Wario's Woods is a very unique and oft overlooked puzzle title Nintendo put out in 1994, a few years into the life span of the SNES. However, the version available on Virtual Console (and the one I'm reviewing here) is an NES title. Funny enough, Wario's Woods was developed for the NES and SNES at about the same time, with the NES version appearing at the start of the year and the SNES version appearing only in North America at the end of the year. Wario's Woods is not only the very last NES game to be released, it was the only one with an ESRB rating in its original form. Lastly, it is to date the only game in which Toad is the sole protagonist. The creation of Wario's Woods is an interesting story and it's a piece of Nintendo history, but is that history worth looking back on?
For an NES title, Wario's Woods looks and sounds about as good as it could; though, admittedly, the puzzle-game nature limits its graphics to a certain set of tiles and a sole backdrop. That said, the music is undeniably catchy and the graphics are clear and colorful, making it very easy to distinguish between different types of enemies (tiles, within a gameplay context), something crucial for a puzzle game to operate effectively. The controls are mostly smooth and effective, though they take some getting used to given the game's incredibly jarring but rewarding concept. The main feature that makes Wario's Woods stand out is that instead of manipulating falling objects (or the tiles they land on) directly, players assume the role of Toad, a character who is directly placed within the playing field and must manually swap objects around. Toad can pick up single units or stacks of objects, he can vertically climb up stacks, and can even kick objects horizontally.
This refreshing concept makes Wario's Woods an innovative puzzler, causing players to think quite differently than they would in Tetris or Dr. Mario. Multi-colored bombs and enemies rain down from the ceiling, and Toad must align the Bombs with like-colored enemies in sets of three or more in a line -- vertical, horizontal, even diagonal. It sounds simple but can be more complex than standard puzzlers -- as stated before, it requires a different mental process and the idea of controlling a character within the playing field adds depth and innovation to the proceedings, giving it a freshness, even today. There is some extra depth to be had with having enemies that must be dealt with in different ways (such as multiple detonations or only diagonally), as well, which is another refreshing addition to the gameplay.
No doubt some of you have played the SNES counterpart, and suffice it to say that the two versions are certainly different. Naturally, the SNES version has more colorful graphics and more gameplay modes, but the NES version has its own interesting features. While the SNES version pits players against CPU opponents, the NES version features boss battles -- creatures that move around the playing field and have a life bar who must be defeated by causing reactions right next to them. These feel very strange and different compared to most puzzle games and are a welcome addition, even if the bosses are by and large bland in character design. As someone who has played both SNES and NES versions at length, I have found them both to be interesting and entertaining -- it's unfortunate that we will likely not see the SNES version hit the Virtual Console; however this version will certainly do.
Final Verdict - 8/10
Even if you're not specifically a puzzle fan, Wario's Woods is worth a look. It is original and deep, and Toad fans will love the fact that it stars their favorite mushroom. The NES's swan song may sound more like beatnik jazz than majestic opera, but it's worth listening to all the same, and your 500 Wii Points will go a long way with this one if you are open to puzzle titles. This underrated NES title deserves some attention.