Version tested: Wii
Is there no end to WarioWare's effortless appeal? As well as being one of our favourite handheld series of all-time, WarioWare games have also displayed an uncanny knack of perfectly demonstrating fairly abstract control systems in the most intuitive fashion possible.
Small wonder, then, that Smooth Moves arrives so soon after the launch to capitalise - as well as build - on the novelty value of the supremely capable motion sensitive Wii Remote.
Alas, Barry White...
Just like the previous four WarioWare titles released over the past four years, you're presented with a series of five-second 'microgames', where you have to respond instantly to the instructions by utilising the controls in an appropriate fashion. With a limited stock of lives at your disposal, you can afford to cock up three times along your way to the inevitable 'boss' encounter, but fail a fourth time and it's back to the start. Succeed, and another madcap series of mini-games unlocks - as usual, based around the adventures of old favourites like the funky Jimmy T, Spitz and 9-Volt.
But what differentiates Smooth Moves from the existing WarioWare titles is that it grants players a degree of prior explanation to the various control 'poses' you must adopt with the 'form baton' (i.e. the Wii Remote) the first time you come across them. Delivered with a creepy degree of ultra calm cod seriousness, a silvery voiced American narrator describes how each pose works as if he were addressing a trauma victim - but then you're straight into the action and never hear the explanation again.
Kicking off with the basic Remote Control form, you quickly rattle through games that involve little more than pointing at a target and shooting, or moving a torch light at a man hiding in the dark. Within the first few minutes, you'll already be familiar with the Umbrella form, where you must hold the remote aloft ("with the quiet dignity of a circus clown in the rain") and, for example, swat an insect. The Handlebar form, meanwhile, tasks you with turning the remote on its side and clasping it with both hands like a steering wheel - perfect for tilt-based games and, naturally, driving. For the first few rounds, at least, all are incredibly easy to grasp, and there's the unavoidable sense that we're very much in tutorial territory.
As you progress through the various characters, new variations on the basic forms get thrown into the mix. So, although we get introduced to the Elephant (pointing forward from your nose) and the Mohawk (pointing forward, held aloft over head), the Sketch Artist (held forward as if you were writing on the screen), the Waiter (held in the palm of your hand like a tray) and Tug O' War (held as if you were hauling a rope), you're essentially holding the 'form baton' in the same horizontal, forward-pointing orientation as The Remote Control form - the difference is, of course, the context, and by slightly altering the way you hold the remote, the actions required of you feel much more natural.
Spot the difference
Similarly, the Thumb Wrestler, the Janitor and Mortar and Pestle forms are held up like the Umbrella. Others, though, require more subtle differences - for example, the Boxer and the Dumbbell form both require the remote to be held flat sideways with one hand, but the latter with the remote pointing to the right, and the former pointing to the left. And while the Handlebar form looks initially similar to the Chauffeur, the latter requires you to fully tilt the controller towards your body, rather than horizontally. Failure to note the minor differences in form could cost you dear when the pressure's on and you're flapping haplessly, so it's worth always treating every form differently even when they appear to be broadly similar.
Beyond those, there are even more precise requirements - like the Big Cheese and the Samurai forms - where the game recommends you hold the remote at hip level and, for example, slash across the screen or wiggle your hips to keep the hula hoop in motion. The Discard form tasks you with placing the remote upside down on a flat stationary surface and, for example, answer a phone - complete with hilarious use of the built-in speaker. The Finger Food form stands alone as being the only one where you have to hold the remote on its side while pointed towards the screen, making it easier to do precise motions like sharpening a pencil, tuning a guitar or unlocking a door. Just one form actually requires that you plug in the Nunchuk - the Diner form, where you're required to hold them like a knife and fork - allowing all manner of dual limbed actions like pedalling a bicycle and then steering it.
Yet again, Nintendo effortlessly introduces a whole host of new control systems while making it an incredibly fun process getting to know them. Nintendo seems to have this incredible knack of being able to show you the ropes within its games, ensuring that you're never forced to run through a boring tutorial to learn how to play it.
And once you've familiarised yourself with all 19 forms in rapid succession, the game becomes less about being introduced to new control systems, and, thankfully, more about the hilarity involved in engaging with all 200 microgames. Needless to say, part of the joy of playing any WarioWare game is the joy of discovering new stuff (and, more to the point seeing what warped humour they can throw at you next), but the highlights are plentiful. Whether you're guzzling a drink without spilling it over your face, or placing the false teeth into the mouth of an old lady, or - the old favourite - trying to pick someone's nose, it's a game you'll play with a smile on your face throughout.
Just like the GameCube version, though, there's not a huge amount of mileage to be had out of playing it in single-player mode. Although all the microgames are new (unlike the GameCube version which recycled those found in the GBA original), you'll romp through them in a couple of hours. Admittedly you can return to each character and go for a high score, but it's not a game that necessarily benefits that greatly from repeat play. You can dive back into the Temple of Form and replay each individual game (by form or by story, handily), but there's no high score mode per game as such - just the option to play three increasingly difficult levels of each game and tweak the time settings via a slider.
That's not all there is to the single-player mode, fortunately. Along the way to unlocking all the game's major characters you'll also unlock a few standalone mini-games, such as Tower Tennis, where you have to ascend a tower by continually bouncing a ball, while avoiding - or breaking through - various blocks that bar your progress. Meanwhile, the NES-styled Can Shooter is an enjoyable, albeit straightforward old-school light-gun-style game, where you must shoot the cans as they drift across the screen before the time runs out. Some targets give you additional time, but as you progress it becomes increasingly tricky to snag them before they dart off-screen. Block Star, however, has a much more sedate pace, tasking you with stacking up an increasing number of falling blocks. To begin with it's a fairly perfunctory exercise, but a few levels down the line they begin falling at jaunty angles, making it an increasingly tricky business to balance your precarious load. As with everything WarioWare, they're lightweight and throwaway, but loveable all the same.
Once you've cracked ten characters in the game, the multiplayer mode finally unlocks - leading us to hope that this was where all the game's long-term appeal would lay. Comprised of a few specifically designed multiplayer mini-games (such as Darts, Star Nose and Bungee Buddies) along with a few that revolve around the 200 microgames in the single-player mode, it's a lot of fun, but, again, not as fleshed out as we were expecting.
Darts, for example, involves deciding on where you want to throw your arrow (illustrated via an expanding and contracting target ring), then timing your 'throw' when the target ring is at its narrowest point. Compared to SEGA's dreadful Darts mini-game in Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz, it feels absolutely spot-on, proving just how awfully implemented theirs was all along.
Elsewhere, the two-player only Bungee Buddies involves plugging in the 'balance stone' (a.k.a. the Nunchuk) and basically working in tandem to run as far as you can in 60 seconds, jumping over obstacles by lifting the controller as and when obstacles (and holes) appear. As with everything in Smooth Moves, it's a lot of fun, but it's not perhaps the most enduring part of the package. The other two-player-only multiplayer mini-game is the utterly surreal 'Star Nose', where one of you takes the remote, the other the (connected) Nunchuk, and you each have to pilot a nose by tilting the controller in the appropriate direction and trying to gobble (snort?) three items of food before the other player. Alternatively, the person who doesn't crash normally wins, in our experience.
You and Mii
On the more traditional microgame-focused multiplayer front, there's the last-man-standing 'Survival' mode, where up to 12 players can take it in turns to play a random microgame (notable for its hilarious depiction of your Miis as angels...). Lifeline, meanwhile, is based on points and rounds, so that you each take it in turns to play a microgame, with more points and therefore more lifelines earned for the final, decisive round where all five players are all strung up by a rope. From there, you have to take it in turns to cut a lifeline, but in true evil WarioWare style, you can't tell specifically whether it's an opponent's lifeline that you're cutting, so you might inadvertently cut your own. Them's the breaks.
Bomb mode, meanwhile, hinges around not exploding the Form Baton. Again based around microgames, you have to successfully get through a microgame, and then try and hinder your opponent by choosing which form you want them to attempt. If they, too, succeed, the baton passes onto the next player (up to five) and so it goes on until the last person remains. The returning Balloon mode is also based on microgames (and also for up to five players), but spices things up by allowing players to inflate a balloon as much or as little as they like in the given amount of time, only passing the baton back once you've cleared a round - but the more you mess up, the more chance you have of the balloon popping during your turn. Unless there's some uber secret unlockables that we haven't yet discovered, then that's your lot, unfortunately.
As with all the WarioWare games to date, the stylised visuals are about as deliberately simplistic as any game out there, but nevertheless have a huge amount of charm despite the familiarity. Needless to say, the goofy day-glo style is hardly a technical tour-de-force, but neither could you reasonably expect it to be. Where WarioWare Smooth Moves wins above anything else is how wonderfully it uses the Wii Remote. In the same way that WarioWare Twisted on the GBA (still bafflingly unreleased in Europe) used the gyrosensor to excellent effect, this goes even further by being able to utilise a controller that has even more permutations.
If there's one overriding criticism, though, it's the feeling that the game's building up to something, but that something never really arrives. By the time you've worked through all the different forms, Smooth Moves really needs to kick on to another level and construct a more expansive game around what you've learned. Instead, all the game can really offer is faster and harder variations on what you've done, which might be an incentive to certain players who want to eke out every last morsel of enjoyment from the game, but for the rest of us, it lacks substance - something the Cube incarnation of WarioWare was just as guilty of.
Admittedly, the control innovations and a fresh set of microgames address that to a degree, but it'd be nice to see a full home version of WarioWare that doesn't simply follow the same structure that serves the handheld market perfectly. Sat at home, you've got more time to kill and arguably need more content to take advantage of that. Instead we've got multiplayer. But, even in that department, you're left with the distinct impression that there's not enough to keep you going, and certainly not enough unique party games to keep you coming back again and again. Smooth Moves is a game you'll have a riot with over a couple of multiplayer sessions, but beyond that we're not convinced.
There's no question that Smooth Moves is a wonderful addition to the Wii at a time of the year when hardly anything else is being released, but we can't deny that we were expecting much more from Nintendo. The way the game utilises the controller is beautiful and - as ever - the humour superb, yet it's a game short on long-term appeal because it never really dares to test players. Much like Touched!, its focus appears to be more of a snappy technology demonstration than of providing a lasting challenge, and it's puzzling why Nintendo and Intelligent Systems couldn't have delivered on both counts. The multiplayer mode certainly extends its lifespan a little, but, again, it's a story of massive untapped potential. Let's hope that now the introductions are out of the way, Nintendo can beef up the content for the inevitable release of the next WarioWare...
7 / 10