WARIO'S WOODS / Nintendo / NES

The NES port of Wario's Woods came into being with a number of strikes already against it. It was the very last game made for the NES, in 1994 when everyone had pretty much moved on to the 16-bit systems. Additionaly, it was an inferior port of an SNES version (released in 1993) that had much better graphics and more modes of play. Why we didn't see the SNES version released here instead of the NES, who can say. It's also a sort of dumping ground for Nintendo's less popular characters - the titular Wario is actually the villain of the game, Toad from Super Mario Bros. 2 is the hero, and Birdo the cross-dressing dinosaur thing is your sort of ally/guide.

So it had some unfair hurdles to overcome, but it's obscurity and lack of popularity aren't owed entirely to those things. It's yet another "stuff keeps falling" action puzzler in the lineage of Tetris, albeit one that's a bit too clunky and cluttered to be great. It works like this - Toad runs around on the bottom of the screen and different colored Critters and Bombs fall from the top down to him. You have to arrange stacks of three or more Critters with at least one Bomb in them to explode them and clear them from the screen. Many of the levels begin with layers of Critters already upon the ground, which Toad must clear as the new stuff falls. Toad can lift one critter at a time, or alternately lift a whole pile of them, and shift them around. You can also run up a column of critters, provided you're not holding anything, and pick single guys out of the middle of it. If you hold down while pressing the button Toad can also do a kick that sends a guy sliding over a few squares. A bored-looking Birdo presides over a timer which, when full, gives way to an appearance by Wario - these are the best moments of the game, as a sinister theme song plays while Wario chuckles, waves his arms, steals your coins and occasionaly does shoulder charges that gradually lower a Thwomp Trap towards you.

Puzzle games are at their best when they're simple, intuitive and easy to control - see Tetris for the archetypical example. Wario's Woods is just a bit too ambitious, has a bit too much stuff going on all at once, and ends up losing that smooth flow that the great puzzlers have. The controls are quirky, initially confusing and take some time to get adjusted to - all things that are really not good in a puzzler. You often find yourself unintentionally doing stuff you didn't mean to do, fighting with the controls and getting frustrated and confused. For example, you can pick Critters up both from the side and underneath you - when there's one underneath you and one to the side it's often a matter of subtle positioning as to which you'll grab and it's easy to get the wrong one. It's also far too easy to seriously screw things up, and takes way too much excavating to make them right again. On the whole it seems like the game is more concerned with being frustrating than fun.

It has its points, but it's hard to reccommend ... especially when there's a better version out there that Nintendo could have released but didn't.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video