Wario's Woods

Wario's Woods - Nintendo, 1994

Back when the Super NES first came out, a lot of people weren't willing to make the switch from their old 8-bit NES systems right away. For some, it was by choice. For others, mom and dad didn't want to shell out close to $200 for a new system when the NES worked fine. As a result, many early games were co-released for both the NES and Super NES, particularly puzzle games (Yoshi's Cookie springs to mind). Naturally, the 8-bit versions were inferior to the Super versions (and rightly so), but you could still experience the game even without the new system.

I didn't even know there was an 8-bit variant of Wario's Woods until my buddies Josh and Jen (from Apt. 6) acquired a copy via a cheat code CD for Animal Crossing. If you didn't already know, the GameCube game Animal Crossing (which is a Pokemon-like addiction unto itself) has an 8-bit emulator built in, and you can play various NES games by winning Tom Nook's end-of-month lottery, digging in a certain spot, swiping special E-reader cards, or (as my friends did) picking up a cheat code CD.

Back in the day, my mom picked up the 16-bit version of Wario's Woods for me. We always enjoyed playing puzzle games together, and this one looked really cute. Essentially, this is the game of second-string Nintendo mascots. Wario gets top billing, even though you play as Toad the Mushroom Retainer (that had to be a kick in the teeth for Luigi fans... the fungus in an uproar had a starring role before he did!), and it's your mission to clear the woods of Wario's evil critters. Birdo (the mini-boss of Mario 2) is your ally this time around, and you use bombs dropped by a helpful pixie to clear the monsters. When a time limit expires, Birdo is replaced by the evil Wario (who knocks down a Thwomp from the top of the tree, limiting your play area), and the pixie becomes a Pidgit, who alternately drops bombs and more monsters into the play area.

The game plays a lot like Dr. Mario, since you use the bombs (instead of vitamins) to clear same-colored critters from your screen. If you clear 5 or more in a row, you get a diamond that will clear the screen of one color of monster. Toad, with his super-lifting strength, could carry entire vertical stacks of critters and bombs, and put them down all together, or drop one at a time. And supposedly he can kick, too, but I don't know how that's accomplished in the 8-bit version. In the Super incarnation, you pushed the L and R buttons for that Toad-kick action (and I would often end levels by doing the "Funky Toad Dance", making him kick left and right.) If you clear the levels quickly, you are rewarded with coins (30 yield an extra credit). Every 9 levels, a progressively larger Wario shows up and ineffectually threatens Toad, time and again, to leave his Woods or else. Sounds simple enough, right?

But if you actually sit there and think about the game , you start to wonder. I mean, Birdo, the guy/girl dino (not ever getting into that oddity) who you fight against 20 times in Mario 2 is now your friend? Even though he/she does nothing to help whatsoever. And you know something's strange when the "helpful" pixie is dropping explosivies on your head!!! I suppose we're talking 'lesser of 2 evils here', since Wario is certainly the main opponent. The look of pure malice on his face is classic when he knocks the Thwomp down towards your mushroomy head. And I don't know what those monsters are supposed to be, but to me they look like evil sheep, bunnies, turnips, and robots. When Jen was playing (and I was trying to teach her the ropes), I kept yelling, "Pick up the pink bunny! No, not the sheep, the bunny!" What else would you call these things?

This is certainly one of those games where, if you play for too long, your eyes turn into anime swirls. Over in Apt. 6, I played consistently through 60 levels before my eyes would no longer focus. Then I kept seeing those blasted things every time I blinked or closed my eyes. You remember the effects of playing Dr. Mario or Tetris for too long? How you kept seeing shapes or matching colors everywhere you looked? Kinda like that.

Overall, it's a fun way to kill some time. The Super version is much better (as to be expected), since there are nifty characters like Mssr. Boo the French Ghost and Aqualea the Mermaid to battle against. Also missing are the spoken comments by Toad and others after a combo move. I miss hearing him say "Cool!" and "Sweet!" when I beat a level. And the graphics and music are much much better in the 16-bit copy, no real surprise. But the gameplay is essentially the same (except that Toad can't lift the diamonds in this version)... The bunnies and sheep and robots still blow up with your pixie-supplied bombs. There are still the diagonal-only monsters and the color-change bunnies. And those robot guys you have to kill twice before they go away are just as annoying here. So if it's always been your dream to blow up strange forest critters with brightly-colored explosives, then this is totally the game for you. Go, Toad, go!!!

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