You are 12 years old and you are in the local Family Video. Your grandmother is picking up a movie and she has no idea what it is yet, so you have time. There is a room with several hundred video games. You have a used Xbox 360, filled with the half-remembered save files of its previous owner, and a PS2 without a memory card. You pick a game called Dark Souls, for the Xbox 360, which your grandmother side-eyes, because while she doesn’t go to church, she does use angel cards to speak with Gabriel. You assuage her fears by reminding her that she really liked the movie Hobo with a Shotgun, so does she really have any room to talk?
You go home and load a mid-game save (thanks, previous Xbox owner) only to be killed by snakes and rolling boulders. You are in Sen’s Fortress and you are 12 and confused. The process repeats the next day with a new game.
This is what playing WarioWare: Get It Together! feels like. You are always 12 and you are always confused. If you can condense this sensation into a seven-second blast of stimuli, then you can imagine WarioWare: Get It Together!
The WarioWare series has quietly cemented itself as one of Nintendo’s oddest franchises, which is saying something for Nintendo, the company that got everyone to buy Brain Age like, a few times. WarioWare is built on microgames, sub-15-second video games with incredibly simple instructions, controls, and no tutorials. They are an onslaught for the senses, constantly presenting you with new objectives and ways of interacting with the game. Sometimes you’re drawing, sometimes you’re a little guy, sometimes you just mash a button. You never know what’s going to hit you next, which is why people love them.
WarioWare: Get It Together! plays with this formula significantly, while still being in conversation with the previous games. You are always some variant of little guy in WarioWare: Get It Together! You will never be a pencil or a pair of scissors, just a cute lil dude trying to get things done. This could, at first, feel limiting for a series built around giving you wild control schemes, but the game makes it work by giving you around two dozen tiny friends, each of whom control differently from one another. Additionally, a lot of microgames have a different layout depending on your character. If you try to escape a building as 18-Volt, a character who can throw discs but can’t walk, the level will be populated with rings for you to grab onto, which means it plays very differently than it would for Cricket, the kid who can jump.
Characters are definitely built to be better at some games than others, as certain control schemes become wildly unwieldy in a lot of scenarios. However, there is a joy to this unwieldiness. Being handed a character whose abilities are a bad fit for the microgame at hand leads to a lot of dumb fun. Trying to turn a windmill as a character who can’t stop jumping is awkward! And that awkwardness is the point. The WarioWare games are a love letter to the medium, indulging in all the silliness it has to offer.
The thing I love about Get It Together! in particular is that it models the experience of learning games for the first time. As someone who has been doing this for too long, most of gaming’s verbs are familiar to me. I know that right moves you right and left moves you left. I’ve built the muscle memory necessary to play first-person shooters on both mouse and keyboard and controller. I’ve developed enough game literacy that most mechanics are intuited and internalized almost instantly.
By applying a bunch of different control schemes to the same objectives, WarioWare: Get It Together! let’s me relive the joy of learning how to move in a video game. I don’t have to relearn how to play every new action RPG once I’ve developed the prerequisite skillset, once I’ve learned how to learn. WarioWare’s microgames barely give you time to figure out your objectives, let alone what you’re doing with your hands. However, you still develop that literacy over time, which is a great feeling!
I know how to move Ashley through a space, and how her abilities work. As I apply her skillset to more and more situations, I get better at understanding the design of both the games I’m using her for, and the character herself. Even when I don’t like how a particular character controls, the process of learning them is a fun exercise. And the variety allows me to better articulate what I like and why. I enjoy characters who can move in any direction. I enjoy characters with strange control schemes that allow them to do wacky stuff. I don’t like characters that auto-jump.
Playing WarioWare reminds me how, and why, I became a critic. It was by playing hundreds of games for two hours each, regardless of tone or genre. My grandmother, and her parallel love of movies, let me touch an entire Family Video’s worth of weird and messy art. My colleague John Walker recently asked if there’s any kind of video game I don’t play, and I told him no, there isn’t. Games I don’t like are still interesting, and still worth my time and energy.
WarioWare: Get It Together! is all of my messy love for this stupid art form distilled into one totally solid microgame collection that would make a great party game, and I am grateful for the few hours I have spent with it.