Version tested: DS
Have you ever experienced the LittleBigPlanet Moment? It's that awful, echoing millisecond when the wobbly results of three hours' work start to slowly yawn towards you, and you realise that everything you've built is about to collapse. I'm a huge fan of Media Molecule's game, but I'm about as suited for the task of actually building in it as I am for scrubbing up in an operating room and performing a head transplant.
In my juddering and arthritic hands, Sackboy's shimmering Poppit menu is a tool that's as poignant as it is powerful: perfect for executing plans that don't quite work, and tailor-made for exploring the miserable consequences of over-ambition. If Media Molecule made one mistake, it was to place too much faith in its audience.
That's not the kind of misstep Nintendo's likely to take any time soon. WarioWare : Do It Yourself (let's just call it DIY) lies at the other end of the user-generated content spectrum. Casting you as a trainee designer in the warped outskirts of Diamond City, this may be another game about making games - it's worth remembering that it's also a fully-fledged WarioWare title, though, brimming with its own pre-made content - but it offers players a very different set of powers to the kinds they've wielded in other creation packages.
Limiting the scope and reining in your wider options, DIY eschews the homemade glory of letting you piece together epic narratives, replacing it with the opportunity to hone a perfectly executed haiku instead. The result is a software suite that is simple but flexible, and great for turning out a near-infinite variety of Very Small Things. Chop! Dance! Cough!
And the brilliant thing about making Very Small Things is that you can't get lost in the creative process quite as easily. So, while it's basic, when it comes to the business of crafting stuff (alongside games, you can also knock out four-panel comics and songs) DIY is not remotely intimidating. Wario's microgames have always fetishised a single action, so you know you won't be able to stumble too far away from the path when you build your own. Such tiny slices of fun invite experimentation precisely because they're so trivial; they allow for easy refinement because it's effortless to iterate on something so brief and inconsequential.
There's structure if you want it; DIY lets you slip into the game-maker's world one discipline at a time, providing a range of design missions that will lead you through. But it's most likely that you won't need such a gentle approach. Instead, you'll probably want to get stuck into the game creator as quickly as possible. And the creator's wonderfully easy to use, too - not that your first 45 minutes with it would give you that indication.
Before you have the chance to make a game from scratch, you're going to have to tap your way through at least one mammoth tutorial and, despite the zippy dialogue, it moves at the pace of a glacier. (Well, the pace glaciers moved at before we all bought Hummers, anyway.) In Nintendo's eagerness to avoid making the game seem baffling, it's done something far worse, and made it appear boring instead.
While the mandatory handholding does a decent job of explaining the creator's intricacies, the real tutorial lies elsewhere, anyway. Brilliantly, you can import any of DIY's 90-odd bundled microgames into the editing suite to see how they tick. By the series' standards, they're not a particularly great bunch, as it happens, but as they're all built with the same tools you'll be using, they provide a perfect opportunity for you to see the wheels going round.
So how do the wheels go round? DIY breaks game design down into a handful of different disciplines: art, music, AI behaviours, and winning/losing conditions. (You'll have to wait for the expansion pack if you want to mess around with hype, PR disasters, and Alan Titchmarsh.)
The art and music are both handled with nifty little evolutions of the Mario Paint software: a drawing tool that proves more than capable of handling four-frame animations and an entirely fuss-free audio sequencer that allows you to layer down separate tracks, add percussion, and change instruments.
Meanwhile, AI, a potential sticking point, may not be as much fun to screw around with, but it's been refined until it's as simple as it ever could be. Using a very straightforward sentence-based programming interface, you choose a game object, select what you want it to do under certain conditions, assign sound effects or a win status and you're on your way. A lot of work has presumably been spent making this seem effortless, and it's paid off: your options are clear at every juncture, and it's painless to go back and change the details when you mess things up.
Such pared-down tools allow your games to evolve as you build them, while having a handful of different approaches available at any time means you can quickly grow more ambitious with your designs. And although all the microgames are limited to control by stylus taps alone – the d-pad, face buttons, and microphone are all off limits, perhaps explaining why the bundled selection isn't exactly stellar – you'll be surprised by how much you can do with a single means of input.
Wario standards like The One About the Eye-Droppers, The One With The Nose-Picking and The One About Sawing Stuff are all possible with a little creative thinking and, as such, DIY offers a real insight into the peculiarly thrifty magic of real design. Even if you do feel a little hemmed-in, the moment you finish your first title - putting it into a cartridge and choosing the label - you may find yourself experiencing a kind of quiet pride. For me, it was the high water mark of my career, but, granted, I once managed to misplace a Twix while I was actually eating it, so perhaps that's not saying very much.
Sadly, sharing your work is a compromised faff, with Nintendo's noble crusade against ludically-inclined predators meaning that you'll need to rely on Friend Codes - and, consequently, friends - for most of your showing-off. Inside Michael Bublé, Blind Sergeant: Takedown of the Mind, and Things I've Found in Tins are all games you aren't going to be enjoying any time soon, in other words: not because I wouldn't dearly love to demo them for you, but because I can't put them anywhere that you could get to them. (Because of this, I should probably just add: 4/10, 5/10, and 2/10 respectively, but they're all much better in co-op.)
In the place of what DIY really deserves - a LittleBigPlanet-style content hub - you can at least download free offerings from design luminaries such as Yoshio Sakamoto and Masahiro Sakurai however. And, if you really want the masses to see your game, you can enter it in one of the regular themed competitions, in the hope that it will end up squirted down the Wi-Fi pipe for everyone to enjoy.
Perhaps hoping for proper online is missing the point, however. With its bright colours and bizarre comics, WarioWare DIY is built for the playground: built to allow you to hack a game together on a lunch break and show it to your friends during double maths. The uncomfortable truth, perhaps, is that Nintendo's take on user-generated content works because of what's left out, rather than what made it in. That's why the end result is constrained, but necessarily so: another effortless piece of cleverness, another modest marvel.
8 / 10
WarioWare: Do It Yourself is out now in North America, and is released in Europe on 30th April.