Handheld game of the summer.
What a year it's been for Nintendo. These days, when the reborn, revitalised Japanese gaming veteran proclaims in its blurb that its latest GBA game is "unlike anything else out there" you'd better believe it.
If Nintendo is not busily commissioning arch music experimental weirdness like Electroplankton and Jam With The Band, it's reinventing the control system and user interface entirely with games like Yoshi's Universal Gravitation or producing touch-screen consoles with a microphone for voice input. Goodness only knows what it's got in store for the Revolution, but we'll be among the first in the queue to find out.
While we await that particular phase of its ongoing attempt to completely differentiate itself from everyone else, what better than a GBA title featuring over 200 microgames controllable via a gyro sensor built into the game's cartridge, which the player literally twists to navigate around the field of play?
Spirit of crazy adventure
Has this craziness gone too far, or is Nintendo to be applauded for its spirit of adventure? That, we intended to find out.
To put things in perspective, this is actually the fourth WarioWare title of the last two years (if we add the Cube version to the equation), with Twisted arguably the 'proper' follow up to our favourite handheld game of 2003, WarioWare Inc. following the slightly disappointing DS experiment that was WarioWare Touched!, a somewhat unsatisfyingly easy touch-screen take on the alarmingly addictive microgame concept.
But although Twisted is also similarly shackled with a degree of novelty value that slightly contrives the gameplay in a specific direction, the challenge and invention is simply that much greater to make it a somewhat longer lasting affair. As such, just a few minutes in its company marks it out as the perfect companion to see any handheld gamer through the (hopefully) hot summer months ahead.
At this point we ought to clarify that Nintendo has recently seen fit to delay the European release until September, but for English speakers it's well worth considering picking this newly released US version up from your favourite importer - at probably no more than you'll pay for it in three month's time, bear in mind. Cough, splutter, etc.
For newcomers to this whole WarioWare affair (and the depressingly low sales of the 2003 original and Cube companion release suggest this is most of you, so get to the back of the class!) it's probably only fair we explain what the fuss and general degree of dewy-eyed reverence is all about. Essentially all you do is play through a sequence of five-second 'microgames' or short, haphazardly presented snatches of gameplay from a bizarre array of contexts, which you must successfully complete one after the other. These are generally so simple (in both a presentational sense and in terms of concept) as to be laughable out of context: when literally 20 seconds of gaming can amount to wafting a butterfly net, pulling an alien's mouth to one side to feed it, shooting an alien in an old NES game, waving a windscreen wiper left and right, and shaving a man's chin you know this is no ordinary game we're dealing with.
At the start of each 'round' (if that's even relevant or appropriate here) you have four 'lives' which gives you the chance to progress to the inevitable boss face off, which normally kicks in somewhere between the 15 and 25 point mark. As with the Microgames, the boss encounters are every bit as randomly surreal as anything else. One time you might be faced with guiding a plane between basic obstacles, another time trying to keep a man from toppling over. It's such a completely random selection of half-baked ideas you'd imagine it could never work. But precisely the thing that makes it work is that it's such a random selection of half-baked ideas. It's like you and you mates got together with a beermat and a pen and scribbled down the first things that came into your head and just went home that night and made little Flash games out of them for fun.
Of course, it's not quite as simple as that - although the concepting process reputedly was. The intoxicating structure that worked so brilliantly last time out, with the pressure of time and giddy excitement makes it something that literally anyone can pick up, play and understand within seconds. It's like a sort of quickfire test of our gaming skills that a mad professor would come up with to profile our hand to eye co-ordination, only with a sense of humour.
Twisting the night away
What makes Twisted more intriguing than any previous WarioWare is the way the gyro sensor has been seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, how beautifully sensitive it is, how beguiling it becomes and how much twisting your GBA around makes you look like a prat. As Rob so eloquently observed: you look like a moron playing it. You can't help but laugh at not only what you're seeing, but what you're doing. There are few handheld games that have ever done this, that's for sure.
But it's so much more than a mere novelty. It's a game that measures your responses so well it makes other analogue systems feel genuinely clumsy. Even tiny movements are picked up, so twisting your GBA in a full 360 motion (as is required at times) is picked up exactly, at precisely the rate you move it.
One game even requires that you simply stay still. Again, the slightest twitch sends the balancing act awry, and no other control system could have ever managed that. In many senses WarioWare Twisted is utterly unique, brilliantly implemented and full of surprises. As GBA purchases go, the recommendation comes no higher than this. It may not be the longest lasting game ever, you might rip through the main story modes and roll your eyes at the silly unlockables that are among the most pointless items ever seen in a videogame, but it's a game you'll always remember with a smile - and that's all you can ask from a game.