Wario Land 4: Parallel World is the first full-fledged Wario Land 4 hack, coming in twenty years after the game's release. That's quite a time to wait for more content! But the wait was well worth it. Wario Land 4 is one of my favorite games of all time, and this hack immediately had me grinning ear to ear once I started it up.
The hack basically provides all new levels using the same mechanics as in the original game, just remixed into new forms and new challenges. Oftentimes with rom hacks the level design can feel a bit amateurish or "rom-hack-y", but I found that there was none of that here. I'll admit I was skeptical going into it that there would be enough simple, tight puzzle room designs that could explore areas of Wario's moveset in a way that felt new, natural, and challenging without being too hard. But I was happy to be wrong! Each level contained lots of secrets to hunt out, and none of them felt too out of reach or unfairly hidden.
As a disclaimer, I played through the game on Hard difficulty and 100% completed it. I found there to be plenty of challenge when trying to find all of the available things to collect - especially when it came to collecting all of the diamonds in the level, something that this hack adds a special new counter for. While I enjoyed this addition, one area I found a bit disappointing was how easy it was to get very high scores at the level's end. In the original game, especially in Hard difficulty, the levels felt finely tuned to have just enough treasures and enemies present such that you had to really squeeze out all the points you could in order to have a shot at the golden crown when tabulating a level's score at the end. In the original game, I was barely clearing the 10,000 goal for many levels even when going out of my way to shoot for that, and all of the levels were finished in a range of about 10,000 - 13,000.
In this hack, that challenge went straight out the window. I was frequently finishing levels at 25,000+ gold, and since the target wasn't adjusted at all, this made getting the golden crowns a cakewalk. I would have liked to see levels have a smaller number of enemies and a less liberal use of gems/hearts to help offset this. Part of me wonders if the addition of the diamond counter was added to give players something else to shoot for in lieu of these golden crown score challenges, but if that was the intention, it doesn't quite do it for me. The added counter is a very all or nothing goal and it doesn't play as well with the other areas of the game as the diamond counter does.
To expand upon this a bit - you must find every diamond in the level in one run through of it in order to achieve the maximum possible counter score. I would have much preferred it the opposite way, because as it stands, you can't find different diamonds on different runs. This makes things harder, but in a way that can be frustrating. There were a handful of levels that I finished again and again and again before finding the one hidden diamond I was missing, and when I finally did, it felt like rubbing salt in the wound when I then had to complete the whole level AGAIN getting all the diamonds INCLUDING that one in order for it to count as completed.
A bigger issue to me is that the diamond counter is a very inflexible goal that looks at only one area of the game, whereas the score counter goal in the original provided a better synthesis of all the various game mechanics, since killing enemies and collecting smaller gems (and trying not to get hurt!) all ultimately contributed toward the goal. Heck, you might even be able to get away with missing one of the diamonds as long as you made up for it with the quality of your play in these other areas! Having that flexibility was a big part of what made the original game's design so attractive to me. Since the scoring goals are so easy to meet in this version, it quickly became apparent I did not need to waste time optimally killing enemies or gathering many of the harder to reach gems, as there was ultimately no incentive to do so - which is too bad, as the level designs themselves were often quite fun to play through!
In general, especially given that I was playing on Hard mode, I found the timer to be a little too lenient with the amount of time you are given and that could be further tweaked as well. I found there was not much pressure to play tightly even with the timer ticking down, as I usually had over a minute to spare when making it back to the entrance. Of course, it doesn't help that the penalty of the timer running out - lowering your score - was a penalty that had no effect on the diamond counter or other goals still present in the game, since the gold crowns were so easy to achieve anyway. More than once I even got the gold crown on my first run through of the level despite losing a bunch of coins to the timer expiring before I made it back to the level's entrance!
I had a similar issue with the boss battles. I never once encountered any of the treasure chests threatening to disappear, as they were all killed well before then. The difficulty of the very first boss's timer seemed more in line with what I was expecting - and I did die to the clock running out against that boss multiple times - but the rest of them were a little too easy to defeat within the given time limit. I should add that I never used any items to make them easier, either - these comments are just about fighting them the regular way.
Speaking of bosses, the first few boss arenas had some clever and subtle tweaks to them this time around, and I really loved that! It set my expectations high for similar things to be done to the rest of the boss encounters. However, the last half of the bosses seemed to have no differences at all to them - at least not that that I could tell. If they did, they were so subtle I didn't notice! I really liked the remixed boss arenas for the first few bosses and wish that would have been carried forward through the rest of the game instead of losing steam in the back half.
Those gripes aside, I really enjoyed my time with this hack! The remixed levels felt fresh while still feeling like a natural extension of what came before it, and I could easily believe that they were official remixes of the base game's levels if I didn't know any better. That's saying something! I will elaborate more specifically on aspects of the level design that I liked or disliked in the next few paragraph - SPOILERS follow for some of the things this hack does!
The addition of a few areas that serve as fun surprises and neat throwbacks to fans of some of Wario's other games were the cherry on top of these fun new level designs. Some of my favorite moments in this hack were stumbling upon some of these areas for the first time! I imagine this is what gives the hack its subtitle "Parallel World". My only complaint regarding this would be that I wished a few more of these areas were incorporated into the hack.
It was amazing to see snippets of WarioWare microgames incorporated into these levels. This was something I wish happened a few more times throughout the rom hack, but what IS included is just brilliantly used and executed. Similar to this are the sections taken from the older Wario Land games. One thing I was certain I would see at some point was a section based on the first, black and white Wario Land Game - Super Mario Land 3. But that never manifested and seems like a missed opportunity! All in all I treated this angle of the hack as just a bit of icing on the cake of those remixed levels, but it did feel a bit odd that there were many levels in a hack titled "Parallel World" that didn't have any kind of "Parallel World" section within them. If I were designing or updating this hack, I would try to sneak in a few more side sections like this, including snippets from a wider variety of games. Maybe a quick Wario's Woods section? Or a Wario Blast section? Or a snippet from Wario's Castle in Super Mario Land 2? There are definitely more WarioWare microgames one could pull from as well!
Another thing this hack does that I absolutely loved - and likely another thing contributing to the "Parallel World" theme and naming - is how they changed up the music in the game. I am a big fan of the original Wario Land 4 soundtrack, and it's cool to see that they left most of it untouched during the actual levels that they remixed. But the snippets of music they did add, all borrowed from other (great!) games, was a sweet way to spice things up. And the biggest change here is to the collectible CDs - things that were a fun collectible gag in the original - which have been replaced with a plethora of classic video game tracks done up in the Wario Land 4 sound font. I was consistently impressed and even surprised by the quality of the selection - almost all pulling from games I had personally played and loved, like Super Mario 64, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound... even Undertale! It's so much like the creator rifled through my personal backlog of favorite video games to pluck these songs out of that it's almost creepy.
These CD changes were such a great idea and a fun collectible that after I unlocked the first few, listening to that level's CD and finding out what it was going to be was something I greatly looked forward to after clearing each stage. This a cool thing to include and definitely feels like the creator went above and beyond in polishing this area of the hack, something that certainly wasn't necessary. But it didn't go unnoticed or unappreciated, at least by me!
In the end, while these sections were certainly highlights of my playtime, they do feel a little underbaked as a theme considering the hack was named after them. It seems like the idea of remixing the existing levels with (mostly) their existing graphics and music butts heads thematically with the other part of this hack that drastically changes the appearance and music for certain areas - almost like the hack couldn't decide if it wanted to just be great remixes of the original levels or this other "Parallel World" thing. What DOES exist is great, don't get me wrong, but if the "Parallel World" theme was going to be present I would have just liked to see it expanded upon a bit more - or even set aside for a different hack, just to let this one's great remixed levels stand alone as a fresh take on the Wario Land 4 originals without the distraction of these additional bells and whistles.
Finally, there were a very small handful of things I noticed during my playtime that seemed like mistakes to me - nothing that really impacted the gameplay much, but still worth mentioning. There were breakable walls/blocks that I found in a couple areas - notably the Mysterious Factory and the Vast Landfill - that did not lead anywhere or hide anything. It seemed like they may have been left in (in place of actual walls) by mistake? The mysterious factory also had many spots that were clearly intended to have more of the mechanical pressers in it (there were indented spots for them in the ceiling or walls) that simply did not have them present. I am unsure if these details were intentional or not, but they were definitely a bit confusing to have in a game like Wario Land 4 that asks its players to scour every nook and cranny of the level for things that stand out and therefore could point to hidden secrets. The title screen also displayed v1.0 on it despite my using the v1.3 patch, which I found odd. Again, these were very minor and did not affect my enjoyment of the game, personally, but it seemed worth mentioning at least!
All in all, this was a very fun rom hack, and a great way to experience one of my favorite games all over again. There are a few things I would change about it if given a magic wand, but this rom hack has what it takes in the areas where it counts most - and that's in the fun, varied, and well-designed remixes of the original game's 18 levels. It also has a lot of fun with the "Parallel World" theme, especially in the unlockables department, without distracting from the main dish of remixing the Wario Land 4 levels. I would definitely recommend this hack to anyone who enjoys Wario Land 4 and is looking for a new spin on an old favorite!