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Wario Land: The Shake Dimension (Wii)

Rated: 7+ thanks to some 'violent' content but it's much more suitable for viewing by small children than the lunch-time news or a typical episode of Tom & Jerry.

Story: The princess of The Shake Dimension has been kidnapped, along with a bottomless sack of coins. Wario must rescue some 'merfles' (pixies) in order to reach the culprit, defeat him and liberate the damsel in distress get his hands on the cash.

Not that the story really matters. The narrative is almost entirely restricted to cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game. Wario Land is all about platforming and exploration.

Gameplay: Guide Wario through 2-dimensional levels, jumping on platforms and enemies, in order to reach the pixie, then race back to the exit before a countdown runs out.

Control is simple and involves only the d-pad and a couple of buttons. Wario can jump, dash, ground pound and throw things. Shaking the wiimote makes him shake whatever he's holding and causes a small earthquake if his hands are empty.

Each of the thirty or so levels has three hidden treasures to discover and bonus missions to perform, such as to collect a set number of coins or to finish the level without taking damage.

Save System: Checkpoint halfway through each level and an automatic save between levels.

Comments: It's that time of year. After months of relatively few releases, every game under the sun is getting shoved into the shops in the space of six weeks in an attempt to grab some Christmas sales. In the chaos, several decent games are bound to get lost in the crush and condemned to retail obscurity.

Given this situation, releasing a 2D platformer just at the moment seems rather brave. Certainly, on the PS3 or Xbox 360 it would be a path straight to the bargain bin.

The Wii is short on headline games this Christmas, however. There's Wii Music and Animal Crossing, a selection of obscure stuff like de Blob that might be OK and a host of multi-format titles and mini-game collections that probably won't be. Wario Land is an important title for Nintendo almost by default.

As such, it's obviously been aimed at as wide an audience as possible. Getting to the final boss is as hard or easy as you want it to be. It's possible to blunder through the compulsory levels without much difficulty but there are plenty of extra challenges, hidden objects and secret levels to test the skills and patience of even the most obsessive eight-year-old.

The use of motion-sensing is generally successful. It doesn't add much to the gameplay but it's fun. Shaking a sack to make coins come out is always satisfying and controlling vehicles by tipping the wiimote works well. That said, having to shake the wiimote to make Wario spin round horizontal bars with enough momentum to launch himself upwards can get tiring after a while if there's a series of them - any pause to think causes Wario to slow down and results in the need for more shaking.

The game is enlivened by some devious design. Although jumping through the levels provides an amusing diversion, the main meat of the game is working out how to get hold of the hidden treasures. Wario's limited number of moves provide a surprising number of puzzle opportunities and there are plenty of branching paths in the levels (but not so many as to be confusing). Returning to the exit, meanwhile, is never a chore, since rescuing the pixie unlocks new routes. Also, the way is clearly signposted to avoid getting lost and there are frequent chances for Wario to launch himself along at high speed.

The boss battles aren't as interesting. They're very traditional. It's a case of learning an opponent's attack patterns, exposing their weak point, doing some damage and then doing it all again twice more with different attack patterns. Predictably, the end-of-game boss is a good deal tougher than anything that's gone before, simply to string the game out a little. (Sigh.)

The graphics and presentation are excellent, with lovely cartoon visuals and beautiful animation. The only negative is the lack of voice acting. Children without strong reading ability will need help for the first few minutes in order to follow what is going on and, even then, the dialogue text in the opening movie changes almost too quickly to be read out loud. Considering Wario Land is a game so desperate to attract children that it has stickers in the manual, this seems a rather basic oversight.

All in all, though, Wario Land is an enjoyable game suitable for both kids and adults.

True enough, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. You're not going to get your gran playing it, for instance. Nor does it command attention by utilising a plastic guitar or a dance mat. It's not crammed full of EXCITING!! carnival games. It isn't a Star Wars game, doesn't involve shooting terrorists and has a lack of car theft... Still, isn't that a pleasant change? It's definitely worth a look if you have a Nintendo fan in the house. They'll be hunting out treasure long after Boxing Day.

Conclusion: Give it a go instead of Generic Mini-game Collection No 137 this Christmas.

Graphics: Sharp and clear and lovingly drawn.

Length: It's possible to zip through the game to the final boss in a few hours but unlocking everything will take commitment.

Rating: 4/5.

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