One of the series’ biggest changes is that Wario has become essentially invincible. Taking a page from Sonic’s playbook, upon colliding with enemies Wario drops some of his hard-earned coins. Some enemies, such as falling blocks—cousins of the thwomps of the Super Mario series—crush Wario into a flattened form that can provide access to previously inaccessible areas of the level. This unique mechanic would be further explored in the sequel: Wario Land 3. Not only does Wario no longer drop coins when hit, the player must actively seek out certain enemies, and get hit, in order to explore the level. Need to drop down a few narrow platforms? Let Wario become zombified! Need to burn through flammable bricks? Catch Wario on fire! Need to reach a higher platform? Let a bee sting Wario so that his head swells to the size, and buoyancy, of a balloon! There are many different forms Wario can take, but each must be triggered by enemy damage. Instead of posing a threat, most of the enemies unintentionally help Wario complete the level.
Although Wario Land 3 flips the notion of enemies as obstacles to that of helpers, it still retains the trappings of classic platformer tropes, most limiting being that enemies can still impede player progress. The game’s bosses, while delightfully absurd in design, require perfection from the player in order to progress as even a single touch will send Wario back the stage’s entrance. A modern revival of Wario Land 3‘s primary mechanic might pour more effort into the puzzle-solving nature of Wario’s transformations. The levels themselves would then become the only obstacle for the player to overcome.
The current trend in the indie game space is to challenge the player to survive a virtual gauntlet of fatal hazards and dangerous enemies. Platformers like Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be the Guy, action side-scrollers like Volgarr the Viking, and Rogue-likes such as The Binding of Isaac expect the player to die over and over again until he learns the level well enough to advance. There’s even a name for this type of game: masocore, a portmanteau of “masochist” and “hardcore.” While the unapologetic difficulty of these games appeals to many, indie game developers would be wise to look back to the retro classic Wario Land 3 as a reminder that games need not challenge with an ever-increasing number of enemies, spikes, and pitfalls. Instead, damage could open up new areas to explore, new trophies to collect, and new methods of level completion.