The year is 1994. The Super NES has long since replaced the NES as Nintendo's home platform of choice. In fact, work has already begun on what would eventually become the Nintendo 64. New NES games are very few, and very far between. But Nintendo still managed to release one more Mario-themed falling block puzzle for the NES, though it is completely obviously a peripheral title in every respect. It doesn't have Mario in it, or Luigi, or even Yoshi. Instead, the characters focused on here are the new villain Wario, fresh off of his debut in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins; the peon mushroom Toad; and freaking Birdo. The game is Wario's Woods, and it was the last game ever made for the NES. And even it was also released for the Super NES. But it was never released for the Game Boy: a first for Nintendo puzzle games. Though it has been relatively unknown for years, it is very possible that you've played it recently, since it can be found in Animal Crossing.
You control Toad, who runs around the bottom of the "well" into which the blocks fall. The blocks are weird creatures of different colours. Toad can move left and right, and can run vertically up the side of stacks, but will fall if you stop moving while climbing (but he can start climbing again if you push toward the stack again). He can also pick up stacks of blocks that he is standing next to by pressing A, or a single block that he is standing next to by pressing B, and he can put them back down next to him the same way. But he can't climb while holding blocks, and he can't put blocks onto a stack that's more than one block taller than him. He can skip to the top of the stack he's holding, setting it down beneath him, by pressing up. And he can kick the block next to him, causing it to slide until it hits something, by holding down and pressing A. Holding down also causes the blocks to fall faster. Got all that?
Now, the object of each level is to eliminate all the enemies on the screen. The enemies come in different colours, and to eliminate them, you have to put them into a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of at least three blocks of the same colour, one of which has to be a bomb. Oh, yeah, there's a fairy at the top of the screen that generates bombs, which are your falling blocks. Anyway, blocks that Toad is holding can contribute to lines even without being set down; stacks you're carrying are still an active part of the playing field, in other words. Some enemies require special effort to defeat, like having them as part of a line twice, or having them as part of a diagonal line. Also, in Game B, every ninth level is followed by a boss that has to be "eliminated" a number of times to defeat. Game A and Game B are pretty much the same, by the way, except for the addition of bosses.
We're not done yet.
Birdo sits in the top right corner, doing nothing, while a meter fills beneath him. When the meter fills completely, Birdo is replaced by Wario, the fairy is replaced by Pidget, and the possibility now exists for additional enemies to be added to the screen instead of bombs. Also, Wario will occasionally cause the block marking the top of the screen to fall down a little, though it can be pushed back up by making diagonal matches, or lines of four or more, or two or more lines at once. Regardless, Wario has a meter too, and when it fills, Birdo comes back, at which point you get nothing but bombs until Wario comes back. Birdo's meter is decreased and Wario's increased by making those same matches that raise the roof.
When you complete the level, you get some coins depending on how many times it changed from Birdo to Wario; each change decreases the number you get. When you have 30 coins, you get an extra life. You start with no extra lives, by the way. Also, if you eliminate a line of five or more, you get a diamond. Eliminating a line with a diamond in it also eliminates all enemies of the diamond's colour.
You lose a life not when your blocks reach the top of the screen, but when Toad is crushed beneath the falling ceiling.
There is also a versus mode, which I cannot get to work on my emulator. Oh! I mean, um... since I own this game in cartridge form, I legally own a ROM of it, which I am using only because the NES is at my parents' house. Yes. There is also a time mode, in which you try to complete each level as fast as possible. The game actually saves the fastest times, so you can go back and try to beat them.
Okay, I think we're done.
Oh, it's called Wario's Woods because all this takes place inside trees. I don't know why. Maybe Toad's trying to save the trees by clearing out the vermin infesting their trunks.
TIPS & TRICKS
Thumbs down for Wario's Woods.