Wario Ware. Is there any other game series that better encapsulates what Nintendo is all about? Mario would be the obvious choice, but look closer: every Wario Ware game is outrageously simple, delightfully charming, a cracking good giggle and perfectly designed to maximise the potential of both the control method available and the machine it blesses. Simplicity, innovation, fun. Nintendo.
Look at it this way. Imagine a developer pitching Wario Ware to a Western publisher. You'd get laughed out of the room. Even in Japan the crude, hand-drawn imagery and attention deficit disorder-inducing pacing would struggle to be taken seriously anywhere other than Nintendo.
And yet we've already had three Wario Ware games. The GBA original could well be the perfect portable game - even Tetris needs a good commercial break or ride on the bus to rack up a high score, while Wario Ware's three second games can carpet bomb any spare moment with instant fun.
On the GameCube Wario Ware took advantage of the system's four player capabilities to devastating effect, and juiced every last joysticky drop of analogue from the pad.
Returning to the GBA could have been like going back to the same, stale party for Wario Ware Twisted, but the innovation of the Twist Sensor meant a whole new dimension of minigames was tapped.
TOUCH THE FUTURE
And now we're faced with Wario Ware Touched!, the latest in the series that encapsulates what Nintendo is all about on the platform that encapsulates what Nintendo is all about. The perfect match.
So far Mario 64 DS has been touted as the jewel in the system's crown, the reason why people should be excited and, through its bonus minigames, the justification for the touchscreen. Forget it. Wario Ware Touched! is the game the DS was made for.
Essentially it's the same game. You're faced with a barrage of three second minigames. Complete one and another one is hot on its heels. The visuals are never anything other than functional, and yet they seem perfectly suited to the game. Usually we'd gag at stick figures that look like they've been drawn with an Etch-a-sketch, but in Twisted! they look great. In many ways it's a totally ridiculous game, and the ridiculous visuals work brilliantly.
And anyway, since the majority of the games last no longer than three seconds it'd be pointless stuffing them with bump-mapping and pixel shading. If anything the crudely drawn games add to the urgency, as does the fantastically hyperactive soundtrack. If you stuffed a bunch of J-pop artists into a tiny room full of instruments, Sunny Delight, red M&Ms and then pumped in nitrous oxide, Touched!'s tunes are what you'd get. They're bouncier than a monkey on moon boots, happier than a meerkat on stilts and if Nintendo pumped them into the atmosphere the hole in the ozone layer would be instantly filled with love.
So that's nice. But what about the games? Well, there's over 180 of the little blighters, each associated by type to a character and then mixed up in a minigame montage when you reach the dreaded end of level teddies. And they're just as much fun as you remember. That familiar feeling of being confounded by a totally random image - two snails on a leaf, say - and then the rush of your mind subconsciously telling your hands what to do is as strong as ever.
BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS
But the touchscreen means Touched! can demolish the wall between control interface and game experience to a greater extent than ever before. The series has always valued simplicity of control above all: one instinctive button press or one push of an analogue stick is about was complex as it got. Now it's even more intuitive.
With your stylus in your hand, Touched!'s minigames obliterate the control interface by becoming tests of effortless logic solved with straightforward physical actions - although conversely, it never feels easy. Two pennies and a purse? Drag the pennies into the purse. A bowling alley? push the ball into the pins. Two wiry hairs sticking out from skin? Pluck them from their pores. A toilet roll? Yank the paper downwards. Unpainted nails? Paint them. An unironed shirt? Iron it. And on, and on, and on...
Then there's the 'draw a line' puzzles. Woo-bloody-hoo, you have to draw a line. But trust us, drawing a line has never been so much fun. You might have to guide a stick man across a washing line into his bed, connect wires to a battery, or, our favourite, draw a fuse to a detonator and then wallop the button to blow the stack. It's fun because it makes perfect sense and if you mess it up, it was totally your fault.
The touchscreen games are so gloriously, beautifully simple that it even makes the past three Wario Ware games (perhaps with the exception of Twisted) look clumsily complex. Suddenly you're not translating your reactions into the foreign language of D-pad and ABXY, you're actually acting. As a gameplay sensation, it's gloriously liberating.
The DS's microphone is used to slightly less invigorating effect. In fact, given that the mic minigames involve a lot of huffing and puffing the experience is positively draining. Blowing into the ear of a stranger, inflating a balloon, propelling a little sailboat: they're all achieved by expelling your lung capacity (and, if you're not careful, a hefty amount of gob) in the direction of your DS. It's a nice distraction from the stylus games in the short term, but the mechanic is too one dimensional to offer many thrills. When all you have to do is blow to complete game after game the biggest challenge is just staying conscious.
Wisely, these blowing games are kept to a minimum, although the occasional random one will sometimes pop up. Sucks if you're in a public place.
There is a nice bonus for all this hyperventilation, though, and also the possible repetitive strain injury you'll get from gripping your stylus like it was the last chip in a potato famine. As you progress through the game's characters you'll be rewarded with Animal Crossing-style objects you can place in a series of rooms, then play a round with them. You might get a piano you can play by touching the keys, or a harmonica you can blow the blues into, or a jelly pudding you can wobble with your stylus. You won't spend hours with them, but just seeing the amount of ideas the development team has had is inspiring.
In fact, these bonuses have exposed Touched!'s one main weakness: at the end of the day what you have here is hundreds of fun little gimmicks strung together. If you had to do them over and over again in isolation you would actually go mental. Only when they're mixed up do they remain fun, but sooner or later they'll lose their sparkly sheen. And, given that Touched! is intended to be enjoyed on the move, playing it in public can potentially make you look like a right tit.
But then Wario Ware Touched! was never meant to make you look cool. It's meant to bombard your brain with fleeting flashes of pure, uncut gameplay, and to show you exactly why the DS's touchscreen is a brilliant gaming innovation.
Most of all, though, Wario Ware Touched! is meant to remind you of a time when gaming wasn't about learning complex move lists, or wrestling with complicated controls, or spending hours treading water to get to the good stuff, or having to read a 50 page manual just to work out what's going on. A time when you instantly understood, and instantly enjoyed.
That's why Wario Ware Touched! encapsulates what Nintendo is all about, and that's why it should be DS's killer app.
Wario Ware Touched! is out in Japan and the US now. Expect it to touch shelves in the UK when the DS launches in March. Until then gaze at our screens and send yourself mental by working out what you have to do to complete each minigame!