GAMES / Ancient Wario: Wario Land is a dinosaur from the deep, awash with sea-green Gameboy graphics. Rupert Goodwins salutes the retro-naff

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Nintendo's Gameboy is the Model T of the gaming world, where the graphics can be any colour you like as long as they're the deep, murky green of a stagnant pond. By rights, the alternatives - Sega's Game Gear and Atari's Lynx - should be far more popular, since they're full colour and futuristic rather than plain retro- naff. They're not, simply because the Gameboy boasts better games.

Wario Land is as old-fashioned as the Gameboy; yet another variation on the Mario staple of bouncing around rooms full of ledges, objects and pitfalls. Wario himself is a nasty piece of work, the Yan to Mario's Yin. Clad in the timeless fashion statements of white gloves and buttoned braces, Wario has the cauliflower nose, Neanderthal eyebrows and congested features of the sort of bouncer who couldn't care less whether you're on the guest list or not.

Fired by his failure to steal Mario's castle in Super Mario Land 2, Wario wanders through Pirates' Island in search of sufficient treasure to buy his own castellated fastness. Along the way - yes] - there are monsters, traps and puzzles to circumvent, and coins and hearts to collect.

Despite Nintendo's protestations that Wario Land is the first game to feature a villain as sole protagonist, the fact is that Wario isn't noticeably nastier on his own than any other platform-pounding pixel pixie. He scowls a lot and throws stunned creatures around, but is no more ferocious than a Muppet.

As an example of minimalist graphical design, Wario Land is really rather good. There's not much you can do with the limited hardware of the Gameboy, especially in a game where the characters are around a quarter of an inch in height, but even busy screens are clear and distinctive.

That's important in a game where innovation is just a 10- letter word. Style and detail are all; fortunately, there's lots of both. Hit one of the Wanderin' Goom monsters, and it lies on its back wiggling its legs in the air. About the worst that Wario can do is throw the hapless mutant to one of the ferocious bands of crabs that infest some of the island beaches; otherwise the Goom shakes its head and goes back to aimless wandering.

Many parts of the game are straight steals from earlier Mario Bros. Wario can collect extra powers by hunting down Power Up Pots; there are Garlic, Bull, Jet and Dragon pots, lending our anti-hero extra head-butting, fire-breathing or flying powers. Some pots override others - the manual has a diagram of which does what that's only slightly less complex than a quantum chromodynamics equation. Luckily, the old tactic of running hell for leather at the nearest flashing object seems to work better here than in sub-atomic physics.

With three lives to start with, even a novice can make a game last for five minutes at first. This soon stretches into the half-hour, although you have to reach certain points before you can save a level. There are 10 levels to get through, too; the very experienced will probably clear the lot in under a day of intensive thumb-numbing button pushing, but the rest of us will get a couple of weeks intermittent fun.

Forget about cellphones and Walkmen, a Gameboy equipped with Wario Land is the only hi-tech way to annoy people on trains. Add headphones and it has the opposite effect, nullifying small children in seconds. It's not original, but it works - as good a platform game as you'll find on the tiny green screen.

Wario Land - Super Mario Land 3 (Nintendo Gameboy) pounds 24.99 now available

(Photograph omitted)