples become hinderances, not helpful. Touching one will slow Wario down or drop him down to earth, thwarting the player’s progress. Interestingly, if you pick one up, Wario is weighed down by their weight.
Purpose: To delay horizontal movement
Drops: Small heart and 1x Small coin (10)
Tactic: Move in close, let it jump up and then swim into it from underneath
Shieragutchis are spiked clams that sit on the ground underwater, when Wario is near, they will leap up vertically and try to bite him. Shieragutchis rise vertically, cutting off Wario’s horizontal movement. The two are therefore a good pair. To beat a Shieragutchi, the player must move in close, let it swim upwards and then attack it from underneath, its weak point. If Wario swims down too low to a Shieragutchi and can’t avoid its upward attack, then the Shieragutchi will bite Wario and drag him down.
Purpose: Single point contrary motion, make the player more observant and cautious
Tactic: Avoid them, be wary of dark holes
Utsuboankōs are giant eels that hide in dark holes underwater. When Wario is close by they’ll spring out to bite him. Utsuboankō’s attacking animation can be split into biting and confusion. At first he’ll come out of his hole and bite, but if he doesn’t bite Wario, then he’ll look around confused. When he’s confused he can’t hurt Wario, when he’s biting he will.
Underwater in Mystic Lake (the only place you can find Utsuboankō) there are many dark holes, the player can tell if a Utsuboankō is hiding inside if they can see 2 glowing red eyes. Utsuboankōs complement the Shieragutchi and Goggley-Blades as they only cover a fixed amount of space and don’t have movement pattern. Often crystals will be placed in front of dark holes to lure the player into swimming into danger – risk/reward. There is no way to defeat Utsuboankōs.
Purpose: Turn Wario into Bouncy Wario
Tactic: Attack from behind or above
Menhammer are, as the name suggests, men with hammers. They attack by jumping towards Wario with their hammer ready to pound him, covering a height of 2 units. The height of the jump makes Menhammer sometimes difficult to avoid. Crouching, attacking or standing still, either way you are vulnerable. To balance the range of area they cover, every time a Menhammer jumps they make a distinct noise which warns the player, giving them enough time to respond. It’s also easy to judge when they’re going to strike. The player can take advantage of the jump and jump as well, bouncing off the Menhammer to gain more height. After landing a hit, the Menhammer will fall back paralysed. The best way to avoid a Menhammer is to step away from him or crouch slide under his jump.
Purpose: Make the player jump or roll, contrary motion
Tactic: Roll into them
Spikey Balls are pretty self-explanatory. They’re spikey all over, fall from the sky and roll along the ground. The only way to defeat them is to roll into them. If they run into a wall or block they will break. Spikey Balls are hazardous forms of contrary motion, that push Wario to be in the roll state or otherwise jump to avoid. They fall from the sky.
Purpose: Slow down the player’s swimming
Tactic: Move into one of the quadrants and follow it around to the other side
Togenobis are 4-legged octopuses with maces on the end of each leg. Wario cannot beat them. As the image shows, the 4 legs make a rotating ‘x’ shape. Only the maces hurt Wario, he can pass through the legs fine. Trying to get around the moving legs is tricky since the legs, and therefore offensive spots, are rotating and moving in and out all the time, faster than Wario can easily avoid. So, the best way to navigate past a Togenobi is to enter one of the quadrants and follow it around until it reaches the other end. Managing Wario’s float and swim direction at the same time is what makes dealing with this enemy engaging. It makes the player swim more carefully.
Purpose: Make navigating platforms more engaging
Tactic: Move, jump to avoid
Tobawanis are crocodiles that swim back and forth along areas divided by water in the Monsoon Jungle. When a Tobawani is vertically aligned with Wario’s position, they will jump up to cut off Wario’s horizontal movement. The player can avoid a Tobawani by quickly seeing the jump and moving out of vertical alignment first or by jumping higher than the Tobawani (which can only be done when on the highest platforms). When Wario crosses the gaps of water where Tobawanis lie, a Tobawani will inevitably jump out at least once, since it’s impossible to cross without at least once crossing vertical paths.
Tobawanis make platforming over water tricky as the player must do 2 things at once: navigate platforms and avoid Tobawani. Tobawanis are used with swinging platforms as moving across swinging platforms requires patience to get the timing right, but the Tobawanis are a threat to the patience.
If Wario falls into the water and a Tobawani is facing him, then he’ll rapidly swim towards Wario. If Wario swims into a Tobawani from underneath, then he’ll rapidly swim forwards anyway.
Purpose: Encourage the player to use the smash attack
Drops: Small heart and a silver coin (100)
Tactic: Smash attack the ground to reveal their weak spot, then smash attack their weak spot. Throw a projectile at them.
Harimen are spiked creatures who cannot be defeated with regular attacks. By smash attacking the ground next to them, Harimen will flip over into a paralysed state where the player can smash attack their yellow bodies to defeat them. Players can also defeat Harimen by throwing a projectile at them and turn them into a paralysed state by jumping from underneath them. Harimen can be thought of as moving spikes which can be defeated.
Purpose: Encourage the player to use the super smash attack
Drops: Small heart and 3x Silver coin (300)
Tactic: Super smash attack the ground to reveal their weak spot, then smash attack their weak spot. Throw a projectile at them and then smash attack.
Harimenzetto are a superior form of Harimen. They can only be flipped by a super smash attack (a smash attack from higher ground) and throwing a projectile at them will turn them over instead of defeating them.
Purpose: To turn Wario into Puffy Wario, horizontal contrary motion
Bow Balloons shoot arrows horizontally when Wario crosses their sight which if they hit Wario turn him into Puffy Wario. The arrows move until they disappear off-screen.
Purpose: Turn Wario into Frozen Wario, strong horizontal contrary motion
Drops: Small heart and red coin
Yukiotoko are Yeti-like creatures which blow puffs of ice. They are identical to Bow Balloons except that they turn Wario into his frozen form which pushes Wario back horizontally into the nearest wall as opposed to limiting his horizontal movement.
These enemies identical to spikey ball level elements.
These enemies are identical to Totsumen.
February 23rd, 2011
Ah, finally we reach the last of the three types of level elements, exclusive. Exclusive level elements are features of levels that are only ever present in a single level, possible two. Usually exclusive elements are implemented as either the design crux or core game idea for a level, or just as an added piece of functionality. For example, the ladder meshing (a mesh that Wario can climb both horizontally and vertically) in one of the rooms in 40 Below Fridge (image below) just adds functionality where it makes sense. Where the flying carpets in Arabian Nights are present all throughout the level and define the ideas the level wishes to communicate.
Purpose: Allow Wario to climb horizontally as well as vertically
Level: 40 Below Fridge, Pinball Zone
There’s only two really good examples of ladder meshing in Wario Land 4, one of those being in 40 Below Fridge. Ladder meshing is used here to create a timing puzzle. The Yukiotoko on the left can blow breaths of ice horizontally which, if Wario touches, will turn him in to Frozen Wario and drop him down to the floor. To avoid the Yukiotoko the player needs to scale the meshing beneath the Yukiotoko and then observe his attack patterns, once there’s a break, Wario can move upwards. In Pinball Zone, there’s another such example following a similar design.
Purpose: Modify the player’s jumping space
Level: Curious Factory
Wheel platforms consist of a circular gear with 4 platforms running on a line. In order to move the wheel down the line the player needs to step on either the left or right platform which pushes the gear down and drives it forward. The images and video do the device much better justice than my descriptions possible could.
After exiting a room the location of the wheel platforms is reset to avoid deadlocking the player if they fall and can’t access the platforms.
Throwing Balls, Ball Catchers and Number Gates
Purpose: Get the player to practice the holding and throwing mechanics
Level: Pinball Zone
Throwing balls are..well..balls that you can throw. Ball catchers catch them, and number gates open after a certain number of balls have been thrown into catchers. These devices facilitate exercises for the throwing and holding mechanics. Depending on where the catchers are located, the player will be tested on all aspects of the throwing mechanic, being horizontal and vertical throwing, charged throwing, short tossing and jumping and throwing. The catchers open and close at fixed intervals, requiring the player to time their throws correctly. Most importantly though, these devices make apparent the dip in each throw, so standing directly opposite a catcher is generally not suffice. Instead, players will need to adjust their standing to work around this little nuance.
Purpose: To make throwing throwing balls that bit trickier
Level: Pinball Zone
Because platforms that are moving are more interesting than stationary ones. Also, note the relationship between the player drawing a line of trajectory and the ball they’re carrying, and the catch boxes. The moving platform makes it trickier to manage the dip.
Rising Lava Pits
Purpose: Get the player following patterns, make vertically lower areas more difficult to reach
Level: Fiery Cavern
The rising lava pits in Fiery Cavern are designed to create a vertical gradient of risk/reward. That is, the base area where the lava ascends is a high risk area, at the base there is only a limited time frame where the lava isn’t present so the player will only ever have a short opportunity to access this area. Where the lava rises at its peak though is relatively safe by comparison. The image below is perhaps a better example of my meaning.
In Wario Land 4, the rising lava is used in conjunction with crystals and access to secret areas placed near the base of where the lava rises to facilitate risk and reward. The images below are examples of these two forms of application.
Otherwise rising lava pits force the player to wait and advance when the time is right.
Purpose: Blocks that respawn
Level: Toyblock Tower
Simply, cat blocks are blocks that respawn and don’t drop red coins.
Shape Keys and Keyholes
Purpose: To divide interactions into several more interesting parts
Level: Toyblock Tower
Keys and key holes are a bit like switches and outlined blocks, they chunk play out into 2 sections. Whereas with switches and blocks the steps are to 1) hit a switch and 2) go and see what it does, with keys and holes, the steps are to 1) find the key and 2) reach the key hole. The shape keys are organic in Wario Land 4, meaning that Wario must actually carry the key to the key hole. Going to a key hole is easy and so is carrying a key, yet doing them both at the same time makes play more interesting.
Purpose: To instantly transform the player into a transformation type just by travelling through a tube
Level: Arabian Nights
Insta-transformation tubes are only used once in the game as pictured. For this room they make the transformation process a little quicker and keep the transformation devices in fixed locations.
Purpose: Slow the player down
Level: Crescent Moon Village and Doodle Woods
Posts are located in Crescent Moon Village and Doodle Woods. What do these 2 levels have in common besides posts? They both have some kind of floating being that swoops over players and causes trouble (Hoggus and Yūrei). Posts, which require a full sized jump to overcome, are therefore implemented to catch the player in a bind, making it easier for Hoggus or Yūrei to attack the player.
Purpose: Make timing more imperative in platforming
Level: Monsoon Jungle
Jumping from one platform to another is easy enough, to make jumping more engaging the designers of Wario Land 4 included swinging platforms that quickly swing back and forth. Landing jumps on these platforms is much tricker than still platforms.
Blue Hurt Pads
Purpose: To create danger areas
Level: Hotel Horror
Watch from 1:44
Blue hurt pads (I have to make some of my own names up too, you know) create danger areas where the player can get hurt. For the single room they’re used in, they make a lot of sense. Fat Wario falls to the ground fast and Bouncy Wario can all too easily spring up vertically, blue hurt pads are designed to exploit these weaknesses and encourage the player to work within the constraints.
Purpose: To add more layers of interaction to platforms
Level: Doodle Woods
Push pencils are platforms stuck in one side of the wall that the player needs to attack to spring them out to the other side and into a platform that the player can actually access. This is another way of breaking down the interactions into a series of smaller steps.
Purpose: Open and close set areas of a level
Level: Doodle Woods
Foldy doors are nothing more than automated doors that grant and prevent access to certain areas of a level.
Purpose: Offer a new mode of travel
Level: Arabian Nights
Flying carpets are platforms which follow Wario’s jump when he is above them. If Wario jumps straight up then the carpet will move up. If Wario jumps to the left or right, the carpet will also follow him in these directions too. Since the carpet follows Wario’s jump, his landing is undercut by the carpet, making the jumps on a flying carpet shorter than regular jumps. Also when the flying carpet is in mid-air, it will float in the direction that Wario is facing.
This level gimmick allows Wario to move through vertical space quite easily and the rooms where the carpet is used is punctuated by more vertical space. Therefore in these rooms Mayu Birds and crystals are often put in the sky to make the navigation more interesting.
Purpose: Provide safe zones against Beezley attacks
Level: Wildflower Fields
With danger zones, lava pits, spikes and so on, you might be thinking that risk and reward is only created by threatening the player with risk, where the reward is simply not being harmed by the risk. This isn’t true. The flowers in Wildflower Field shield the player from being stung (and subsequently being turned into Puffy Wario. Risk and reward can be created by providing an skewing the equation either way. The flowers can also wither too.
Domino Starters and Enders
Purpose: To create capsules of gameplay run under tension
Level: Domino Row
The entire level of Domino Row is centred on these elements. Throughout this level there are rows of dominos lined up in the background, knocking a switch (what I call a starter) will set the chain reaction of dominos falling. From here the dominos will continue to fall until the last domino falls onto an ender, another switch, which’ll raise a flag—that is, unless Wario can make it to the switch first. If he does then special domino bricks which conceal areas of the level will be removed and the player will be granted access.
These devices facilitate instances of play where the player is challenged by time. Tension like this makes the gameplay more interesting. Further the pay-off at the end adds a reward element to the mix.
Board Game Switch and Board
Purpose: Allow the player to “roll the dice” and traverse a board which cause all kinds of influences to happen over the level.
Level: Big Board
Big Board is another level centred around a handful of gimmicks. Throughout the level are stitches with a rotation of numbers 1-6. Hitting a switch will stop the rotation and have Wario move so many squares on this board. Each square has a different effect on the game world, such as adding enemies or transforming Wario into a certain enemy. The switches are designated to lots of 2 per room and when Wario is close to the switches the horizontal board will appear on-screen.
Each room has benefits for landing on one particular square type on the board and in each room the player will have 2 opportunities to land on the squares they want. The numbers on the switches rotate slow enough that players can time the dice roll to get the number they’re after, with a little skill, that is.
Purpose: To prevent the player from accessing some rooms before they hit the switch
Level: Hotel Horror
In Hotel Horror there are two rooms which cannot be opened until the frog switch is pressed.
February 21st, 2011
Regular elements are the core building blocks of a level. When you combine these pieces together, along with enemies you create a level idea. That is, a system of devices that can be interacted with which, individually and when combined, tell a narrative through their functions. For example, the spurts of lava and slippery ice flooring of Firey Cavern communicate the ideas of place. On the other hand essential elements, which are present in every level, define the continual theme throughout the game or the game’s overall ethos.
Platforms – Through-floors, Non-through Floors, Slippery Platforms
Purpose: To engage the player with the jump mechanic
Platforms are pretty self-evident in a platforming game; they make the player use the jump mechanic. There are a handful of different types of properties to platforms in Wario Land 4. Through-floors (soft) and non-through floors (hard) are as they seem, the former can be jumped through, the latter cannot. Distinguishing either platform is a pretty simple case of form fits function. Below I have taken captures of a few platforms, try to guess for yourself whether they are hard or soft. Answers are at the bottom of the article.
Then there are slippery platforms which make moving across them (and floors too, which can also be slippery) more interesting and engaging than a regular floor. The slipperiness gives the player something extra to contend with. It’s easy to jump platforms, it’s harder to jump platforms and manage the added glide for each landing.
Blocks – Normal, Small, Thick, Fire and Snow
Purpose: Give the player something to attack, destroy and terraform
Blocks are about as important as platforms, in fact they probably have more design weight as they can double as platforms too. Blocks follow a similar psychological principle to dropped coins or crystals: “there there, so why not go ahead and break them” (or in the case of coins, pick them up). Breaking a block is such a trivial interaction, but the fact that as players we can remove it and shape the game world is actually empowering. Think about how many times you’ve smashed up a few blocks. I bet you weren’t doing it for the chance of getting some piddly coins, were you? (Although that’s a factor too). It just felt good. Blocks allow the player to express themselves and that’s why we love them.
The staircase of blocks here are just normal blocks, but so are the TV set-looking blocks too. This is an example of where form fits function is considerably blurry. This level (Toxic Landfill) has many secrets centred around this distinction.
Blocks come in a few flavours: normal, small, thick, fire and snow man. Normal blocks can be broken with any attack and can be broken from a jump underneath too. They are 2 units high. A few times over the past week I have referred to normal blocks as weak or thin blocks—this has been an error on my part. Normal blocks have a few different visual variants, some, like the ones in Toxic Landfill look visually weaker, which is what tripped me up. If the player does a Super Smash Attack (ie. a heightened smash attack, another mistake on my part; vertical) or a Dash Attack (horizontal) then they won’t recoil after smashing a normal block, otherwise they will with a regular attack.
Thick blocks require a Super Smash Attack (vertical) or a Dash Attack (horizontal) to break and Wario will recoil every time he breaks one. Small blocks are simply blocks that are half Wario’s height at one unit tall. These blocks often conceal small passages for Wario to crouch through.
Fire and snowman blocks both require transformation states to be broken, being the Flaming Wario and Snowman Wario forms.
One-Unit High Passages
Purpose: Allow the player to use the crouching walk and crouching jump mechanics
One-unit high passages are tight passages where the player must operate in the crouched state. It’s just another way for the player to deal with space but since the confines of the passages automatically force Wario into the crouch there’s not a great deal to really say about it.
Purpose: Initiate the rolling mechanic, provide speed bumps
Slopes initiate the roll mechanic for Wario in a neutral and snowman state and they come in various heights. Since slopes start the roll mechanic which puts Wario into a one-unit-high ball form, single unit passages are often located nearby to slopes. In the snowman state, snow blocks will be located nearby instead of regular blocks. If snow blocks are used, they will be in the direct path of land following a slope as Snowman Wario cannot jump in rolling form. Slopes may also be used in the design as small hills whose slanted surface acts as a speed bump to Wario’s movement.
Slope Switches and Slope Blocks
Purpose: Break the initiation of rolling mechanic into 2 steps
Slope blocks are blocks placed on each step of a staircase. Activating a slope switch will turn the slope block from a square to a triangle, thereby turning a staircase into a slope. Maybe a clearer way to picture these devices is as those trap staircases that turn into slippery slides from cartoons. These two devices simply add an activation step to slopes, turing the slide into a 2-part process.
Purpose: Transport Wario from one room to another
Pipes are just like doors except they aren’t the standard form of connecting rooms which is why I don’t consider them to be essential elements. Pipes have an added layer of interaction in that some pipes need to be jumped into.
Water Currents and Conveyor Belts
Purpose: Enforce contrary motion in either land or water spaces
Traversing water is very different from land. On land, the player’s vertical suspension in the air is only temporary (jump) due to gravity, meaning that they are bound to the ground area. Therefore to create contrary motion (motion that moves against the player and makes movement more interesting) to the player, that contrary motion ought to be set on the ground, where the player spends most of their time. This is the basic design premise for conveyor belts in platforming games.
In water, however, the player can use the d-pad and buttons to keep themselves suspended in the same vertical space. This means that the concentrated area of play underwater is much wider than on land. Since the area of major play is wider, so ought to be the devices for contrary motion. What I mean by this is water currents.
The key difference between conveyor belts and water current is their effectiveness. Conveyor belts only give weak resistance, whereas water currents have much higher resistance. It make sense too, if conveyor belts were any stronger, they couldn’t be used as platforms, as the player could never hold themselves on one. It’s almost inevitable that you will be pulled along by water currents. In this way, water currents are either used sparingly as a nuisance for keeping the player on a set, current-free path (Cresent Moon Village) or to quicken punishment for making a mistake by forcing the player down a path (Golden Passage).
Spikes and Icicles
Purpose: Define danger areas of the environment, facilitate risk/reward
Spikes and icicles are like conveyor belts and water currents in that they’re a directive device designed to manipulate where the player should and should not be. Both sets of level elements are designed to impede the player in different ways, one by creating contrary motion and thereby slowing the player down, the other by removing hearts from Wario’s health. The idea behind the 2 sets is simple: risk and reward. By creating a risk of impediment, the devices coerce the player to play in a way that the designers want, that is (or maybe, should be), to challenge the player’s skill.
Between the two, icicles are single hazards that fall when Wario is in near proximity, spikes are clumps of icicles which cannot fall. The former is designed to make the player more observant and wary of the environment, the latter to provide incentive for clearing platforms.
Addition: Floating spikey balls also fall under this category.
Purpose: Chunk out sections of play
! blocks are switches which activate outlined blocks of the same colour. In a single stage, there may be a couple of sets of these blocks which come in different colours. The outlined blocks also act as curiosity markers. As the switch is often not in the same vicinity as the blocks, the 2 lead the player to each piece. That is, say in Palmtree Paradise, the player will first walk past outlined blocks, piquing the player’s interest, then they’ll later hit the respective switch for these blocks, in order to find out what the switch does, the player must go back to where the outlined blocks were. This sort of back and forth interplay is a great way to chunk out a level into switch-governed sections. (It’s a staple design trick used in Metroid Prime Hunters… a game that I’ll have to write about some time). It’s difficult to a see an arrangement of block outlines and gems and not wonder what on earth it all means.
Projectiles – Rocks, Dr. Arewo Stein, Glass Balls
Rocks, Dr. Arewo Stein and glass balls are 3 types of non-enemy, one-unit-high projectiles in the Wario Land 4, each with their own properties. Rocks are invulnerable to Wario’s attacks and normally used for hitting out-of-reach ! Boxes or clearing a path of horizontal one-unit blocks inside a wall, thereby clearing a path for entry. You can also use rocks to stomp jump off of. Rocks can be destroyed by water or when touched by one of the transformations. Dr Arewo Stein is much the same, except he can survive both and has a funny “ouch” sound effect. The glass balls will break whenever they touch a surface. The player must therefore be ultra careful not to jump too high to touch a ceiling, bump into something to have the ball fall from Wario’s hand or accidentally touch a wall. Once the glass ball hits an object like a switch, it will activate the switch and break. There are green birds which spit out a limitless supply of glass balls, so the focus is always kept on the player’s handling and not an irreversible fault.
Purpose: Facilitate floor-based design and the climbing mechanic
Also fairly simple, ladders are the tool to reach higher levels and facilitate the climbing mechanic. Wario can slide down ladders too, adding a second layer of interaction.
Light sources – Lamps, Lights and Street Lights
Purpose: Make navigating space as Vampire Bat Wario and Zombie Wario more tricky
Navigating water is effectively to navigating space when in Vampire Bat Wario form without the upwards pull (float). In which case, if swimming has hazards such as water enemies and currents, then so should flying—and it does, light sources. Light sources revert Wario back into his neutral state. So, as Vampire Bat Wario attempting to reach a goal, light sources are a clear obstacle. The same is true of Zombie Wario, except that the onus is mainly placed on through-floors and avoiding jumping as opposed to light.
Purpose: To make the player more observant
First pioneered in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, concealed areas are cut-off rooms to a main area with an entranceway, however, unlike other cut-off areas, the room looks like a wall. It’s only when the player sees through the facade and enters the doorway that wall becomes transparent and the player can see through. Concealed areas aren’t so common in Wario Land 4. They are design to make the player more observant. There’s no intrinsic risk/reward in concealed areas, however, when essential level elements are added, like a keyzer or a jewel piece, than it pays to be observant.
Breakable Walls and Platforms
Purpose: Conceal secrets hidden in walls
In Wario Land 4, any wall or platform could be knocked down, very much in the same way that any part of a 2D Metroid game could be cleared away with a morph ball bomb. That’s quite amazing when you consider it, but if this is the case, why don’t we spend so much of Wario Land 4 concerned about breaking every wall surface in the pursuit of secrets? The answer is simple. The game world uses visual clues to create a suspicion, then we just act on it. Never does Wario Land 4 have a destructible chunk of terrain without a visual marker. If it did, then the game would be coaxing us to leave no stone unturned, but instead, by only using visual markers to tip us players off, Wario Land 4 teaches us to follow visual patterns and look for discrepancies.
Purpose: Change the way the player navigates space
I have discussed water before in the gameplay dynamics post. I think that I covered most of it there.
Platform answers: 5,6,7,9,12 are all through-platforms