Wario Land: Shake Dimension – Enemies, Rewards, Level Design, and Progression

April 7th, 2013

My discussion on Wario Land: Shake Dimension‘s mechanics can be found here. You should read that first.

Enemies

Shake Dimension has a scarce selection of enemies, most of which do a pretty feeble job at engaging the player. The ubiquitous pawn enemies, Bandineros, have less interplay than a Marumen and basically act as walking health refills. The rest are mostly simple variations on the same walk-left-to-right formula. None of the enemies drop spoils, so their interplay is one cycle shallower than Wario Land 4‘s foes and there’s no undercurrent of psychological stringing-along. If Wario grabs an enemy and shakes them, they may drop a clove of garlic or some coins. I guess the developers wanted to find a way to encourage the player to use the accelerometer-controlled mechanic, even though it interrupts the game’s flow (Wario can’t move and shake) and isn’t very interesting. The enemies all make the same strange monkey noise when you defeat them. Not only does the sound effect not suit their visual form, it doesn’t make sense that the individual enemies all make the same noise.

Rewards

Most of the game’s rewards come in the form of money bags. Wario can shake these sacks to clear out the coins inside, causing a flurry of them to fill the surrounding area. The coins disappear shortly after they leave the bag, so the process of spreading them around only leads to frustration as there’s usually a few coins that fall either out of reach or too far from Wario to retrieve them in time. Holding the sack while claiming the coins is a bit cumbersome, so it’s preferable to find a quiet corner and let loose. If I were to repair Shake Dimension, I would drastically overhaul the money sacks, if not remove them completely.

Level Design and Game Progression

Where Shake Dimension goes from being good and reasonable to bad and frustrating is in its level design. Having spent 2 years analysing Wario Land 4 and its levels, the issues with Shake Dimension‘s set of stages became apparent almost immediately. They are:

The difficulty level in each world slowly rises before it’s reset at the start of the next world. Wario Land 4 does this too (as with Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins), but avoids the issue of the difficulty falling off a cliff every few stages by 1) making that cliff relatively short and 2) specialising each of the four passages around a different part of the game system. In Shake Dimension, the cliff is not only relatively high, but the worlds are relatively unspecialised.

Because of the dash attack’s new-found flexibility and how it’s deeply embedded into the post-fold by way of level design and side objectives, all of the post-folds, regardless of the type of folding, are about speed running. In Wario Land 4, the post-fold is—aside from a few levels—used as a time-pressured way of continuing the exploration of the game idea. Because Shake Dimension‘s game ideas are restricted to half a level, they tend to be shallower than they could be. To combat this, certain concepts are started in some levels and picked up in others, usually not sequentially. It’s this mixing and matching of odds and ends, combined with occasional Subwarine diversions, that makes the game’s narrative so incoherent.

The restricted-to-freer practice that defines Wario Land 4‘s education and variation isn’t as tight in Shake Dimension, so the game has a harder time of leading the player through the rigours of the level arrangements.

The level design and optional objectives work in tandem to offer the player a multitude of ways to scale the difficulty. There are two problems, though. Firstly, the player is usually only given one shot at accessing each of the secret areas and routes needed to fulfil the objectives. Given that, on their first go, the player doesn’t know what to expect from a level, it’s easy for them to overlook the indicators that lead to said secret routes and areas. Not being able to immediately retry therefore encourages them to manually restart the level every time they miss one of the many secret hidey holes. (Incidentally, the designers included such an option in the pause menu). Furthermore, Wario Land 4‘s “try again at the expense of more time” dynamic (that makes deciding what to do after failing an optional arrangement post-fold engaging) is lost. In Shake Dimension, when the player fails, they only have one option: press on. Secondly, most of the side objectives are set high enough that the only way to beat them is to access ALL the secret areas. Yet, since the player only gets one chance at reaching each individual area, reaching them all more often than not requires the player replay a completed level multiple times. This process of making the perfect run is heavily steeped in memorisation and trial and error

Conclusion

Since I started the first post summarising everything I’ve subsequently said, I guess I should end this final post with an introduction (there’s an allusion here to folded level design, I’m sure of it), or maybe just a mini-announcement. I’m nearing the end of my stockpile of notes, so that means I can start work on book #2. It’s a bit of a relief, actually. Although I think I’ve made a few good points over the past 2 months, writing short-form comments based on notes of games I finished months, even years ago is a real drag. I can’t wait to move onto something newer and more meaty, where I can really flex my skills. Of course, I’m always playing new games, so I’ll still be updating the blog with short-form observations. I’m aiming for a frequency of one or two articles a week, so actually not much will change, will it? Besides some “fresher” writing, I hope.

Additional Readings

Wario Land: Shake It! Review – Critical Gaming Network

  • Steve Johnathan

    Haha. Your article opens up with exactly what I didn’t like about the game: the brittle enemies. A lot of accurate observations and reasonable conclusions are made about the game. You even cover some of those minor annoyances like how coins spread out and fall off edges when shaking a big bag (you even do the same thing I did of running into a corner to shake them) and how all the enemies make that stock monkey noise. The only thing you didn’t mention is the design of the bosses.

    I’m curious to your thoughts on Wario World for the gamecube. It’s a game I’ve always been meaning to get my hands on but I have no idea how it holds up.
    I’m eager to see you progress on your second book. I’m assuming it might be on one of the Metroid Prime games, Metal Gear games or maybe Dark Souls.

  • Heh, yeah. I’ve been asked about the bosses a bit. Perhaps I should give them another look.

    I haven’t played Wario World, so I can’t comment on it.

    All of your guesses are wrong, unfortunately. I’ll have more to say about it in a few months, I guess. There will be a Metroid Prime book, but not this year. I still need to replay MGS2, 3, 4, and Portable Ops, so maybe I’ll write about them in the future. l I have Dark Souls on my shelf. I’ll get around to that one later too. FYI, there’s an excellent e-book on the MGS games here:

    http://archive.org/details/PopularSymbolism-MetalGearSolid2SonsOfLiberty-InformationControl

    Thanks for the comments.

  • KirbyKid

    Interesting. Good write up overall. I only have nitpicky things here and there, which is great because you were very specific with your arguments.

    Did you have trouble with the last boss? I thought that the difficulty spike and general jerky ness of that jerk was a bit much. The final boss design was very different than the rest of the game, kinda like the last boss of Henry Hatsworth for the DS.

  • Heh. I’m glad you have a few nitpicks, Richard. I was originally going to scrap this article. I wrote it all off the top of my head, with a few notes and some fact checking for support. I just wasn’t so enthusiastic about this game, but in the end, I think the comments are reasonably well supported. I guess I’m just sick of Wario. 😀

    I think you’re right about the last boss. I reckon I bought a whole bunch of hearts from Captain Syrup after failing a few times. After that it was fine. I remember Bloomsday, the plant boss, to be particularly annoying. It took me a while to figure out how to stun it.

    http://www.mariowiki.com/Bloomsday

  • CM30

    To be honest, I always thought the bosses in Shake It got difficult at about boss 3 (Chortlebot). Seriously, there was quite the difficulty spike from the second boss to the third and fourth one.

    I do have to admit I never found the Shake King that hard to defeat though. A bit annoying? I guess, but I’ve fought way worse bosses before in every sense of the word. Hell, I’d say Tiki Tong from Donkey Kong Country Returns might be a tad more infuriating, if only because dying put you back in the battle with just two health and no chances to get back Diddy Kong.

    And the Shrewd/Scornful Possessor from Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon makes both the Shake King and Tiki Tong look extremely reasonable, despite not being a final boss itself.

  • CM30

    Nice article, although I do wish you’d talked a bit more about individual levels or bosses and gave examples as well as more general observations. I mean, you mention the final boss being annoying and giving you problems, but it would have been interesting to mention and expand on that point (and why the boss is such due to the design) in the actual article. I also think it would have been interesting to talk about levels like Lowdown Depths and Launchpad Labyrinth, the former because it heavily turns the ‘escape’ gameplay on its head (by making you rush through the whole stage on a time limit and have to not hit a wall to get every single item and bonus along the way), the latter because it makes heavy use of the debatable Rocket Bucket mechanics and motion controls

    Also, I have to say that I always thought the secret levels explored game mechanics and designs better than the normal ones in this title. In fact, I always thought the game would have been better if they generally replaced the ‘normal’ levels with the ‘secret’ and more difficult equivalents. Derailed Express was always better than Wreck Train, Neon City better than Glittertown, etc.

    Finally, while it’s not a gameplay thing and hence likely not too relevant to mention, I do have to say I found the treasure descriptions fairly amusing in this title. Always liked it when the writers had a sense of humour.

  • From my poor recollections, I’m going to have to agree with you on the bosses.

  • Yeah, I wish I did too, but I imagine that I’d just be bemoaning the game for not being like Wario Land 4, while at the same referencing a bunch of stuff from my book, which no one can read yet. Bosses can be pretty complicated. I must have spent at least 80 hours writing about the bosses in Wario Land 4.

    I noticed that too about the treasure. They do it in Red Steel 2 as well.