3.5 out of 5. Immortality might not be all that it's cracked up to be, but Wario Land 3's sheer creativity is still likely to put a smile on your face even compared to its modern competition.
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How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Wario Land 3 has a world map, and levels are usually bite-sized treasure hunt affairs. It does have ability gating however and you repeat levels as you get new powers.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~12 hours
Review Info: Wario Land 3 was played on a Nintendo 3DS using the virtual console version.

More Info

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Sub-genre: Linear Platformer Hybrid
Features: Guide/Hint System, 2D Platformer, Puzzle Platforming, Collectathon, Level-Based
Difficulty: Medium
Linearity/Openness: Level Based
Platforms: Gameboy Color, 3DS
Release Date: 2000/03/21
Available Languages: English, Japanese

Store Links

    Amazon    Nintendo eShop    

Buy Wario Land 3 if you like…

  • Immortality
  • Cartoon Violence
  • Bite-sized levels
  • Optional Content
  • 2D Golfing

▼ Review continues below ▼

Wario has always been one of Nintendo’s more interesting characters since he doesn’t have to follow the same rules that his right-side up “M” counterpart has to in terms of being a constant role model. Wario’s platformer games are usually centered around his greedy nature, with even the first spin-off game having a special emphasis on finding secrets in the form of valuable treasures. It’s not too much of a stretch therefore to inject some “Metroidvania-ness” into that formula, and that’s exactly what Wario Land did with its third installment. It’s not really a Metroidvania, but it does have that unfolding mechanics aspect that I think a lot of Metroidvania fans can appreciate. Wario Land 3 also has a carry-over from the experimental second game. While the first Wario platformer used death mechanics similar to the Mario games, Wario Land 2 decided to make Wario completely immortal. Instead of dying, Wario would be afflicted with a cartoonish temporary condition, such as doing a panic run while on fire or being squished flat like pancake and waddling around as a floaty disc. Wario Land 3 adds permanent ability upgrades on top of that, resulting in a wide variety of level-based puzzles where you try to use the tools given to you to unlock the next treasure chest. Sometimes Wario’s immortality can be worse than death, but there also isn’t anything else quite like Wario Land 3, which makes it a novelty worth checking out.

Structurally Wario Land 3 takes after Mario 64. You have a set of levels each with four treasures that you can enter and collect any treasure you like – provided you that you have the means of accessing them. Just like when you collect a star in Mario 64, each time you collect a treasure you’re booted back out to the hub world – in Wario Land 3‘s case the hub takes the form of a world map. Each treasure usually takes less than 5 minutes to collect, maybe 10 if you find yourself really stumped. Thus as a handheld game Wario Land 3 is basically the perfect bite-sized length for while you’re waiting for the bus or any other short span of time you want to fill – at least for all the parts where Wario Land 3 is actually good. Unlike Mario 64 though, it’s basically impossible to collect all the treasure in any level until much later, and that’s because most of the treasure is locked behind some necessary level alteration, or sometimes you need a new power to access them.

Progression basically happens in one of two ways; either you collect a treasure that unlocks a change in terrain, or you gain a power that lets you circumvent that terrain. It’s the former terrain changing aspect that is the most persuasive to me that Wario Land 3 isn’t really a Metroidvania, because while there are Metroidvania games that have changing terrain based on your progression, most of the time the key challenge that makes it Metroidvania is recognizing obstacles and remembering where they were as you get new powers to circumvent them. In Wario Land 3 you basically have no way of knowing what’s going to happen next in terms of terrain changes. This has a special appeal all on its own, but it does mean that the player isn’t really in control of their destiny in any way. You might find a treasure with some snake food in it, and snakes will suddenly appear in two or three levels, giving just enough vertical lift to access a treasure that was impossible to get before. You might cause an earthquake that opens new passageways or you can even find literal keys that open doors – it’s all really just a new creative way to effectively unlock new levels as an alternative to just making more dots appear on the world map. Cynically, you could even say it’s a way to sell reusing old level geometry over and over again without making the player annoyed – although in some cases the player might get annoyed anyway. Some levels are designed in a way that requires you to repeat the same puzzles again just to dig your way back into the part where a new area is unlocked, and that can get a little tedious sometimes. This isn’t usually the case though, and a good majority of the levels provide something new each time you enter them, even if you have to walk past some set pieces you’ve seen before.

Getting new powers of course is the most interesting way to progress, and walking past old set pieces with new abilities definitely has that “Metroidvania” feel. While most treasures are impossible to obtain without a terrain change, you do occasionally get the ability to bypass a change with new the new powers you gain. The snakes I mentioned for instance could theoretically be ignored with the high jump ability, and sometimes even after you’ve gotten both the versatility afforded by the option lets you pull off shenanigans or just barely dodge an incoming attack. If nothing else, the feeling of getting more powerful as you progress is more interesting than if Wario stayed the same for the entire game.

It is however often really difficult to remember everywhere you can use those new tools when you gain them. Having a contiguous map in a “true” Metroidvania game has the advantage of letting the player use landmarks to orient themselves against places they haven’t been – or you can just open the map and look for blank exits. Since Wario Land 3 has everything packed away in levels, landmarks are much harder to parse as you try to remember whether an obstacle was in the dot on the north side of the map, or whether it was in the dot on the east. Thankfully the game just tells you where to go nearly all the time. If you forget you can always go back to the first room you ever have access to and ask the face on the wall. Once you unlock a new progression tool though, previous levels that were revealed to you as having new treasure that you can access are no longer on your hint system, since the game mostly herds you toward the game’s ending excluding all of the optional treasure. This makes it easy to lose track of everywhere you can go, so observational skills are still paramount to getting 100% – at least before you unlock all of the progression tools.

Besides getting abilities to jump higher, break more objects, or swim, Wario also starts with his toon immortality that drives more than half of the puzzles you’ll encounter. Instead of dying, touching anything unfriendly instead causes Wario to lose control in some way. Touching fire for instance causes Wario to run in a straight line until he hits a wall, at which point he turns around and runs uncontrollably in the opposite direction. Stay on fire for a while and the fire will eventually burn out, leaving Wario to regenerate his skin and clothing with a simple sneeze. Touch a zombie and Wario will become a zombie himself, falling through platforms any time he lands on them. When Wario gets poked by some objects his face swells up and he flies upward, unable to land until he hits a ceiling. One of my favorite conditions is whenever Wario eats any kind of food, whether it’s an apple or a doughnut, he immediately becomes so obese that he can’t jump more than an inch, and he will break several types of floors when he lands on them; Wario should really see a doctor about that. Most of the time these conditions are used as a punishment. Zombies are often placed at the top of buildings so falling down through all of the platforms means you have to climb that building all over again. Getting caught on fire puts a serious damper on the more precise platforming you’ll have to do, and being forced to fly up to the top of a room generally means you’ve got to start over on progressing through the section below. Sometimes conditions can be useful to Wario though. There could be torches that have to be lit in order to open a door, or maybe there’s a platform you want to fall through as a zombie. Purposefully getting hit by enemies and bypassing obstacles continues to be a staple solution to accessing treasures from the beginning of the game until the end. It invites outside of the box thinking that gives Wario Land 3 its edge even considering it against more modern competitors.

The way afflictions set you back can sometimes feel worse than if Wario would just lose a life instead though, and bosses are the worst offenders in this regard. The most aggravating factor about Wario’s immortality is that punishment for your mistakes never results in a consistent amount of time lost. Being caught on fire for instance is going to lose you anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds while you wait for that “I’m on fire” music to finish playing out before you can do anything. A tower might take you a full minute to climb and one blasted zombie and a mistimed jump is all it takes to ruin the whole thing. For bosses though, every single one of them essentially have to be defeated on a single life, since being hit once is usually the end. This is harsher than any Mario game that came before, but it gets even worse. Like in Mario, bosses usually take three or four hits before they die, and you have to hit them when they’re in a vulnerable state to damage them at all. It’s that second rule where Wario Land 3 loses major points for me, because Wario Land 3 also decided to get a little too creative with some of its bosses. Some bosses have a puzzle-like solution that require some pretty strict timing to pull off. A rat-fish boss for instance might need to be fed cheese until it fattens up enough to plug a sewer drain to prevent the water flow from pushing you away from a treasure you want to access. This sounds like a neat creative idea on the surface, but in execution the dang cheese never seems to line up exactly where you need it to in order to feed it to the rat, and it’s really easy to get hit and have to start over again in the process. Playing soccer with a rabbit, waiting for a spider to turn its worst side towards you, or just trying to beat a boss without getting hit at all in general results in a lot of bosses that take way longer than I’d want to spend while waiting for the bus. Being immortal can sometimes make the game feel a lot easier than it otherwise might have, but most of the time if it weren’t for the more interesting puzzles that come out of the afflictions I’d much rather have it be an HP system.

Not every puzzle is a winner either, and for some reason there’s a weird emphasis on repeating this golf mini-game over and over to progress the game. You collect coins just like in any other Mario game, but since there are no traditional lives in this game, I guess Nintendo had to come up with something you could do with the coins. Some levels have big black doorways with the words “Mini-game” written on them, and every single time that mini game is golf. Golf rooms require you to pay an increasingly more expensive amount of coins to get one attempt. If you can golf into the hole under the par, then you’ll unlock the gate. Fail and you’ll have to spend more coins. I hope you like basic golf games, otherwise this mechanic is probably going to annoy you every time it comes up. Assuming you’re playing this game the “classic” way and not using save states, you may even need to grind for coins if you’re playing the golf game poorly. Thankfully as pervasive as this mini-game is, there are more than enough really decent puzzles to make up for this repetition or the puzzles that don’t quite make the cut for quality.

While I think that Wario’s immortality could use a bit more fine tuning – or an outright replacement with a different system -for the most part Wario Land 3 is a nearly perfect handheld game. Its levels are just hard enough to be interesting but not so mind-boggling that you can’t beat them in short spans of time. It’s the best kind of game to play in those relaxing minutes right before you go to bed, or if you’re trying to fit in a little play time between other more important things. There will probably be a few moments that will make you want to throw your handheld device into the trash can, but those moments are definitely the minority. Wario Land 3 is overall delightfully creative and its fun to see what unexpected thing you’ll find next as you unlock its treasures.


Final Score

3.5/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 2

It's Mario style combat where you hit things three or four times. The final boss is very good, but the others can be very frustrating for how long it takes them to get vulnerable

Platforming
– 3.5

Puzzle platforming can be a bit tricky, and while it's not particularly fast, accurate landings and avoiding sharp objects is critical

Exploration
– 3

Segmenting everything into levels makes Wario Land 3 less about spatial awareness and more about going where the game tells you to go next. It is fun however to watch everything unfold

Puzzle
– 3.5

The puzzles don't get super hard, but they're fun and engaging for the most part

Story
– 3

You could get pretentious and call this game an allegory for how greed can sometimes result in good things, but mostly this game is Wario just being Wario.

Graphics
– 4

For a Gameboy Color game it looks great, with some large detailed sprites for bosses and a ton of funny animations for when Wario gets hurt

Music
– 3.5

The chip tunes are catchy and fun, though some of the condition events can be a bit repetitive by the end of the game

Replayability
– 2

Because of how narrow the game's progression is, there aren't a lot of ways to differentiate multiple playthroughs other than simply wanting to enjoy the game again