2D platformer fans have had a hard time in recent years. Since 3D became all the rage the simple side-scrolling platformer seems to have become a relic from yesteryear, forcing old school gamers to get what they can from retro re-releases, remakes and compilations. Wario Land: Shake Dimension must look like a tropical oasis in the middle of a desert to these gamers, with its slick cartoon-like visuals and classic platform jumping gameplay. It would be relatively easy to let a fairly uninspired platformer waltz in and dazzle us, but thankfully Nintendo knows better than to dish out disappointment.
The Shake Dimension is in trouble. Queen Merelda has been imprisoned by the Shake King and the bottomless sack of coins has been claimed by the tyrant. A pirate going by the name Captain Maple Syrup (only in a Nintendo game could this person exist) wants the bottomless sack of coins for herself so sends Wario a way in to the Shake Dimension so he can ransack it of its gold. Thankfully one of Merelda's subjects escapes and convinces Wario to help the Queen and your adventure through the strange Shake Dimension begins.
What's initially most striking about Wario's latest game is how good it looks. The opening cartoon is well made and unusual to see in a Nintendo game and the in-game visuals look great too. Wario himself is bold and well drawn, the backgrounds are simple but clean and enemies have the kind of charm that isn't seen all that often these days. Bosses must get particular praise though, often filling the screen and easily looking on par with foes seen in children's TV shows. It's a shame Shake Dimension only runs in 4:3 (no widescreen here) and obviously isn't HD, but it's still a breath of fresh air.
Shake Dimension is split into five worlds, each comprised of a set of stages - fairly typical of a 2D platformer. As such it's not the biggest game you'll ever play (we managed to reach the end in around six hours), but it's packed full with classic 2D platforming gameplay. There's no Wii Remote pointing here, or Nunchuck action, with the game played entirely with the Wii Remote on its side. Wario can jump, charge, slam the floor to move objects, pick up and throw things, shake things for items (mainly coins), slam through hard surfaces and drive vehicles. It's nothing we haven't seen before, many times over, but it's been so long since the last quality 2D platformer that it somehow feels quite fresh.
There are a couple of goals in Shake Dimension. Each level requires you to reach one of Merelda's imprisoned subjects, shake it free and then race back to the start point before your time runs out. Early on this is a fairly simple task, with enemies rarely being placed in awkward positions and Wario having an almost free run to the finishing line. As you move through the game this becomes far harder and the rewards given out for finishing within a certain time are harder to come by.
Your more overarching goal is to collect coins. Coins are required to buy items from the store (new hearts for your health, etc) and to buy level maps - level two requires 50,000 coins, level three requires 100,000 coins and so on. By simply trying to complete each stage you'll gather a lot of coins but from time to time you'll have to re-play stages in order to collect more coins so you can afford to buy a new map and move on to a new level. This feels ever so slightly like a way to artificially extend the game's running-time, but as long as you don't blitz through each stage without thinking about what you're doing you won't have to replay stages too often.
Wii owners expecting a motion controlled tour de force will be quite disappointed. For the most part you play as if the Wii Remote is a standard controller, only using its special abilities when you need to shake something, aim a throw or steer a vehicle. Some clever Wii Remote usage wouldn't have gone amiss and would have given a fairly old school game a modern feel, but its absence doesn't hurt the core gameplay. If you go in expecting a well made, good looking platformer that doesn't do a great deal to move the genre forward, you'll find Wario Land: Shake Dimension to be a highly entertaining six hours of retro fun.