by Marty Demarest & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & here are two sides to every hero. Mario, hero of Nintendo's home videogame franchise, is all about bouncing on the heads of enemies while knocking his own noggin on coin-chiming boxes and superpower-up stars. Wario is the wrinkle in Mario's moustache. More rotund than his good cousin, he stuffs his bulk into tight, eggplant purple outfits and engages in games full of farts, fall-flat jokes and feces. Yes, in Wario: Master of Disuise the hero commands small, scurrying piles of poop.
The poop comes into play when Wario dons his artist costume. The costume, which is brought into use by drawing a square around Wario, allows him to paint the two things he knows how to draw: large boxes and tiny, running piles of poop that attack his enemies. This is the same degree of drawing skill that is required of any player who takes charge of Arty Wario. Dragon Wario shoots a barrage of fireballs anywhere the stylus is held. Cosmic Wario requires the shooting skill of tapping the screen in the direction the laser blast should go.
With the stylus in charge of both Wario's costume-changes and attacks, Wario's movement is controlled by whichever hand isn't drawing on the screen. Wario's moves are neatly separated into jump, crouch, left and right. The DS's t-shaped direction controller is a marvel of Chinese manufacturing as it allows me to swivel between these movements as though I had an arcade joystick under my thumb. Controlled by only one hand, Wario crawls, leaps and scampers nearly as well as the two-handedly controlled Mario.
Despite the Mario-influenced platform jumping, the levels of Wario: Master of Disguise look more like a cartoonish Castlevania. Large, open halls host battles with big boss enemies. Elsewhere, long passageways are patrolled by ranks of low-ranking foes just waiting to be plowed through. There are also Wario-specific touches such as corners into which coins fall, and into which Wario must squeeze himself, butt jiggling in deep shades of purple.
The levels of Master of Disguise are elaborate puzzles that make use of Wario's costume changes in order for me to progress. In that sense, the game owes more to Mega Man than Mario, a sort of Wega Wan in which the hero's powers are collected and used to progress. Instead of special guns, Wario blasts his way with "purple wind," -- "silent but deadly," he says.
THE GOOD: Wario: Master of Disguise is Nintendo's most successful attempt yet at integrating their classic style of 2D platform gaming with the DS's touch screen. The DS's buttons move Wario like a joystick and his attacks are controlled by the touch screen. It's a thoroughly successful, robust control scheme that worked well for the 3D shooter Metroid Prime: Hunters. and now it's helping the DS establish a side-scrolling identity.
THE BAD: Treasure in Master of Disguise is often located in chests that must be unlocked by playing one of a slew of mini-games that I've been playing since the DS was released. Even worse, these Wario-themed rehashes are bundled as unlockable stand-alone mini-games, as though I haven't already played them.
THE BOTTOM LINE: An intelligent, arcade-speed platform game worthy of Mario, but better served by the wit of Wario.