(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played, and our site score also reflects the state of the game at that time. Since then, one or more critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original verdict at the end of the article.)
Ah, 16-bit era, how I’ve missed you and your well-developed platforming heroes! Far too long have iDevice-owning genre fans been stuck with characters who could muster little more than left and right movement and a double jump at best. The star of Play Fripp’s Wawa Land (Out Now, $0.99) may not look it, but the floppy eared little rascal stands head-and-shoulders with Shantaeas the most advanced player character to grace the genre on iOS. I’m extremely heartened that this is becoming a trend, and yet it’s clear that there are some kinks left to work out. Last year’s Shantae got the platforming physics just right but left a little to be desired in the interface department when it released; Wawa is exactly the reverse.
In many ways, Wawa feels like Super Mario World transplanted onto iOS. As with the dynamic plumber so many years ago, Wawa’s moveset expands depending on which power-up he’s collected. The Tornado Helmet gives him a spin attack and high jump ability; the Pirate’s Scarf lets him lob bombs or plant them on the ground and kick them around until they go off — just be sure to keep Wawa at a safe distance when they do! Even his default moveset is impressive, with the four-way virtual D-pad giving him a ground stomp and backflip. Unlike ye olde NES heroes, Wawa can save himself from a fatal fall with his wall jump. Enemies are also more interesting than average: one type lets Wawa use its rubber belly as a springboard, which can be moved as needed by kicking it around until the enemy re-awakens. Levels come in a variety of styles and themes, and the player who puts effort into exploring Wawa’s environments will be rewarded with warp points that lead to little bonus levels.
With such complexity on offer you might think Wawa’s short-changing itself at a mere $0.99. It was a good strategic pricing move all things considered: there are only two level sets available at release and the game is advertized as being one-fourth complete for now. Content-wise it’s on a very satisfying trajectory, but new powers and level types would definitely be welcome as the game expands.
My one beef with Wawa is the game’s jump physics. The hero’s standard movement speed and jump are pretty measly as far as platformers go, so you’ll rely heavily on the “Run” button to help Wawa clear most gaps. Getting a running start is easy enough — it’s stopping him after he lands that’s hard, thanks to a most unwieldy skid system. I think I get what the developer intended here: the landing skid is supposed to work into a high-flying and super speedy triple jump move. Problem being, that particular move is only useful in the wide-open and relatively safe racing level that caps off Wawa’s first world. The landing skid is nothing but a nuisance when you’re dealing with short platforms over bottomless pits, and that happens much more frequently! The landing skid is a demon I was able to conquer with enough practice, but I’d rather see it hit the wayside or appear only in foot race levels once the updates start hitting. For now, it deals a serious blow to the casual accessibility Wawa so righteously deserves. The game’s second act feels much more welcoming with its water physics, where the problem essentially disappears.
Complaints about the game’s user interface are sure to flow in over the skidding and accidentally triggered super jumps, but I, for one, hold the controls blameless. The “Run” and “Jump” buttons are spread so far apart you’d never imagine the player being able to pull off a running jump, but the touch response areas are so generous that it’s a cinch in practice. I also love the way the D-pad gives the player a visual confirmation of which direction keys are active at any time. I would note only the “Run” button’s tendency to obscure small enemies on low-hanging platforms as something of concern; Kale in Dinolandwould be a great title for the developer to look at when it comes to action button placement.
Wawa’s production values are pretty amazing when you consider that one person pulled this entire project off by himself, as the dev informed us in yesterday’s studio interview. The soundtrack is similar to what you’d expect in a Mario title, only with a jazzier vibe, and the hand-drawn visuals and sound effects conspire to lend the overall package that organic Super Mario World feel. It looks great on my iPod Touch 4’s Retina display, but it’s worth noting the visuals might not fare as well on larger devices.
iFanzine Verdict: Wawa Land is one of the deepest platformers on iOS and sports one of the most reliable console-style touch interfaces in the genre. It has just one important area to master yet — physics. If it can do that and gain even more content variety in updates, consider it a must-have for platforming fans.