Wario: Master of Disguise

Arun Subramanian

Wario: Master of Disguise might have been more successful had it evoked platformers of old, particularly the well-regarded portable Wario Land titles.

Publisher: Nintendo
Genres: Action
Price: $29.99
Multimedia: Wario: Master of Disguise
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Developer: Suzak
US release date: 2007-03-05
Developer website

Consider the history of Nintendo mascots and their personalities for a moment. We are far beyond the time when design decisions have any bearing on character creation. As far as I understand Mario's history, he was designed with a moustache because graphical limitations made that the best way for his face to be articulated. The overalls made it easier to illustrate the fact that he was jumping. Given those roots, I find his ubiquity both in and out of the games industry fascinating. Personality was borne from almost nothing. As such, you've got to hand it to Nintendo -- as they've added characters to the Mario universe, they've each come with distinct personality. It's never felt like the stereotypical little kid that shows up to resuscitate any given long running sitcom. They've genuinely added something to the proceedings.

But generally, games featuring the Nintendo band of mascots actually tend to exhibit some sort of global personality. Their charm seems to lie in the character of the Mushroom Kingdom as a whole. That traditionally hasn't been quite true, however, with Wario-based titles. Using the broad character trait of semi-adorable greed, Wario has starred in a number of interesting games that don't necessarily subscribe to the same Mushroom Kingdom aesthetic as, say, any given game in which Mario is the protagonist. That's not a bad thing. On the contrary, it's typically been somewhat refreshing, particularly since the introduction of the stroke of frenetic and puerile brilliance that defines the WarioWare games.

Clearly, certain Nintendo franchises have eschewed the defined stereotypes of genres to which they ostensibly belong. The Super Smash Bros. franchise is a fighting game in some sense, but it certainly brings enough of its own rules to the genre to essentially spin its own subgenre off of the more established one. Where Nintendo gets its well-deserved reputation as an innovator is in this creation of genres. For example, the Super Nintendo classic Super Mario Kart was like nothing before it, and spawned countless imitators. It had been some time since something of that caliber had come out of Nintendo when the first WarioWare game reared its head. These games have been consistently creative and original, and moreover have made dynamic use of the control schemes on the systems they've appeared on. While Mario is at home being the protagonist in essentially any type of game, I'd be comfortable having the WarioWare games as the only ones helmed by Wario himself.

It is within the context of all these points that Wario: Master of Disguise is something of a disappointment. While reasonably fun, it's also extremely unremarkable, and that's disappointing given Nintendo's pedigree with games featuring its mascots in general, and more recently starring Wario in particular. It goes without saying that many of the best games for the Nintendo DS have made creative use of the system's touchscreen functionality. However, in Wario: Master of Disguise, this functionality feels forced. Kirby's Canvas Curse innovatively proved that it is possible to have a compelling control scheme primarily governed by the stylus. In Wario: Master of Disguise, however, the heavy use of the stylus simply doesn't work. It's as though the whole game had to be stylus-driven, even though it doesn't really feel appropriate, simply to make the portion that is reasonably controlled by the stylus more accessible. Unfortunately, these "reasonable" mechanics, namely the costume switching motions, are clumsy and prone to error.

Alternatively, the opportunity to create a new game with Mario characters, particularly one that isn't part of an existing franchise, might have been used to take a stab at a new genre, as Nintendo has done so many times before. Unfortunately, this isn't the case here either. Master of Disguise plays it extremely safe. That's not necessarily bad by itself -- counterintuitively, given my point that innovation drives some stellar DS games, others seem to have come from otherwise dying genres. With the power of the home consoles these days, 2-dimensional platformers and top-down role playing games have largely hit the chopping block. Wario: Master of Disguise might have been more successful had it evoked platformers of old, particularly the well-regarded portable Wario Land titles.

While Nintendo clearly can't control the ways in which third parties approach the innovative and popular consoles they've brought to the marketplace in recent years, they do have firm control over games starring their stable of mascots. As such, you would think that their bold hardware decisions would make their way to these games as well, developed outside of Nintendo's internal studios or not. I'm not sure if this game would be such a disappointment if my expectations weren't molded by the fact that it stars Wario. That said, the experience is lackluster enough that it probably wouldn't jump-start the career of an all new mascot either.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.