After the success of the first Wario Land, Nintendo decided to take another shot at putting its beloved new anti-hero in the spotlight. To differentiate it from Mario even further, it removed the "Super Mario Land" prefix and also made a massive gameplay change for Wario Land II. But is it one for the better?
Defeated at the end of the previous game, Captain Syrup returns to exact revenge. She steals most of the treasure from Wario's castle as he sleeps, and makes a complete mess of the place as well. Of course, Wario isn't going to stand for that, so he immediately sets out to get all his hard-earned cash back.
This time there's a massive difference that's noticeable right off the bat. Wario must've been working out, because in this instalment he's completely invincible. That's right — you can't die! Of course, if Wario Land II was highly similar to the first one, this change would make things absurdly easy, so there's been some fine-tuning. While Wario still moves and acts in almost the same manner, levels are now mostly puzzle-based rather than action-based.
It's usually possible to make it to the end of a particular stage with little cranial effort, but if you want to satisfy Wario and get all the gold and treasures you can, plus get the best ending, you have to explore every nook and cranny. Stuff is hidden in the most unexpected places, though it's never impossible to find, as there's always a hint something is nearby if you look carefully.
Of course, while Wario is a brawny guy who can smash his way through most obstacles with ease, Wario Land II's puzzles generally require a little more than just muscle. Transformations are also new, and they've since become a staple of Wario platformers. While some enemies only knock you away after successfully hitting you, which causes you to lose coins, there are several more uncommon creatures, as well as some objects, that don't directly harm you. Instead they give you a peculiar new form, each with its own ability. Depending on the level and/or room, some transformations are handy at one point but completely screw you over at others, so you've always got to look around and see if you can figure out what to do before you get yourself into any unfortunate situations.
Some examples of classic transformations introduced here are Zombie Wario, who can fall through thin platforms if he jumps onto them; Flat Wario, who moves slowly on the ground but can cover great horizontal distance if he jumps off a ledge, plus can move over small holes; and Fire Wario, who upon being lit will run around almost uncontrollably before bursting into flames and can burn through certain blocks. All of them either have a timer or can be cured in some way through a nearby object, so you're never permanently stuck in a particular form. While these transformations replace the helmets from the first Wario Land, such as the awesome Jet Cap, there's a much bigger line up of forms to make up for it.
Avid treasure hunters might remember that several levels in the original Wario Land had hidden rooms that featured large treasure chests, which, after beating the game, would give you bonus cash, and in turn would earn you a better ending. Wario Land II expands a little on both of these things. Although you might think it's a straight path from the beginning to the end of the game, in reality there are five levels that contain secret exits which lead to an alternate set of levels. All of them have a unique boss and all but one of them also has its own different ending (the last one simply loops its way back to the main path).
Now every single level has a secret room to find, where you can play a minigame to win a treasure, plus another not-so-well hidden area that lets you play a different minigame to obtain a treasure map piece. Collecting all treasures, as well as all pieces of the map, unlocks a super secret final stage and the true ending, as well as a Wario Land-styled remake of a certain classic Game & Watch game.
As the very last Nintendo-developed Game Boy game, Wario Land II features some impressive graphics and music for the system. The game was also remade for the Game Boy Color not long afterwards, naturally adding a colour palette and thus making it even prettier. Thankfully, this is the version we've received on the eShop.
Big fans of the first game might lament Wario Land II's sudden significant change in gameplay, but if you give it a try, you'll find that it's actually quite good. All the unique new gameplay features help flesh the series out and turn it into a wildly different, yet still equally entertaining game, which should be checked out by both those who liked and disliked its predecessor.