After completing some of the mainline Nintendo series, I've been chipping away at some of the sub-series. I'd really enjoyed the five Wario Land games (which debuted on the original Game Boy), but then the series sort of meandered. It took me a fair amount of effort to get through the Treasure-developed 3D platformer Wario World on GameCube, and it took me a similar amount of effort to get through the DS release Wario: Master of Disguise.

Wario: Master of Disguise took me a lot of starting and stopping to get into it, but once I got to the fourth or so stage (out of ten) I was able to play it to the end. The game was released almost 14 years ago now, and a little over two years after the original DS released. The novelty of the touchscreen controls were wearing off even at the time of its release, and now, as with many of those DS games, they feel superfluous and cumbersome in general. It seems like many people really hated having to draw symbols on the screen to change costumes, but I thought that was more fun than annoying, and eventually I was able to get my scribbles to be recognized more or less consistently. The bigger annoyance that people complain about and that I agree with is that every time you open a treasure chest you have to complete a little mini game. It may be that the developers were trying to shoehorn in some of the feel of the popular WarioWare series, but the mini games here are repetitive and pretty boring and really slow down the action. There's a fixed set of types of mini games, each with their own variations, and they get progressively more difficult as the game goes on. You're given a random one every time you have to open a chest but you get unlimited tries, so if there's one type you're particularly bad at it's easy enough to retry until you get one that you can manage. The mini games aren't that hard and I did find myself getting better at them as the game went on, but in general this is a design decision I would have done well without.

As for the rest of the game, unlike the actual Wario Land games which were developed in-house by Nintendo, this one was developed by a now-defunct company called Suzak Inc. In this game the company really plays up the "gross humor" aspects of Wario's character, but that was a direction that Nintendo had been moving in for a while, which is kind of a shame. (I haven't plotted an exact trajectory, but I feel like this was the furthest they took the character in this direction and have since pulled it back a lot.) Otherwise the developers did a pretty good job of matching the art style and tone of this game as the other games that had featured Wario in the lead. There's a lot of dialogue and a few new characters are introduced, but the plot is pretty flimsy and I didn't pay much attention to it. The level design starts off being pretty humdrum, but as you gain more costumes (i.e. abilities), there's more variety in the gameplay and more complexity in each stage's maps. Most of the costumes are pretty standard types we've seen in many other games before (e.g. Dragon Wario breathes fire), but there are some fun and unique ones thrown in there as well. The most memorable is probably "Arty Wario" who can draw blocks, warp doors, hearts to replenish his own health, and even poo emojis.

Overall it took me a long time to get into the game, but in the end I had a more positive impression of it than it seems most reviewers had. Some of the stages are actually quite well designed and fun, and new costumes and abilities unlock at a regular pace. There a lot of treasures that I missed on my playthrough, which the game records (along with enemy data) in a catalog featuring some very entertaining flavor text. The game also records how long it took you to get through each stage to further encourage replays, and beating the game unlocks extra stages based on the stages in the main game for you to speed run through. You can also replay all the mini games in all their variations and at all their difficulty levels, although by the time you get through a playthrough, replaying the mini games is definitely going to be one of the last things you'll want to do.

I'm glad I can finally cross this one off my list. Now I really only have one more Wario game to tackle, a return to the Wario Land series, called Wario Land: Shake It!, which appeared on Wii. I'm looking forward to finally spending time with that one, and hopefully I won't run into any roadblocks there.

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