May 6th, 2014
A number of readers have requested that I do a write up on my personal opinion on Wario Land 4. So this post is going to be just that, a bit of an indulgence. But before I out what I think of the game, I want to explain why I’m sometimes reluctant to discuss subjective in my writing.
On the subjective
All my ideas for writing come from my gut. I play a game, feel something, and want to make sense of that feeling. So I take notes and let the ideas stir around in my subconscious for a while, waiting for the eventual click to happen. Sometimes it comes straight away, other times I need to gather more evidence from the game, and every now and then it doesn’t come at all and I’ll try and fill in the pieces by talking to others or doing research. Once the insight hits, I’ll start drafting, which brings some of the implications out and forces me to expand on the details, if I haven’t already. Editing then tightens up the argument, and I’ll be left with a nice summative piece that explains how it is that I came to have that original feeling.
It’s through this process of putting in the hard work to make sense of your opinions that you realise that what you’ve unearthed is far bigger than yourself. In other words, I don’t feel that knowing what I think is half as interesting as having the means to understand what you think.
Of course, opinions are helpful and I have no problems using them in my writing. It’s just that it’s important to keep our ideas grounded for the sake of clarity. I like to think that someone who totally disagrees with my ideas should be able to read one of my posts and understand how it is that I came to form my opinion.
Here’s what I think of Wario Land 4:
- Fiery Cavern is the best level in the game. If that wasn’t obvious enough. It’s in a totally different league to the other levels.
- Hotel Horror is the worst level in the game. My original piece on Hotel Horror was scathing, but when I looked closer at the pathways through the hotel, I realised that it fit in with the “optional challenges” theme running through Topaz passage. So it was nice to have something to say about this level in the end.
- Writing about Wario Land 4 has changed the way I see game ideas and level variation. Base level challenges that don’t develop and don’t play an important function in the game (for example, a break from several difficult challenges) annoy me like crazy. This is why I don’t think much of Hotel Horror and Toy Block Tower. At least Palmtree Paradise has a functional purpose, to introduce the player to the jewel pieces, keyzer, and folded level design.
- I’m a bit concerned about the variation and game ideas in the earlier Wario Land games. I played Wario Land 3 and Shake Dimension last year, so I can talk about these games. Generally speaking I can say that Wario Land 3 is a hodge-podge of unrelated puzzle and platforming challenges and the hub-based level design only gives each level’s four routes a handful of arrangements each, so the overall structure makes it difficult for more sophisticated game ideas to emerge. Shake Dimension‘s levels do have their own gameplay concepts, but they meander and lose their focus.
- I remember when I first saw Wario’s sprite. I thought he looked ugly compared to the more cartoony depictions in prior titles. I still haven’t really made sense of this. I just kind of ignored his sprite as I was analysing the game.
- I like how the puzzles are organised in Wario Land 4. In prior games, you had many simple puzzles break up the platforming. In Wario Land 4, with the GBA making the change for action gameplay, the puzzles are segregated into their own areas and many of them are focused on teaching the nuances of the main mechanics. In this way, the puzzle rooms support the action gameplay nicely.
- I first played Wario Land 4 on the plane to Shanghai. At one point, I had finished almost all the levels, but couldn’t find all of the keyzers and jewel pieces in some of them. I can understand that some people felt that some of these elements were too difficult to find and that they don’t like having to play the levels again to find them, but that’s too bad for them. As we know, the game does a good job of introducing the player to the locks and keys through the Hall of Heiroglyphs and Palmtree Paradise. And if you look at the maps for all the levels, it’s clear that the collectables aren’t that hard to find if you keep your eyes open and do a little exploring. Furthermore, the jewel piece chests are positioned equal ways through each level so that the player should have a sense for where they can find them.
- I dig how the narrative kind of sits in the background. It’s really appropriate for this game because, as I explained in the book, Wario doesn’t care about the Golden Diva and the whole back story of the Golden Pyramid. He just wants the treasure. So the player’s put in a similar position to Wario and is likely to respond to the events in the game in the same way. Equally, there’s enough backdrop given for those who are interested in digging deeper.
- The bosses are all, of course, fantastic. Cractus is my favourite. It was a real puzzle analysing all his different phases and looking for patterns in his design.
- I didn’t even notice that Yurei could pick up coins or take the keyzer until I played through the level a few times. I think I might have written the draft without mentioning it.
- I’m not a Wario nut, but I am very fond of the series, though. Wario Land 4 is my favourite game out of the lot, but it’s not my “favourite game of all time” or anything like that.
There you have it, my opinions of Wario Land 4. I told you it wouldn’t be terribly exciting, but I hope it adds a bit of context to the book. I’m always happy to answer any questions that you might have about the game or series, so if I haven’t addressed something you were hoping I’d cover, then feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll get to it.
February 9th, 2014
In order to talk about games as I do, I need a specialised vocabulary of words to help me along. For several years now, I’ve been using Richard Terrell’s Critical Gaming Blog and the Critical Glossary to anchor my writing. Sometimes, though, I need to come up with my own words. Such as when I talked about player roles in Heavy Rain a few years ago. Below I’ve documented the twenty or so words I came up with to get me through my Wario Land 4 book, Game Design Companion.
Arrangement – A group of game elements arranged together, ie. a unit of level design.
Pre-fold – The first half of folded level design, where the player makes their way to the fold.
Post-fold – The second half of folded level design, where the player makes their way from the fold to the starting point.
Interaction set in context – A way of saying “an interaction and all the context that defines it”. Context being the feel of inputting the mechanic, the meanings and associations with the function, the background for the interaction, the visual and aural representation of the game elements and execution of the interaction, etc. An interaction set in context is the smallest unit of meaning in a video game.
Premise – The premise establishes the game world, its characters, and the personality and role of the avatar. By defining the avatar, the premise gives the player the information they need to inhabit the playable character and make interactions under their persona. Since the player/avatar interacts with the game world, the premise gives all individual interactions a collective purpose.
Restricted-to-Freer Practice – A model of variation whereby a level initially restricts the player’s freedom in order to ensure that they understand what is being taught, before opening up to slowly allow the player to take ownership of the content.
Bounding Box – The outer edges of level for a game set in the side-scrolling perspective. Bounding boxes often dictate the behaviour of the camera.
Form Accentuates Function – A type of form fits function where the form exaggerates the function so as to make the function more apparent to the player. (I’m thinking that this term is probably moot, but it served its purpose in the book).
Form is Familiar – Where a game element looks like something from real life so as to immediately give the player an idea about its function.
Test Teach Test – A form of education where the teacher proposes a problem to the students and has them try to solve it, observing as they fail miserably. Afterwards, the teacher introduces the lesson’s content before allowing the students to return to the original problem, now with the know-how to successfully solve it.
Fixed Linear Progression Model – A form of game progression where the player must complete the game in a linear order and has no control over progression.
Freer Linear Progression Model – A form of game progression where the player has some minor control over the way they progress through the game. For example, choosing which level to play first, where both levels must be completed.
Pure Fold – A form of folded level design where the pre-fold is the same area as the post-fold.
Reroute – A form of folded level design where the post-fold redirects the player to a different route from the pre-fold.
Skirting Along the Fold – A form of folded level design where the post-fold reroutes the player through a separated channel that is part of the pre-fold.
Environmental Upheaval – A form of folded level design where the post-fold is radically different from the pre-fold, but still uses the same base level design.
Dog Ear – A form of folded level design where the post-fold is very short.
Phases – Solid and permanent sections of a boss fight or key challenge. Once a phased is reached, the challenge cannot go backwards to an earlier phase.
Forms – Fluid and temporary sections of a boss fight or key challenge. Similar to phases, but the challenge can go backwards to an earlier form.
Linear Phase Structure – A structure used for bosses and key challenges where the boss/challenge has several phases and the player progresses through these phases linearly.
Looping Form Structure – A structure used for bosses and key challenges where the boss/challenge has multiple forms and can revert to an earlier form.
Without these words, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about Wario Land 4 much at all.
August 5th, 2013
Coincidentally, I came across two Wario Land 4-related podcasts over the past week or so. The first one is the second episode of the new volume of Retronauts and the second one is a Radio Free Nintendo podcast from last year. The Retronauts podcast is, as always, worth a listen, but I’m not so sure about Radio Free Nintendo. Although they spend a lot of time discussing the game and go into specifics—all of which is great—I feel that they read too much into their initial impressions. Every time they criticised the game because there was some part of it that they didn’t “get”, I wanted to pull my hair out. Part of critiquing games involves separating your personal biases from what the game is. Only then, once you understand what the game is, can you make sense of your opinions of the game. In other words, just because you think a game is good, bad, whatever, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is; you have to look at things a bit more objectively first. Even though Retronauts only spent around 10-15 minutes on Wario Land 4, the discussion is much more constructive than the 50 or so minutes RFN spent on it. In saying all this, though, I’ve been listening to a few RFN episodes lately and besides the Wario Land 4 discussion, I’ve rather enjoyed the other shows.
Oh, and yes, stuff is still happening with my Wario Land 4 book and you should hopefully be hearing some exciting news soon.