It's hard to talk about the Virtual Boy without mentioning Virtual Boy Wario Land; the ill-fated system only experienced 22 games throughout its short lifespan and this lack of software has resulted in some VB games getting a better reputation than they deserve purely because there's so little else to play on the console. However, Wario's VB adventure is one game that breaks this rule; it's an amazing title in its own right and is almost worth buying a Virtual Boy system for.
Virtual Boy Wario Land is a platformer that plays a lot like the first (Game Boy) Wario Land title, with Wario acting like a slower but tougher Mario as he throws or barges through enemies and jumps across platforms and smashes blocks to clear the way through the level.
The game looks similar to its predecessor, but everything is bigger and more detailed. The 3D effect adds a lot of depth to the backgrounds that are made up of several layers. Everything is well drawn and never looks flat.
Rather than have the backgrounds as just a nifty effect, Nintendo choose to make them part of the level. At times jumping into the background is required to avoid an obstacle or to collect an item. This is done by using a jump board, several of which are placed throughout each level. You simply step on it, tap jump and Wario launches himself in to the background and, in an effective audio touch, whilst in the background the sounds of his jumps and smashes become more distant.
The 3D effect is also used on some enemies and obstacles. As you hop across the very first platforms of the game, giant spiked balls swing back-and-forth from background to foreground. You will also find that some enemies start a short distance away then move forward to attack, meaning you shouldn’t just focus on the foreground. It’s not so much that you mistake them for part of the background scenery, it’s so you can time your attacks – or perhaps just know when it’s safe to leg it.
Power-up wise the bull and dragon hats return and the eagle hat replaces the jet hat – although they do the same thing (allow flight). The bull hat allows Wario to break blocks by smashing into them once (rather than twice) and he can pound the ground to stun nearby enemies.
The dragon hat breathes fire which is a good way to defeat difficult enemies without getting too close. If you collect either the dragon or eagle hat whilst wearing the other, they combine to make the “King Dragon Hat” which gives you all special powers.
If at any time you get hit, you become the powerless “Small Wario” with a further hit resulting in the loss of a life.
There are many different types of enemies in the game, all with a different way to attack you and all with a wonderful character design. The best has to be the masked chainsaw fish, but there’s also little pointy masked creatures, bomb-dropping bats, a flying face with blades on either side and a cuddly looking character who pokes his head out from behind a tree before lobbing a spear at you.
At the end of each level there is a locked elevator door and to progress any further you will need to have picked up the key that was hidden somewhere in the level. To begin with you will find the keys without trying but as you would expect it becomes harder as you progress through the game.
Scattered throughout the level are hearts (collect 100 for an extra life) and coins for you to pick up as well as a hidden piece of treasure.
Once the elevator is unlocked you can travel to the next level but before that there are two other stops. First you can, if you want, gamble some coins on one of two mini games: one to earn extra hearts and one for extra coins.
In the heart mini game you jump between the background and foreground trying to collect the hearts or diamonds that scroll past (diamonds also award an extra life). The coin mini-game is more about luck as you pick a number, then a container hoping it contains coins to multiply your total.
The second stop before the next level is a progress screen with a map showing your current location, treasure you have found, total coins collected and the total time spent playing the game so far.
Rather than have level after level of caves, there are different types of environments in the game so at times you find yourself swimming underwater, walking though the woods or in a factory-like level. Things are kept varied so you may be dealing with quicksand in one level, then swimming up a waterfall in the next and it all looks great: cartoony but with plenty of detail.
There are a few boss battles in the game which get progressively harder and make good use of the 3D effect. The boss character starts a fair distance away, sometimes attacking from safety, before coming forward. In one battle you can jump across to the other side, so both you and he are jumping back and forth from foreground to background trying to get a chance to attack each other.
Before each boss you have to face a small spiked block. It has one vulnerable side and is easy to beat. Amusingly though, each time you face him the little fella has had upgrades. So whilst he begins by just jumping at you, for the following encounters he tries out missiles, flames and finally homing missiles. Bless.
Music changes with your location so it can be chirpy, spooky or relaxing with boss battles sounding more frantic. It all sounds good, quite catchy, never annoying and always managing to fit what’s happening onscreen.
There are a lot of sounds in the game. Some small, such as the noise from Wario’s feet as he moves about, but others like the sounds you get from bumping or smashing into something really stand out. Enemies make noises too, small squeeks, seemingly taunting you before attacking. It’s all very cartoon–like which fits the game great and adds to the experience.
The difficulty of the game depends on what you are trying to do. If you are just blasting through the levels then things are well judged with keys slowly becoming harder to find and the enemies getting tougher. If however you are trying to find all the treasure and collect lots of coins then things will be harder, especially as if you loose all your lives a piece of treasure is taken away from you. You can get it back but there is no map screen so you have to work backwards through various levels using the elevator system.
There is one big fault with the game and that is its length: there are just 14 levels. Admittedly some of them are quite long but 4 of those 14 levels are the boss battles. It’s possible to unlock a harder mode but additional levels would have been preferable.
It is however a very replayable game, helped by it having multiple endings. The treasure you picked up, the coins collected and how quickly you beat the game all affect which of the various endings you get to see. There are three save files available so you could try different types of play (one rush through, one collect everything) or you could just see how you do compared to someone else.
The fantastic visual design and great audio enhance this top-notch platformer. It’s a game you will keep coming back to, either to try and get a different ending or just because it’s so much fun to play through. It’s unfortunate that there are not more levels but Virtual Boy Wario Land is thoroughly deserving of it's reputation and highly recommended.