After WarioWare took off, it seemed like that was all everybody's favourite antihero was up to, save for a Wii instalment of the Wario Land series. In truth, there was also an attempt at a Wario platformer on the DS, though it is quite easy to see why not many seem to remember this outing.
Developed by Suzak, the company responsible for the last two F-Zero games on GBA (The latter of which was never released outside Japan), Wario: Master of Disguise is a bit of an oddball. At first glance the game is somewhat similar to Wario Land 3, in that Wario gradually obtains new abilities, though it's not quite the same.
While watching TV one day, Wario sees a show about a thief who has a variety of disguises with different abilities. Out of jealousy he creates a device allowing him to enter the world inside the TV, in order to steal his powers for his own use. Naturally after doing this he stumbles upon something valuable, and decides to get as much treasure as he can.
Soon after starting, Wario will gain his first disguise, Cosmic Wario. Donning a spacesuit, this will allow him to fall slightly slower, as well as fire beams with a laser gun. As you might have gleaned from the game's title, these disguises are the primary gameplay mechanic in this adventure. Each has different abilities and allows Wario to reach areas he could not before, with certain collectible items adding additional abilities to each one. This is of course in stark contrast to the Wario Land games, where you're only able to transform by getting hit by specific enemies in specific locations. Fittingly, this game also opts for a health-based system rather than making Wario invincible, like he was in Wario Land 2 and 3.
This is where you'll hit upon the game's first big problem - its over-reliance on the touch screen. Aside from walking and jumping, every single thing in the game is done by interacting with the touch screen. To top it off, jumping isn't even on one of the face buttons, it's done by pressing up on the D-Pad. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and there's plenty of other games that have done this in the past, but if you're used to the traditional method of pressing another button to jump, this can take some getting used to.
Switching to different disguises, as well as using most of the disguise abilities, is all done with the stylus. Disguising Wario by drawing specific shapes in particular was a massive source of frustration when the game was originally released, as you had to be extremely accurate in order to get the game to recognize what you wanted to change to, which only got more frustrating as you gained additional disguises. Mercifully, this Wii U VC release seems to be the later European version of the game rather than the North American one, which was tweaked to be slightly better at understanding your intended drawings.
Treasure chests full of precious booty are no stranger to the Wario games, but they too form part of the frustration in Master of Disguise, as every single one (and there's quite a few) cannot be opened until you first complete an extremely simplistic minigame. These feel almost like tech demos that were just thrown in to have some more content, and as there's only a few different ones you'll be repeating them over and over and over, with them getting very slightly (almost unnoticeably) harder each time.
That said, the game does have some redeeming parts. Some of the later stages can be pretty interesting to explore, and most of the boss fights are quite fun. You can also revisit earlier levels with new abilities to get to places you couldn't before, and there's a few bonus episodes after beating the game, giving it some nice replay value.
Unfortunately, the few good things just aren't enough to drag the game out of mediocrity. Most of the levels are extremely tedious, boring affairs where you'll have more trouble fighting the touch screen than you'll have fighting the actual enemies. Couple this with the endlessly repeating minigames, an extremely strange, in-likeable cast of characters, a general lack of humour, and mostly uninspired, charmless graphics and you've got one of Wario's least entertaining adventures on your hands.
While the concept of being able to transform at any time sounds good on paper, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, due to Master of Disguise's excessive over-reliance on the touch screen. If you're willing to slog through the game you can catch occasional glimpses of brilliance, but unfortunately they're just too few and far between for us to really recommend this to anyone - unless you're absolutely dying to play every single Wario game out there.