Game & Wario is kind of like Nintendo Land in reverse. Where Nintendo Land takes the gameplay concepts of various Nintendo franchises and condenses them all into a Mii-sized caricature, Game & Wario takes the micro-game sensibility of the WarioWare series and tacks it onto a variety of modernized Game & Watch-style arcade games. It's a fusion of one of Nintendo's oldest, arguably most simple game series and one of its most strange, surrealist franchises. It's a new combination of old ingredients, not unlike the Wii U itself.
In fact, some of the games in Game & Wario were at one point planned to be pre-installed on every Wii U console, like the SpotPass games on the 3DS. Many of them were among the first "experiences" available for play during the Wii U's initial E3 unveiling in 2011. The Wii U is the reason these games exist, but is there reason enough for you to buy them?
Game & Wario (Wii U)
Developer: Nintendo SPD, Intelligent Systems
Released: June 23, 2013
Game and Wario consists of 12 longform single-player-focused games, four multiplayer focused games, and 240 odd micro-games, electronic toys, and in-game trinkets. They range from games that seem designed to get you excited about the special features of the Wii U to those custom made to appeal to people that have little interest in fantasy or escapism, or any combination of the two. One second you'll be playing Taxi (which looks like Katamary Damacy, and thinks like a cross between Crazy Taxi and a tank-based free-roam level from the Star Fox series) and the next you'll be playing Sketch (which feels like a cross between Pictionary and... Pictionary). It's a collection that aims to please everyone at least a little, while helping players find common ground in genres they may not normally experiment with.
I'd advise any fan of the WarioWare games to try to block out any expectation of getting that feeling from Game & Wario. Just as it wouldn't be wise to go into the Zelda Battle Quest portion of Nintendo Land expecting the next Ocarina of Time, you're setting yourself up for disappointment if you think of this as the next WarioWare. The art direction and music are fantastic, and fit perfectly inline with the established style. There are even a bunch of Rhythm Heaven cameos to further drive home the quirk for those familiar with that strange corner of the Nintendo universe. That said, the pacing, level of depth, and the humor are very different from WarioWare about 80% of the time. It's a slower-paced, deeper, and often drier experience than fans are likely used to.
The only portions of Game & Wario that are paced and structured like WarioWare are the toy/micro-game/trinket collection bits and the single-player segment called Gamer. If Nintendo had just released Gamer as a stand alone $5 title on the Wii U eShop, it would have gotten a 10/10 from me. It takes the WarioWare concept and married it perfectly to the Wii U's specific strengths. It has you playing as 9-Volt, hiding his portable game console in bed, playing a title called 'Balloon Fighter' which is exactly like classic WarioWare. The Balloon Fighter games appear on the GamePad, while the TV shows 9-Volt in bed, trying not to get caught gaming past his bed time. Pressing ZR and ZL together causes 9-Volt to pause the game and lie down, which allows him to hide from his intrusive mother (who can enter the room by door, window, or even television).
Get caught by mom and it's game over. Likewise, lie down for too long and you really will fall asleep, which also ends the game. Balancing the length of your lie downs, keeping an eye out for mom on the TV, and effectively playing the micro-games on the GamePad is about as smart and effective a gameplay expression of today's multitask-obsessed smart phone/laptop/TV/Tablet culture that I've seen yet.
Sketch, Design, and Bowling could have also worked well as stand-alone releases. All three feature multiplayer. When I played them with a group of "non-gamers" (or as they call themselves, "not-nerds"), they were completely hooked. Sketch is Pictionary with music and a few added jokes, Design tasks you to draw lines and shapes of specific lengths and Bowling is bowling for your fingers. You kick the ball down the lane with your fingers, and can control where the ball rolls by tilting the Gamepad. I had a decent time with all three, but when played with people who really love them, it was hard to stop.
My personal favorites are Fruit (an asymmetrical stealth multiplayer game where one player who's tasked to steal fruit using the GamePad while the other players have to guess which character on-screen are NPCs and which is the player), Shutter (use the GamePad to look around the screen on TV to find and photograph elusive NPCs), Taxi (a driving/shooting game that displays an overview of the arena on screen while the GamePad shows the action from first-person), Patchwork (90 stages of a simple shape combining game that ends in a felt object flying around the screen), Ashley (a gyro controlled shmup with a focus on NiGHTS-style loop-de-loops), Arrow (a stationary FPS with touch screen stomping and tower defense elements), and Pirate (a somewhat thoroughly charming rhythm action title that uses the Gamepad as a viewfinder and a shield). Some of these games are too short, or are a bit limited in scope, but they all felt fresh and polished enough to keep me coming back for more.
Sadly, a lot of the other games here felt a bit too familiar. Disco (mutliplayer) is just like the Rhythm Fighting game in Rhythm Heaven Fever. Islands is a whole heck of a lot like Monkey Target from the currently hibernating Super Monkey Ball series. Ski is almost identical to the F-Zero game from Nintendo Land. Kung-Fu is a whole heck of a lot like the under-appreciated iOs title Rocket Fox. Finally, Bird is just Birds and Beans from the original Warioware (also available as a stand alone title on DSiware) with a Game & Watch make over on the Gamepad and a beautiful, clay-mation style re-imagining on the TV screen. All these games are fun, but their comparative lack of freshness had me less tempted to replay them than the others.
Most of the single player entries have 3-5 levels, with potential rewards for replaying. By pulling off high scores or other specific goals in single-player you unlock tokens. Tokens are used to buy in-game "Cluck-A-Pop" vending machine toys that unlock all sorts of stuff. You may get an additional micro-game, a new free-play level from Taxi or one of the other larger mini-games, a "toy" like a the Box o' Stink (which uses the GamePad camera to Wario-ifiy your face), a scroll that contains a real-life recipe for flavored ice shavings, or an in-game video phone call to the Shadow-Puppet Support Desk (which gets progressively funnier each time you call it). These unlockables are largely unpredictable and inspired, and kept me coming back to the game more than anything else. There over 240 in all, so it will be a while before you catch 'em all.
There's also an in-game feature that allows you to share drawings and vote on new art categories called Miiverse Sketch. It wasn't active in time for this review, but if it adds a substantial element of fun to the package, we'll be back to update the score and text of the review to reflect that.
Game & Wario is the most "normal" game in the WarioWare series (assuming it's officially a part of the series) which is part of what makes it so weird. As a whole, it's all over the place, sometimes original, sometimes derivative, sometimes dry, sometimes funny, sometimes simple, sometimes complicated. It's clear that Nintendo just wasn't sure what to do with some of these games, so they threw them in the Game & Wario package whether they fit there or not.
Regardless of originality, all these games are well polished and fun, though none of them are going to please everyone. Considering the budget price and the amount of content here, you could do a lot worse. Just don't go into it expect Nintendo Land-sized production values or that frantic WarioWare feeling.