Mustache Ride

Explaining the appeal of the WarioWare series is like trying to describe a fever dream: It doesn't make sense unless experienced.

Nevertheless, here goes: Mario's Bizarro-universe twin, the greedy Wario, has invented more than 200 absurd microgames in a scheme to get rich and corner the videogame market.

Quantity is job 1 for Wario. Lasting all of 5 seconds each, the games offer a variety of surreal challenges: nose picking, mustache shaving, banana twirling . . . The catch is, the games accelerate in speed, with only flashing instructions like "Pick!" and "Grab it!" as guidance. Wario is like playing Simon Says on crack.

WarioWare is Willy Wonka in game form, an Oompa-Loompa in hot pants. And thanks to the motion-sensing Wiimote, the latest game in the series, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, is filled with even more mustache madness.

To perform the various required actions, you'll have to manipulate the Wiimote in 3-D space. You'll grip it like a pencil in some games, or pump it up and down to inflate balloons. Some microgames even require that you hold it to your nose to mimic an elephant trunk. Go get 'em, Dumbo.

You'll eventually learn 19 different ways to hold the Wiimote -- cheekily named "baton forms." And yes, the learning process is about as fun as razor burn. But the medicine goes down easier thanks to the narrator -- a soothing voice from the Ben Stein School of Ennui. When holding the Wiimote vertically ("The Umbrella" form), he'll let you know you "channel the quiet dignity of a clown in a thunderstorm." Thank you, sensei . . . I am now a master of "Shame-Fu."

In no time, you'll be wielding your controller to suit the increasingly weird tasks. In one of the most imaginative micro-games, you'll lay the Wiimote upside down like a phone receiver. The words "Answer it!" flash, and you'll quickly hold the controller to your ear. A voice from the Wiimote speaker screams, "Sorry, wrong number!" and then it's on to the next game.

Before you can make sense of it all, you'll be holding the Wiimote like a barbell as the game yells "Squat!" If you have curtains, now's a good time to close them.

Smooth Moves' biggest draw should be its multiplayer mode. After all, if you're going to look stupid, it's best to have friends around. Unfortunately, the party modes aren't as "pick up and play" as previous WarioWare titles, presenting a stiff learning curve for the uninitiated. The quirky games are jarring enough, but your guests will also have to master the 19 forms to win. Whatever your friend's IQ level, learning 19 ways to hold a game controller might have him saying, "Let's just go to the bar instead."

More baffling still is that all multiplayer modes -- from Wario Darts to the microgame showdowns -- utilize only one controller. As you hot-potato the Wiimote to friends during fast-paced games, you'll worry about losing your grip and sending it hurtling through your plasma screen, like those unfortunate souls on YouTube.

Still, WarioWare is as addictive as ever, and it's hard to argue with a game that has you waving the controller in front of your nose to clear the air of Wario's flatulence. Yes, game technology has come a long way, but fart gags are here to stay.

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Chris Ward
Contact: Chris Ward