April 7th, 2013
My discussion on Wario Land: Shake Dimension‘s mechanics can be found here. You should read that first.
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.
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
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.