The news that WarioWare is returning to Nintendo handhelds sent me rushing to find one of my most treasured possessions. And like many of my most treasured possessions over the years, I had taken such good care of it that I didn’t know where it was anymore.
After hours of working my way through boxes in the loft, I eventually found it, in a little toffee tin that also contained Drill Dozer. To explain this strange act of curation, my past self had left a short message to my future self: “The only two GBA games to use force feedback”. Looking this up online just now, it turns out that my past self was right. Though I wonder about that terrible Yoshi one, or was that just gyro? Anyway, I wish my past self well, on balance.
Force feedback – ruuuuumble – always seemed to be at the heart of WarioWare: Twisted! It gave the cartridge its unusual shape, with a lump that juts out at the bottom to hold all the necessary components. I once would have argued that it gave the game a certain rarity too, since there were rumours that the gyroscope that works with rumble to afford the game its raison d’etre used mercury, hence the lack of a release in the EU. (This rumour is not true, apparently.) More importantly, when I think of WarioWare: Twisted! I don’t think of any specific microgame or any character or even any song – WarioWare: Touched! will forever come to mind in the form of Ashley’s theme, in which she “turned her teacher into a spoon”. Instead, I think of that rumble, that special WarioWare: Twisted! rumble, which is unlike other standard rumbles, because…because…
Because it is corrugated! Honestly, a corrugated rumble. A precise, sometimes low-key rumble. You can feel the individual bumps in it. Why do other games use rumble? A spaceship lands, a fireball is brewed, a building collapses and you fling yourself clear of the wreckage. WarioWare: Twisted! has more delicate things in mind – a man steps back and forth on tiptoes to avoid crushing a tiny scurrying creature, wind blows at some slats, the sun casts a ray onto a flower that begins to grow. WarioWare frequently uses rumble for things that are very small and very pleasing. Often, it is a mechanical kind of rumble too, suggestive of things turning and twisting and falling into place just out of view. It’s the rumble of a key grinding to release the next plasticy treat from a capsule toy machine. It’s the clicking rumble as you move between items on the game’s glorious radial menu, a menu that seems inspired by the clicky, strangely characterful dial of old rotary telephones (and a menu that also includes an unlockable treat in the form of an old rotary telephone).
And as that suggests you use rumble and the gyroscope for an awful lot in WarioWare: Twisted! You use it to navigate, to make choices, and you use it in all but a few of those dazzling microgames.
Such variety! This is the WarioWare staple, obviously, but it’s still a bit of a shock to encounter a WarioWare game again after all these years and thrust your head into the path of its wild buckshots of whimsy. I took notes for a few rounds. Listen to this. Shake a panna cotta out of its tub. (Hopefully a Christina Tosi panna cotta using cereal milk. If you’re doing the recipe from the Milk Bar cookbook, maybe cut the salt in half?) Perform sit-ups. Wash a plate. Upend the contents of a dump-truck. Score a basket. Deflect a baseball. Move the sun and moon through the sky. Engage in various kinds of shaving. Various. Kinds. Of. Shaving.
What’s really shocking, I think, is the realisation that all these games pretty much work in the same way – they are ultimately the same sort of game, in which you move left and right, or up and down, to hit things, to avoid things, to thread yourself through things. Occasionally you may jab the A button too.
And yet they all feel so different, they all have their own personalities. You move left and right, and yet the designers conjure a man who has his mouth pulled open with pegs to eat falling fruit, a torch following a bankrobber through the darkness, a person being guided across rooftops during a storm. When 9-Volt turns up and the whole thing takes a retro twist, Mario 1-1 – or something very like it – unrolls itself around a central spool. A Mario loom! Lots of games are just left and right, aren’t they? No wonder WarioWare never runs out of inspiration.
To add to all of this are some of the greatest unlockable trinkets in all of games. There are mini-games, of course, but there’s also a piano to play, a music box to wind, bizarre statues to mess around with and records to spin on their turntables. Didn’t Nintendo used to make a love tester, back in the days it still ran taxis and owned hotels? Well the love tester is in WarioWare: Twisted!
I’ve been having such a lark, all told, that I missed the most interesting thing of all as I lost myself in WarioWare: Twisted! after – and I cannot believe this – well over ten years away.
The most interesting thing is that the time spent in that toffee tin has not been kind to my copy of the game. The rumble no longer rumbles. But you know what’s really weird? Such is Nintendo’s mastery of sound effects and visual feedback, such is the strange way nostalgia curates the world we all live in, it took me several hours to notice it wasn’t actually there anymore.