WARIO LAND 2 / Nintendo / Game Boy Color
As ended up being tradition for this franchise, Wario Land 2 shakes up the formula yet again. The first game to divest itself from the Super Mario Land training wheels and just go full Wario, WL2 retains similar platforming action but changes up the game structure and Wario's powers.
The biggest change is that Wario can't die. Yep, nothing in the game can do more than temporarily inconvenience the big lug. Not only that, levels no longer have timers.
So wait ... how is this at all challenging, then? Well, it's basically gone full-tilt into Mario Maker / ROM hack / Meat Boy territory now. The game has a lot of snippets that basically require crackerjack timing and precision to get through, or you'll be kicked back to the beginning to tediously repeat them.
That, and a bit of a mazelike and puzzle element in how Wario's new "powers" are handled. There are actually no power upgrades at all in this one; instead, Wario can take on a variety of status effects from enemy attacks that unintentionally give him the ability to get through various environmental obstacles. For example, being squished by this game's rendition of a Thwomp Trap flattens Wario and allows him to slip through small gaps.
The maze/puzzle aspect here is definitely much better than the Mario Maker bits. There are a ton of branching paths through the game only found through careful exploration and use of powers, not to mention the obligatory hidden treasure to find in each level and lots of hidden coins to hoard up (this time to be spent primarily on an end-of-level guessing game that eventually unveils a hidden treasure map needed to access the true final level).
In spite of Wario's inability to die and the timer being turned off, this game feels more demanding than previous entries. The bosses are the worst example; all of them can one-shot you, and when they do they kick you farther back in the level to re-tread a bunch of ground and start the whole fight over.
It's also that the game is entirely linear now; no world map, no ability to go back and re-do levels. If you miss out on too many coins along the way or muff up the mini-games too much, you just aren't getting access to the true final levels and that's that. If you miss a branching path, you'll have to restart the whole game and work back up to that point to check it out.
It's undeniably a well-made platformer, but I didn't care for the new design choices and felt it was a little too demanding and tedious to be a favorite.
* Gameplay Video