First Impressions: Game & Wario

No Ware out

Wario's first Wii U appearance isn't quite what we've come to expect from the garlic-munching gold grabber. Instead of a platformer or a new entry in the micro game-fuelled WarioWare series, Game & Wario is a collection of more fleshed out mini games that shows off what Nintendo's new home console can do with a single GamePad.

Game & Wario is almost an antithesis to Nintendo Land. Whereas the latter promotes the idea of multiplayer controlled with GamePad and several Wii Remotes, the four games we saw in Wario's new gig come at asymmetric gameplay from a different angle that only requires one GamePad. We're not sure if this will stretch throughout the entire package, which will consist of ten or so games, but each of the games in the demo build had only one person touching a controller at once.

The weird and wonderful cast of WarioWare make the leap over to Game & Wario, so don't worry about missing out on your Jimmy fix. The blue afro'd one turns up in Ski, a fast yet straightforward skid down a mountain that takes place primarily on the GamePad screen with a top-down viewpoint. The GamePad is held vertically and tilted to steer, the aim being to race to the bottom as quickly as possible, speeding up by sliding over ice patches and launching over ramps. The television displays the same race but from different angles, which is either an effort to confuse the player or just something for others to watch.

The GamePad is clutched in the same manner in Arrow. Hordes of mechanical Warios trot over a hill towards you on the television, striving to steal the strawberries that line the bottom of the GamePad. The touch screen plays host to a horrible-looking bow made from Wario's moustache; noses are your arrows. Moving the controller moves a cursor, and a pull back and release of the bowstring sends the nasal missile at whatever you have in your sights. When the crowds thicken it's better to aim at mines on the ground instead to blow up a cluster simultaneously, but you can also 'tickle' the nose arrow for a more powerful shot. Clear the swarm and there's a gigantic metal Wario to unscrew – literally, by firing into the nuts and bolts that hold it together. It seemed like a lot of effort for four strawberries.

Shutter has you donning the journalistic boots of Mona. She's sent to a street to take photographs of five criminals, with profiles of the targets lining the bottom of the television screen for easy reference. The GamePad is your camera and displays a zoomed in view of whatever you aim at on the TV. Once you have one of the criminals in the GamePad's viewfinder, you have to zoom in and time the shot so that you catch as much of them in the frame as possible as they're facing the camera head-on. The better the position, the more points you get, up to a maximum of 100 per target.

Searching the television for the right people then holding the controller up to the screen and tracking it along to the appropriate point was almost always accurate and very cool. Shutter works well as a multiplayer game where spectators can watch the main screen for villains and direct the player towards them so that they never have to remove concentration from the GamePad. More than anything, it makes us ache for a new Pokémon Snap game badly.

Best of all is Thief, which is one of the most sublime demonstrations of the appeal of Wii U to date. Up to five people can play; one assumes the role of the thief, using only the GamePad, while four other players watch the television and don't even get to touch the controller until the very end. Both screens display a bustling city filled with dozens of wandering strange characters. The twist is that one of them is a thief, selected and played by the GamePad user.

The thief's role is to blend in with the non-playable characters and steal the apples that appear on the screen; two or three turn up at a time in different sections of the map. The spectators – agents, as they're referred to – have to keep their eyes peeled and try to work out who the thief is, basing their deductions on movement patterns and which characters are near the apples when they disappear. Every so often the television will highlight which area of the screen the thief's in. Once four apples have been snatched, the game ends and the GamePad is passed to each of the agents so that they can guess who the thief is. Agents can either work together to identify the criminal or compete among themselves and formulate their own opinions secretly. If somebody guesses correctly, they win; if nobody does, the thief gets away with a big tasty bag of vitamin C.

The complications come when you realise that the NPCs and the controlled character all move near-identically, all exploiting the same manholes that teleport them to other areas of the screen, each winding around the streets towards and around apples, ducking behind passing traffic that obscures the view. For both thief and agent it can become brilliantly stressful – the robber has to be sure that they don't make any revealing movements and take the fruit at just the right time, whereas the area hints might completely blow apart a spectator's theory with just a single apple left to go, leaving them in a panic as they try to keep track of the entire screen at once to form a final estimate. This is exactly the sort of thing that will sell Wii U if promoted properly – it's something that couldn't be done anywhere else.

We're excited to see what the rest of Game & Wario holds in store. The games shown in the demo were simplistic, easy to understand and – most importantly – excellently showed off just some of the possibilities with Wii U. Our one concern is how much it's going to cost, as ten mini games doesn't seem like a fair swap for full retail price. Positioned at the right price point, this could be essential.