Don't get it Twisted, this game rocks
A carrot floats in the void, suspended ominously above our instrument of execution: a flat iron grater, ready to tear it to pieces. Mimicking the rough, real-life movement of shredding food, we cradle our Game Boy Advance SPs and jiggle the handheld back and forth, harsh scrapes escaping its speakers as we observe the digital vegetable being reduced to nothing more than flakes ready for an elaborate dish. A swift process, yet a delicate one boring repetition into our skulls right up until a clump of orange specks lie still upon the tray.
And…that’s it. The carrot flakes never decorate any fancy dish, let alone delivered to their consumer. There’s no time limit rushing us, nor any goal or purpose. Our kitchen exercise was merely the latest of WarioWare: Twisted!’s non-sequiturs that are dubbed “Souvenirs” – unlockable gifts earned upon completing any one round of the game’s microgame collections. They are literal time-wasters: not the fun kind you’d idly tap away at on your phone during lunch, but practical jokes that Nintendo’s programming jesters spent time, energy, and resources crafting just to make the player go, “what the hell was that?”
WarioWare: Twisted! was, depending on your region, the second or third game in the burgeoning WarioWare series. (Or, in the case of Europe, never; for reasons unknown, a never-ending verification process impeded release, but thankfully Game Boy Advance’s region-free functionality made it ripe for imports) Released concurrently with fellow DS cousin WarioWare: Touched!, Twisted! is still hailed as both a series hallmark and a GBA masterpiece: brimming with rapid-fire mini-games that, thanks to the game’s bulging gyro sensor, literally “twist” our miniature handheld every which way to fulfill a litany of ridiculous demands. You iron a shirt. You bring true love. You shave the earth. You have an alien link hands with a worldwide friendship circle.
Twisted! is, in one word, dizzying, and I mean that in the best possible way. Transcending the boundaries of what we define as “control”, our hand-eye coordination is thrown for a loop as we fumble about like our grandparents might with those newfangled smart devices. (“How does this thing turn on?”) Yet as any fan will tell you, the series’ warped humor and innovative control schemes belie an instant accessibility: coercing laughter just as much as they instill a growing, inescapable addiction. Indeed, Nintendo’s jesters are truly wizards, the secret spell behind the sequential barrage of five-second mini-games as elusive as they are confounding.
Amidst all the topsy-turvy nonsense, we’re continually rewarded with those aforementioned Souvenirs. Through a twist of the Game Boy Advance we crank out a capsule: the latest toy for our collection. Twisted! offers as much of these little collectibles as there are micro-games; that is to say, hundreds. Did I mention the abundant content in this game? At any rate, our interest is piqued following our inevitable loss – WarioWare functions like an endless arcade game, you see – and off we march to the Souvenirs section to play with our new toy.
You know how your eyes lit aglow as a child regarding that special toy you begged and pleaded for…only for inevitable disappointment to banish them within the deepest recesses of our toy chests? Yeah, almost every souvenir in Twisted! is exactly that. We giddily pop open our capsule only to discover a cheap figurine, dancing and bobbling when gyrating the console. A teddy bear aimlessly rolls around the ground. Kaleidoscopes mesh into pointless shapes. A guitar strums to an unimpressed audience of one. Rave sticks flash familiar illusions.
These bits and bobs are completely, shamelessly pointless – embodying the very same stupefying, brain-rotting hollowness our parents warned us about, wagging their fingers about the dangers of playing too many video games. In the face of Twisted!’s never-ending absurdity, they may have been right: Twisted! doesn’t play the grating joke once, oh no. Instead, it does it no less than six times. Eventually, you’ll also earn a two-legged carrot that’ll be left shredded, cold, and uneaten. When we’re later served some cake to grate, we’re left seriously concerned for the developers’ mental states.
By the time we’re grinding a sedan into dust, we’re too busy laughing to ask if they got a raise.
By our third or fourth Souvenir, we’ve long since recognized that Twisted!’s having a laugh at our expense. Indeed, gaming is no stranger to promising unlockables under the condition of hard work; a dangling carrot, if you will, lured just out of reach until the hardest of tasks lies finished; our hands exhausted from muscle memory and control sticks worn out. Alas, sometimes the reward doesn’t live up to our expectations. Even now, the five stages of grief from Super Mario 64 DS’s 150 stars still lingers, with all the platforming, problem-solving, and touch-screen prodding earning me…another Luigi gambling mini-game. Um, yay.
Twisted! literally flips that familiar disappointment on its head, relentlessly dispensing dud after dud like cheap candy. One may call it cruelty, yet not once does it feel mean-spirited. In actuality, we’re chuckling along with it. Deducing the secret ingredient may well be impossible – analyzing the hallucinogenic stitching of WarioWare may well be a fool’s errand, but here we are, and I suspect it lies within Twisted’s compact, yet constant feedback loop: the abundant supply of Souvenirs means every successful round of Story mode play earns us a toy, and while the gradual speed increase certainly cranks up the challenge, there’s no bloated collectathons or globetrotting timesinks discouraging our investment – the arcadey, pick-up-and-play nature of WarioWare molds itself however we see fit.
Let’s put it this way: the casual player will spend five minutes earning their laugh for the day, but the addicted WarioWare fanatic is compelled to earn higher scores and collect more Souvenirs. Whatever the case, this quirky little ecosystem all feeds into selling us on Twisted’s gyro wizardry, and we’ve grown obsessed with breaking records just to see what practical joke the game will throw at us. A Jimmy T. figure bowing in repentance? A pig-themed noisemaker obnoxiously altering its squealing pitch? A radio broadcasting a left-field baseball game? The infectious energy of the developers isn’t just palpable – you can just practically envision them locked in their dark offices, cackling like madmen as they cobble together prank after prank. (And getting paid for it.)
Yet Twisted! knows that too much crazy – the proverbial hat on top of the hat that is WarioWare’s typical brain-assaulting nonsense – can gradually grow tiresome, and it remembers to toss us actual rewards now and then. Songs for 9-Volt’s record player, for one – functioning as something of an interactive sound test, tilting the console scratches the record back and forth, and we quickly experiment with our new toy. The addictive earworm in Wario de Mambo distorts into Eldritch screams. Themes from classic NES games garble into unrecognizable melodies. (Note Wario’s blurb for the Kid Icarus track: “this is the closest you’ll ever get to a sequel!”) Eagle-eyed players note the in-universe debut singles by “D.J. Baba” and “Nishimaki” are stand-ins for the game’s actual composers.
Others are meatier – Twisted! throws actual games on top of its micro-games, beefier affairs than the usual five-second fare. The fan-favorite lies in Mewtroid – a kitten-infested Metroid parody where our feline hero rolls about much the same in the same way a cat wrestles with yarn, shooting down bizarre mustachioed flies who swoop around in the same vein as the original game’s Reos insectoids. It is ridiculous as much it is difficult – and we’re left turning the console every which way just to keep up.
Twisted! subscribes to a healthy, balanced diet. The Story mode keeps us nourished, yet the desserts in our Spindex objectives and one-and-done Souvenirs – instantly consumed like a sweet, frosty Pop ‘Em – keep us coming back. Our daily menu settles into a familiar routine with favored microgame compilations, yet we’re rewarded with unknown treat after the other. Why not pig out with Mewtroid? I’ve earned it.
Some may shrug their shoulders and go “So what’s the big deal? You’re just easily entertained!” Yet I think of how WarioWare soon descended into dormant irrelevancy soon afterwards – just when it began settling comfortably into its role as an ambassador of Nintendo’s latest hardware, I should mention – and I can’t help but question a correlation. Wii’s Smooth Moves was as hilarious and inventive as you’d expect from a motion control-based entry, but its complete dearth of unlockables rendered it a quick and dirty affair. DS’s D.I.Y. may’ve been a dream concept in crafting our own microgames but was too over-complicated when weighed against the series’ famed accessibility. Wii U’s Game & Wario may’ve featured tons of gut-busting little gadgets and films, but the overall package was simply too rudimentary to stick with for long. Had the joke simply gotten old, or was there something lost along the way?
“More than the sum of its parts” is a label often accrued by successful games, and I find WarioWare’s five-second model emblematic of that example. When I rediscovered Twisted! over the past year, I thought back to an anecdote from Nintendo’s beloved Satoru Iwata – hailing from an Iwata Asks column, although also familiar to those who read Shigesato Itoi’s Ask Iwata tribute. Here we learn that upon testing Twisted!’s prototype, Iwata himself obsessed with the aforementioned record player. The former CEO spent hours experimenting with the thing, going so far as to place the game on a swivel chair and spinning it around, marveling at how the in-game record matched the chair’s rotation.
“This is ridiculous!” he repeatedly exclaimed, and yet on the man went: gleefully spinning it around like a child discovering a globe.
I mentioned WarioWare’s flexible depth earlier – as elaborated in the Iwata Asks roundtable, Nintendo aims for a depth that appeals to all sorts of playstyles and audiences. Anyone can pick up and enjoy, say, Super Mario 64 for ten minutes as their daily reprieve, but those looking to master it will find incalculable depth in speed runs and glitch exploitations. Yet what happens when we seize King Bob-omb in our grasp – do we toss him into the ground for a decisive victory, or does our curiosity wander as we take him for a slow stroll down Bob-omb Battlefield to see how far we can carry His Royal Majesty? Turns out Shigeru Miyamoto himself wanted players to experiment with, in his words, “pointless stuff like that.”
Think of the common citations when ascribing pointlessness to games: overstuffed busywork, underdeveloped modes and story beats, and yes, gratuitous rewards. I can’t help but think of driving off-course in Royal Raceway to race around Peach’s Castle as a commonly-cited memory of Mario Kart 64, or how there’s literal guides on how to perform the Hyrule Temple jump in the Smash Bros. games. The Hug Button in Wii’s A Boy and His Blob. Pressing A to Yell “Marrriiiioo!” in Luigi’s Mansion. Exploring the ruins in Shadow of the Colossus. Honking to surprise other racers in Mario Kart 8 and meticulously editing slow-motion videos of Bowser beaning Baby Peach with a Red Shell.
The role of the video game is to the entertain: it matters not if nothing’s earned by successfully escorting King Bob-omb to the foot of the mountain or endlessly scream in vain for Mario – that I’m committed to such fruitless endeavors means I’ve already been drawn into these games’ worlds; devoutly espousing their mission statements to anyone who’ll listen. Twisted!, having committed itself to WarioWare’s rigid gameplay model, takes it upon itself to deliberately mess with the player, rewarding them with rubbish after rubbish; trash after trash, with the occasional serving of gold. It is jolly ol’ uncle placing the whoopie cushion under the seat every Thanksgiving dinner; eight-year-old me placing my grandmother’s wooden cat figurine on the toilet every time I’d leave her house. And it’s really, really funny.
Are video games in and of themselves pointless? Maybe, but pointlessness is in the eye of the beholder, and just as WarioWare’s five-second gameplay model is a stroke of genius, WarioWare: Twisted! is a work of profound pointlessness – if only, and especially, because one of my favorite Game Boy Advance memories was the time when I was rewarded for my hard work by grating a carrot. An instance of fine Nintendo craftsmanship.