June 27th, 2011
[The article below is a draft piece from my book, Rethinking Games Criticism: An Analysis of Wario Land 4. I strongly urge you read the book instead of this article. What you see below was edited and re-written several times for the final copy, so the analysis in the book is much deeper and the writing flows a bit more. Thank you.]
Example of the Dash Attack used in general gameplay
In my general comparison of the Dash Attack and Attack mechanics, I discussed how the nuanced skid properties of the Dash Attack made it the superior mechanic for advanced level players. Advanced level players being those with a knowledge of the level layouts who are willing to apply their knowledge while at the same time contend with the sophisticated skid properties. While I provided a pretty accurate overview, I’ve now got the tools I need to explain the nuanced mechanic in greater detail with both videos and images too. Let’s start off with this image of a complete Dash Attack with each step of possible interaction. Please not that I made the image artificially using sprites, so it’s not a pixel perfect representation, but neither is it meant to be.
And here is what happens in each section of the animation.
0 – 2 Wario has no charge built up. With no charge there is no skid. The player can cancel the animation of the Dash Attack by walking out of it or by stop pressing buttons altogether and stand still (general cancels), or by jumping (jump cancel). A jump cancel cuts into a standard jump. The lead up has no influence on the cancels at all. So, for example, cutting to a walk will be an uninterrupted transition from one frame of the Dash Attack to the walking animation. Wario can’t break blocks or defeat enemies during these frames.
2 – 3 An invisible charge is built up. The invisible charge animation is the same as the no charge animation (areas 0-2). The difference is that an invisible charge will result in a soft skid. On the ground the skid can’t be cancelled, but it can be cancelled by jump cancelling. The jump cancel cuts into a standard jump, however, if the player holds forward, they can do an “inertia jump”. An inertia jump is a jump that maintains the inertia from the invisible charge. Wario can break blocks and enemies during these frames.
What’s worth noting about 2-3 is that it’s only a very short window of time right before the charge is built. Most players probably wouldn’t even notice this part of the mechanic as the frames appear identical to 0-2. For high level play it’s quite important though as the inertia jump maintains the strengths of the charge (inertia), but without skidding or the complete lack of control of the jump (Jump Dash Attack). Basically, the inertia jump takes all the advantages of the Dash Attack without any of the disadvantages. If the player can nail the narrow time frame for execution, then it’s very useful.
3 – 4 A full charge is built up and maintained. The player cannot cancel at all and ending the dash attack with invariably result in a skid. Wario can break blocks and beat enemies. This phase of the mechanic continues forever until the player hits a wall, lands in water or ends the Attack Dash and skids. Jumping now creates a Dash Attack Jump which is automated until the player lands.
4 – 5 4 is the point where the player ends the Dash Attack. 5 This is where the player ends up after skidding. During this time the player has no control over the mechanic (as opposed to what I suggested before, ahem..), making them vulnerable to enemies and hazards. There are several contextual techniques that can be used to minimise or totally avoid skidding though…
To illustrate the nuances a little more clearly, here is a tabled version of the complexities of the mechanic.
As we can see, the Dash Attack is highly nuanced. From the nuances comes advanced techniques. Most players likely aren’t entirely familiar with such techniques and perhaps only use them every so often. Speed runners and veteran players though would be more familiar with these techniques as they give the player greater control over Wario’s movement at a fast speed. The video below demonstrates all of the emergent techniques of the Dash Attack beginning from sections 0-2 and then onto 2-3 and 3+ alongside the routine parts of the mechanic.
The emergent techniques are Walk Cancelling, Jump Cancelling, Inertia Jumping, Jump Dash Attack, the skid and the Walk Out.
The skid is unique as it can’t be nullified directly by the player’s input, but it can be cancelled in conjunction with other game elements.For example: Jump Dash Attacking onto a platform and skidding at the edge of the platform so that Wario slips off and immediately returns to his neutral state. Skidding into a wall is another example. There are other skid cancelling techniques that I haven’t yet uncovered, but will no doubt discuss later. What’s important to note now is that nullification of the skid has counterpoint with the level elements and the enemies which makes for some truly emergent gameplay.
Contrast these techniques to the Attack Mechanic which only has a single nuanced technique: back cancelling. That is, pressing in the opposite direction during the animation in order to cut it in motion.
To finish, check out the speed run below. I particularly enjoy this video as the speed runner employs the Dash Attack as his/her preferred traversal mechanic and uses the advanced techniques perfectly. Watch it and see how much you can take away from it.